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20.03.16

Fawlty Towers: A Touch of Class

Posted 20th March 2016

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Fawlty Towers sign from pilot episode

19th September 1975, 9pm, BBC2, and the first programme of a little series called Fawlty Towers is broadcast. And whilst most of that first series of Fawlty Towers was shot in the summer of 1975, the very first episode – A Touch of Class – was recorded eight months earlier, in December 1974. The reason for this is simple: that first programme was a pilot. Unlike some programmes, which are re-recorded entirely for their first episode1, most of that pilot made it to air more or less in its original form. For instance, the opening sign is a different design in the pilot episode compared to every single other programme in the first series, and the theme music is also a different recording. Indeed, you wonder why, when it came to broadcast, they didn’t at least change the opening titles to be consistent with the other episodes, but I digress.

Fawlty Towers - opening titles from A Touch of Class

Opening titles from A Touch of Class

Fawlty Towers - opening titles from The Builders

Opening titles from The Builders

One detail, however, was changed between the initial pilot recording, and its broadcast. Polly was originally meant to be a philosophy student – and that’s what she was in that pilot episode. For the series, they decided to change her to being an art student – and so they reshot parts of the pilot to incorporate the change. To quote John Cleese, in an interview on the 2001 DVD release:

CLEESE: She in the pilot episode was a philosophy student, and we didn’t feel that worked as well as art student, so we re-recorded just a little – maybe four or five minutes – and cut that into the first episode before it was transmitted to the general public.

The obvious question to ask, then – at least, if you’re me – is: which parts of the transmitted episode were reshot? And was it really four or five minutes of material? But whilst you could easily guess about one section which was reshot, for years that was all the information we really had about the change.

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  1. Citizen Smith is a good example of a show which had a pilot, and then was completely reshot for its first episode broadcast six months later – both are on the DVD, and it’s fascinating to compare them. 

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11.02.15

11 Things Wrong With Fawlty Towers

Posted 11th February 2015

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4 Comments

Flowery Twats sign

One of my favourite DVD commentaries I’ve ever heard is John Cleese’s on the Fawlty Towers Remastered box set.1 Of course, I could listen to John Cleese talk about comedy forever and a day, but more than that: it’s rare to hear someone of his generation so utterly committed to the art of giving a good commentary. Having clearly rewatched the episodes in preparation, there are very few awkward pauses; the whole thing is dense with facts. Moreover, rarely has someone been so endlessly generous in talking about the talents of the cast of a show… and genuinely makes you appreciate why they are so good, rather than just gushing.

My favourite thing about the commentary, though?2 His thoughts, 30 years later, as to which parts of Fawlty Towers are his favourite, and which bits he likes the least. The former have been talked about before – Basil’s Best Bits on Gold, for example – but I find the latter especially interesting. Having read a number of ill-thought-through criticisms of Fawlty Towers over the years, it seems the only person who actually has any sensible ones is a certain J. Cleese.

Here then, are some of his least favourite things about the show, as taken from his commentary. I’ve picked what I think is his most interesting criticism of each episode. Enjoy.

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  1. That’s Remastered in the Doctor Who Restoration Team sense, rather than this one

  2. Apart from the fact that he makes very clear that the show was written by him and Connie Booth, and not by him alone. 

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