|This Fawlty Towers proudly offers "No tan lines."|
One of the first British comedies I came to love was “Fawlty Towers.” This wasn’t a whirlwind romance on my part, as it took me some time to understand the TV show. It didn’t help that, back in those days, you could only see all twelve episodes by buying four VHS videotapes, each of which cost $20. But gradually I collected them, until I had the final set. As I grew more familiar with the stories, and the characters, I came to love them.
Sure, sometimes the plots seemed over-the-top, comedy-wise, but all the characters came across as real and vibrant. Basil Fawlty, who owned and ran the little hotel, believed that excellence in all areas should be strived for, and expected his guests to feel the same. His wife, the ever patient Sybil, understood his concern, but felt he should relax his expectations of others, and accept them for who they were. Polly, their waitress and housekeeper, was hardworking, loyal, and tolerant. And then there was her fellow staff member, Manuel, who strived to better himself through working in a foreign country and learning English. He might have been naïve, but he saw his situation as a glass half-full, grateful for everything he received, and as a result, (nearly) always happy.
Some might see Basil as intolerant, but it's easy to judge others, or brand them with simplistic labels. Basil accepts the character foibles of his older, long-term residents, namely Major Gowen, Miss Tebbs, and Miss Gatsby, even if he sometimes tries to hide them from those he regards as their social betters. He believes that the incompetent contractor, Mr. O’Reilly, will eventually complete building and repair jobs at a professional level, if only he continues to entrust him with his work. He refuses to relinquish the beliefs he was raised with, particularly the belief that the aristocracy should be held above reproach. When Sybil and Polly try to convince him that the guest posing as Lord Melbury is a fraud, Basil refuses to accept their accusations until they show him conclusive proof: that the valuables “Lord Melbury” has locked in the hotel safe are actually two bricks.
Basil Fawlty may not be perfect, but in many ways he’s like us. He sets high standards for himself and others, and expects all of us to strive to achieve them. He refuses to relinquish his dreams, even when others in a similar position would have given up running the hotel, and opted for divorce rather than continue working at a dysfunctional relationship with Sybil. Sure, he could benefit from a little loosening up in his expectations of others. Sure, he might be more at peace with the world if he could “go with the flow,” and allow each person to act as he or she saw fit. But if we’re honest, I think all of us see ourselves as works in progress, rather than having achieved some sort of individual perfection.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, one of the things I had to try when we visited England this year was kipper. One of the reasons was because I had seen characters in British Comedies eating kippers so often. As it happened, one of the first VHS tapes I purchased contained the episode “The Kipper and the Corpse.” In this episode, Basil takes kippers, along with the rest of the man’s breakfast, up to a second floor guestroom. Unfortunately, he doesn’t realize that the man has died during the night, and when he learns of the man’s death, he initially believes the kippers were off and the man died of food poisoning. Hijinks ensue as he tries, in various ways, to hide the kippers, as well as the dead man, from everyone else staying in his hotel. Above all, he can’t allow this one regrettable incident to sully his hotel’s reputation!
The other day, we happened across a real Fawlty Towers. No, this one isn’t located in Torquay, England, but in Cocoa Beach, Florida. I don’t know who the manager is, or if the staff operate a restaurant. If they serve food, I’m guessing that they don’t have kippers on the menu. But from the looks of it, whoever runs the hotel is definitely looser than Basil Fawlty in his expectations of others. It seems like a place where a guest can really “go with the flow,” and act as he or she sees fit.
Whether that’s a good thing or not, I’ll let you make your own judgments.
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