No Faulting Fawlty?
Just the mention of Fawlty Towers brings an involuntary smile to my face. I’m immediately transported back to the late 70s sitting round the TV with the whole family splitting our sides and cringing over Basil Fawlty’s escapades. Surely he is not going to …. Oh no …. yes he is!!! It was easy to persuade my husband and two friends that we’ve known since the 1970s to join us at the President Hotel for the ‘Faulty Towers dining experience’. Having been to a similar experience based on another TV Great, we expectated the evening to be fun and the meal mediocre.
We waited for Mr Fawlty to escort us to the dining area with a drink in a reception area. The choice was a selection from two wines of each colour, beer and soft drinks. Our eponymous host started calling out our names with our allocated table numbers, read from a clipboard. True to form, Basil gave an appreciative nod to the gentleman wearing a jacket, and short shrift to the poor bloke in trainers. I had decided not to dress up as I thought I might end up with my supper on my lap!
Manuel was instantly recognisable as the hapless Spanish waiter and Basil’s wife Sybil soon appeared in typical dragon fashion to hurry Basil along. A couple who arrived a little late were given a scathing look by Basil and made to wait to last. The trio had the mannerisms spot-on and Sybil made a pretty good attempt at Sybil’s iconic laugh. Basil instructed Manuel to collect up the glasses, but of course instead I had my spectacles whipped off my nose!
After several pairs of glasses were returned to their visually impaired owners, we were shepherded into the dining room and seated with two other families on a table of nine. Similar tables of up to 10 people filled up quickly. Another foolhardy couple arrived after we’d been seated and were suitably admonished on a regular basis throughout the evening.
The in-meal experience
Before starters, we were entertained with another hilarious set piece involving Manuel’s limited understanding of English leading to bread rolls being lobbed at the guests, a dramatic forward roll between the tables and rather a lot of nuts scattered on the floor. Fortunately, the hotel staff soon served the soup starter and we then had an opportunity to talk to our fellow guests, a family from the USA with a sixteen year old son and a couple who live near Newcastle, but hail from Scotland and Northern Ireland. This was fairly typical of the other guests with a mix of tourists from overseas and British guests. It shows how Fawlty Towers is as beloved round the globe as it is in the UK – even in Germany as it turns out! We learned how one guest on our table had once visited a German warship and had involuntarily quietly commented “ Don’t mention the war!”. To his embarrassment a German officer had actually overheard him and retorted “I did once – but I think I got away with it!”. Which just goes to show that the joke is always on Basil not on his poor victims.
The meal was interspersed with visits from our hosts. They interacted with guests and checked in from time to time. My husband was rebuked by Basil for having his elbows on the table. He responded by complaining that his wine was ‘corked’. Quick as a flash Basil retorted that the bottle was a ‘screw top’ and gave him his famous withering look – one nil to Basil! Basil then leaned over with his supercilious grin and asked “can I get you anything else sir?” Not to be outdone, my husband came up with another Fawlty Towers classic “A gin and orange, a lemon squash and a scotch and water please”. To which Basil simply responded with a perfunctory “NO” and stormed off, which was fairly unsurprising considering the limited bar menu!
Three of our party chose the vegetarian option which was served by Basil himself “What’s wrong with you?” he chided. Without waiting for a response he turned to the next table and said in a loud
whisper “that lot are vegetarians – just sat there bold as brass!”.
It soon became clear that ‘the cast’ were not just playing from a script but had a really good knowledge of the episodes and were able to improvise when ‘tested’ by the guests. When Sybil asked our friend how his chicken was, he responded that “it was a bit bony”. She rolled her eyes and answered “that’s so the chicken can stand up!”. She then instructed the poor boy opposite to “eat his greens”. His mum fervently agreed “that’s what I tell him” – to which Sybil responded “obviously not enough deary!”. Without giving away too many spoilers, a lot more set pieces followed – some new and some old and a lot of physical humour. An obvious favourite was Manuel’s futile attempt to conceal Basil’s little secret from Sybil with the famous words ‘I know nothing…’.
By the time we got to dessert, we were relieved to have got through the experience unscathed!
Whilst a couple of guests were disappointed not to have other beloved characters appear (particularly Polly and the Major) the general feeling was that the three actors did a great job of channelling the main three characters. After dinner the hotel team asked us to move on to the hotel bar for coffee so they could set up for breakfast. I asked my companions to rate the evening and we had a consensus of 9/10 for the entertainment and 7/10 for the food. So overall a 4* review for the experience from four Fawlty Towers fans.
Why you should book the Faulty Towers Dining Experience now
This is clearly an ‘unauthorised’ tribute to the 1970s BBC sitcom. By strange coincidence, just last week, a judge ruled that a similar dining experience the Only Fools the (cushty) Dining Experience has breached the copyright of the original TV programme which was found to be a ‘literary work’. Time will tell if there is a question mark over the long term future of other similar ventures. So if you have fond memories of Fawlty Towers, if you want a mix of nostalgia and a good few belly laughs, book now!
Basil: Jack Baldwin
Manuel: Ben Hood
Sybil: Karina Garnett
Only twelve episodes over 2 seasons? Surely not! It feels like more because of the dozens of times we watched the BBC repeats until many of us knew the scripts off by heart. We’ve even met a real life Basil Fawlty at a B&B attached to a pub. Branded a ‘guestel’ – the proprietor’s pretentious name for his guest house – there was a sign in our bedroom saying Breakfast is served between 9.30 am and 9.35 am. We thought this was a gag, but when we arrived downstairs at 9.45 am the proprietor greeted us with a withering look and plonked down in front of us two plates with cold English Breakfasts. When we protested we were vegetarian, he grabbed the plates, flounced off, and returned 30 seconds later with the same cold plates sans the pork sausages!
Written by: Tonia Myers