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German tourists, Manuel’s ‘hamster’, a drunk chef: Can Fawlty Towers reboot deliver?

John Cleese and the cast of the original <I>Fawlty Towers</I>. Only Cleese is set to return to play Basil Fawlty.

John Cleese and the cast of the original Fawlty Towers. Only Cleese is set to return to play Basil Fawlty. Photo: AAP

Britain’s most iconic comedy series, Fawlty Towers, is preparing for a reboot almost 50 years after the first episode aired in 1975.

With only 12 episodes made, written and performed by Monty Python alum John Cleese and his then wife Connie Booth, the BBC series was immortalised into the history books as the best British sitcom ever made.

It remains unparalleled in timing, characters and politically incorrect storylines.

Who could forget the irreverent, controversial episode (Series 1, episode 6) with the German tourists and the famous ‘Don’t mention the war’ quote?

Or when Spanish waiter Manuel’s missing Siberian hamster – aka a rat – ends up in the biscuit tin on the cheese trolley for the health inspector?

Hiding a dead tourist, dealing with a deaf, complaining old lady, the regular shenanigans were handled by Mr Fawlty’s loyal staffer Polly and Mrs Sybil Fawlty with endless, eye-rolling impatience.

In a bold, some would say, brave move in revisiting an untouchable TV gem, Cleese has partnered with daughter Camilla Cleese to write and star in the development of a new series.

Castle Rock Entertainment’s film director and writer Rob Reiner (Spinal Tap) and executive producer Matthew George (LBJ, Wind River) are behind the planned reboot, which will pick up in modern England, with Basil Fawlty (Cleese) still running the quaint, semi-rundown seaside boutique hotel.

Cleese acknowledged George’s “understanding of the ‘‘creative process” and described their first meeting as “one of the best creative sessions I can remember”, reported Deadline.

“John Cleese is a comedy legend. Just the idea of working with him makes me laugh,” Reiner said.

George described meeting John and Camilla Cleese as “one of the great thrills of my life”.

Camilla and John Cleese

Source: Instagram/Camilla Cleese

The father-daughter duo paired up in John Cleese: His Life, Times and Current Medical Problems, in New Zealand in 2006.

He performed 22 sell-out shows, which also starred Camilla, after originally planning just 15.

More recently, they appeared in a Q&A chat at the House of Comedy in Phoenix, Arizona, in April 2021. It was a smash hit.

Cleese, 83, has been married four times and shares Camilla, 39, with his second wife, US model Barbara Trentham, who died in 2013.

“It’s effortless performing together,” Camilla told Arizona-based magazine The Entertainer! before the show.

“We have material that’s not material, really, because we’ve played off each other for my entire life.

“We’ve written so much together. I know where he’s going with things. It takes the pressure off to have someone who’s going to have my back.”

That he will, including being in agreement about “cancel culture”.

When asked about whether there would ever be a Monty Python reboot, the Holy Grail and Life of Brian star replied: “The audience knows what they’re going to get … We never get any complaints.”

But he says it’s the TV executives who “all live with the sinking feeling that somebody’s having a good time”.

Quips Camilla: “I don’t have a big enough career … I’m a little protected at this point. I could cancel myself before I even had a career.”

No regrets

In 2009, the cast of Andrew Sachs, who played Manuel (he died in 2016 at age 86 of vascular dementia), Prunella Scales, now 90 (and suffering Alzheimer’s disease) and Connie Booth, now 80, starred in two reunion specials, Fawlty Towers: Re-opened and Fawlty Exclusive: Basil’s Best Bits.

In a press conference to promote the shows, Cleese said he had no regrets after making just 12 episodes of Fawlty Towers with Booth.

The second series went to air in 1979.

“We both felt we had done our best. We just knew if we did more it wouldn’t be as good,” he said.

When asked if the show could have been made “today”, in 2009, he said:  “I don’t think they would. We were so deeply lucky to be working in television when we did.

“It was wonderful because there wasn’t the fear.

“The moment people get anxious, they tighten up, and the moment they tighten up they start counting things. They want figures to tell them to do things.

“What works wonderfully is if people who know what they are doing, or know what they are doing most of the time, are allowed to trust their gut.

“That’s when you get interesting television,” he said.

What are the new storylines?

With so many one-liners, famous quotes and storylines that worked in the 1970s – and which audiences still find amusing – what will the Fawlty Towers sequel series deliver?

Deadline says the series “will explore how Cleese’s over-the-top, cynical and misanthropic Basil Fawlty navigates the modern world”.

“Plot details are largely being kept under wraps, but the development will bring the story forward to explore Basil’s relationship with a daughter he has just discovered he had, as the pair tempt fate and team up to run a boutique hotel.”

Will they get away with a modern-day war episode, pro-Donald Trump American guests, another fatal food poisoning story involving kippers?

Another Spanish waiter with communication problems similar to Manuel and Mrs Richards?

Mrs Richards: “I’ve booked a room with a bath and a sea view.”

Manuel: “Que?”

Mrs Richards: “K?”

Manuel: “Si.”

Yes, indeed.

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