Fawlty Towers quotes: 10 best John Cleese lines from BBC series, ‘don’t mention the war’ controversy explained

Top 10 quotes from John Cleese’s Basil Fawlty in iconic BBC sitcom Fawlty Towers

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Fawlty Towers remains one of the most well-loved British sitcoms of all time, more than 40 years after the series ended. Despite only running for 12 episodes in the 1970s, the series has had a major impact on British comedy to this day.

The series follows misanthropic hotelier Basil Fawlty, his wife Sybil and their staff through the faily trials and tribulations of running a hotel and dealing with tricky customers. This week it was confirmed that Fawlty Towers will be getting another series, with John Cleese returning as Basil, and the actor’s real-life daughter Camilla Cleese appearing alongside him as his on-screen daughter.

Despite the fact that the original series is hard to find online in the UK - it’s not currently on any major streaming service - there is clearly an appeptite for the show’s revival. As we look back on the classic series, here are 10 of the best Basil Fawlty quotes:

1) Hotel guest: “When I pay for a view, I expect something more interesting than that.”

Basil: “Well may I ask what you expected to see out of a Torquay hotel bedroom window? Sydney Opera House perhaps? The Hanging Gardens of Babylon? Herds of wildebeest sweeping majestically…”

2) Basil: “Right, well I'll go and have a lie down then. No I won't; I'll go and hit some guests.”

3) American: “Is this a Hotel or isn't it?”

Basil: “Well, within reason.”

John Cleese in Fawlty TowersJohn Cleese in Fawlty Towers
John Cleese in Fawlty Towers

4) German guest: “Will you stop talking about the war?”

Basil: “Me? You started it!”

German guest: “We did not start it!”

Basil: “Yes you did, you invaded Poland.”

5) Basil: “You'll have to forgive him. He's from Barcelona.”

6) Sybil: “I can't abide cruelty to living creatures.”

Basil: “I'm a creature and you can abide it to me.”

Sybil: “You're not living.”

7) Basil: [Discussing Sybil’s laugh] “Sounds like somebody machine-gunning a seal.”

8) Manuel: “See, I know nothing!”

Basil: “I'm gonna sell you to a vivisectionist!”

9) Polly: “What's the point of being Alive?”

Basil: “I don't know, we're stuck with it, I suppose.”

10) Basil: “Manuel, my wife tells me you're depressed. Now, depression is a bad thing. It's like a virus. It takes over the mind, and then one day you can't face life any more!”

Sybil: “And then you open a Hotel…”

A still from Fawlty Towers episode ‘The Germans’ which was removed from several streaming platforms in 2020 A still from Fawlty Towers episode ‘The Germans’ which was removed from several streaming platforms in 2020
A still from Fawlty Towers episode ‘The Germans’ which was removed from several streaming platforms in 2020

Why was ‘The Germans’ episode of Fawlty Towers controversial?

The Germans was the series one finale episode, first airing in October 1975. The episode sees Basil suffering from concussion and repeatedly offending German guests despite continually warning his own staff ‘don’t mention the war’.

The episode also saw the character the Major, played by Ballard Berkeley, use racist terms about Black people and Indians, which led to the episode being removed from several streaming platforms.

UKTV removed the episode from their streaming service on 11 June 2020 in the wake of the George Floyd protests but added the episode again two days later with an added warning about ‘offensive content’ within the episode.

Speaking of the episode, Cleese said: “We were not supporting his views, we were making fun of them. If they can’t see that, if people are too stupid to see that, what can one say?”

The episode is also considered offensive towards Germans because of how Basil treats his German guests - although Basil Fawlty was ranked as the BBC’s fourth most popular character in Germany in a 2017 poll.

Whilst suffering from concussion, Basil returns to the table of German guests and begins reading back their orders but makes some fairly glaring mistakes: “So that’s two eggs mayonnaise, a prawn Goebbels, a Hermann Goering and four Colditz salads ... no, wait a moment, I got a bit confused there, sorry ... I got a bit confused because everyone keeps mentioning the war, so could you…”

But it gets worse, as Basil asks the guests ‘who’s this then’ and begins to impersonate Hitler. He then adds ‘I’ll do the funny walk’ before goose stepping out of the dining room. To top it off, Basil ends the debacle by calling one guest a ‘stupid Kraut’, adding ‘you have absolutely no sense of humour, do you?’ and ending his verbal tirade with ‘who won the bloody war anyway?’

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