fawns on

A Touch of Class (Fawlty Towers)

"A Touch of Class" is the pilot episode in the first series of the BBC television sitcom Fawlty Towers.


The episode begins with the nagging monologue that the viewer will come to know and love as Sybil Fawlty, who is desperately trying to persuade her incompetent husband Basil to hang a picture up, and write out the new menu. Manuel (Basil: "we hired him because he is cheap, Sybil, and eager to work"), Major Gowen, and Polly are introduced, and the central plot begins.

Sybil confronts Basil about an expensive advertisement that he has placed in an up-market magazine, and he explains that he is trying to encourage a higher social class of customers. Soon after, a Cockney guest, Danny Brown, turns up asking for a room, much to Basil's annoyance. However, Basil is soon put out when Mr. Brown shows that he can communicate better than he with Manuel, as he can speak fluent Spanish.

Whilst on the phone to Mr. O'Reilly (the builder featured in the following episode) Lord Melbury, a tatty looking aristocrat, turns up out of the blue. Basil immediately becomes infatuated by his alleged class and breeding. Embarrassing incidents follow, where Basil fawns on Lord Melbury and treats him better than the other guests. Basil asks a family to move for Lord Melbury, but accidentally deposits Lord Melbury on the floor in the process. Basil grovels for forgiveness, which Melbury grants him.

After dinner, Melbury emerges from the dining room and Basil immediately begins fawning over him, apologising incessantly. Lord Melbury dismisses his apologies and claims it was merely an accident. Basil insists that if there is anything he can do to make it up to Melbury he will. Lord Melbury immediately becomes interested and asks Basil to cash him a cheque for two hundred pounds. Despite being aghast at such a large sum, Basil agrees and Melbury writes him a large cheque. Melbury is delighted and Basil hides this from Sybil. He then confides in Polly and asks her to collect the money for his lordship.

When Polly goes into town to take out she comes across Danny Brown and a fellow detective inspector. They explain that they are from the CID, and are watching Melbury, who is revealed to be a confidence trickster pulling off a large scam in town.

Basil continues to ignore other guests while attending to Lord Melbury in the bar, neglecting their orders for drinks. Melbury offers to take Basil's collection of coins to have them valued whilst visiting the Duke of Buckleigh that evening. Basil is deeply honoured, and agrees.

Polly confronts Basil with the information that Melbury is an impostor, but he refuses to believe her. She then tells Sybil, who takes out Melbury's valuables suitcase from the safe, and reveals the contents to be a pair of bricks. Sir Richard Morris (a real aristocrat) and his wife arrive to check in, and witness Basil's furious rage, as he swears at Melbury who is promptly arrested by Brown and his colleague. Basil takes the money he has given Melbury from Melbury's own pocket, and kicks him. Horrified by what he has seen, Sir Richard leaves, vowing never to return to such a terrible hotel. Basil hypocritically curses his upper class behaviour.

Basil re-enters the hotel, and a very angry Mr. Wareing (whom Basil moved from his table earlier in the episode) shouts (after several prior requests) that he would like a gin and orange juice, a lemon squash, and a scotch and water, for which he has been waiting in the bar for some time. Basil smashes the picture he hung up previously, and frog-marches his guest back to the bar.


Episode credited cast:

Also starring:

  • Terence Conoley as Mr. Wareing
  • Robin Ellis as Danny Brown
  • David Simeon as Mr. Mackenzie
  • Lionel Wheeler as Mr. Watson
  • Martin Wyldeck as Sir Richard Morris
  • The Newspaper boy (unnamed) has one word: Newspapers
  • Pat Symons Lady Morris
  • An un-named actor plays a Policeman, who says Sorry, Mr. Fawlty at the end, and restrains Basil from hitting Lord Melbury

Connections and errors

  • After this episode modifications were made to the set. For example, in the next episode the wallpaper is a completely different colour, and the hotel layout slightly wider. The theme music was also re-recorded.
  • This was Michael Gwynn's (Lord Melbury) final televised role. He died three months after the series ended.
  • Basil keeps getting distracted from hanging the picture on the wall. Throughout the episode the picture clearly has no glass covering it, yet at the end when Basil smashes the picture on the ground we hear the distinct sound of glass breaking.
  • Another continuity error occurs when Basil goes outside to collect Lord Melbury's cases. The cases have switched hands when he returns to the lobby.
  • When Danny calls Basil 'waiter', the latter turns and we see the face of Miss Tibbs. If you look closely, you can see that the actress playing her is not Gilly Flower.
  • In the BBC television series The Real Hustle, Alex uses the name "Lord Melbury" to confidence trick a hotel.

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