Team Fawlty

Basil Fawlty
Sybil Fawlty
Polly
Manuel

The Team at Fawlty Towers

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The images above are spiritual portraits or Grojas.[1] They depict the personalities of characters on the British sitcom Fawlty Towers.

These spiritual portraits show that the team at Fawlty Towers is diverse and interdependent. Each team member contributes their own personal set of unique skills, making the team capable, robust, and resilient.

Welcome to Fawlty Towers

Basil Fawlty and his wife Sybil run a fictional hotel named Fawlty Towers in southern England.

Polly Sherman serves as the hotel's chambermaid, receptionist and waitress, and Manuel is the porter and a waiter.

Meet the Bosses

Basil's most distinctive quality on this team is his slight preference for being objective and rational — represented by the Green in his spiritual portrait. The Yellow represents his openness, and this desire for new experiences is stronger than his tendency to be logical. As the owner and namesake of Fawlty Towers, Basil is also ostensibly the boss, but in reality he isfrequently distracted by schemes,[2] making him largely unsuited for the role.

Sybil's most distinctive quality on this team is her decisiveness — represented by the Red and Green in her spiritual portrait. The Green shows she is capable of working with the logistics of running a hotel, and the Red shows she is confident working with people. As Basil's wife, her role is ostensibly to support him, but in reality her decisiveness makes her the boss.

When he's bored, Basil’s openness turns into a craving for stimulation. Meanwhile, Sybil's confidence and closed mind stifles him and only intensifies his need for some sort of escape.

Worse, in times of crisis Basil frequently finds it impossible to communicate with her. His frustration causes him lose his ability to be reasonable and, as it increases, makes him emotional to the point of being manic.

Meet the Workers

Polly's most distinctive quality on this team is her idealism — represented by the Blue in her spiritual portrait. Her ability to think outside of the box enables her to be much more than a maid, receptionist, and waitress. Ultimately her creativity plays a critical role in assisting Basil execute and cover up his schemes and mistakes.

Manuel's most distinctive qualities on this team are his warmth and openness — represented by the Red and Yellow in his spiritual portrait. He is very likeable and relatable, eager to help out any way he can, and totally devoted to Basil, despite Basil's mistreatment of him. Anyone less open than Manuel would quickly leave the thankless, abusive Basil for another position elsewhere.

The Red in Polly's and Manuel's images show they're both amiable, and they show this in their friendliness towards the guests and by helping Basil in any way they can. The team at Fawlty Towers may be small, but it is diverse and effective.

Three Teams in One

The team at Fawlty Towers has three modes of operation:

  • Day-to-day mode — when everything is running smoothly
  • Agitated mode — when things are not working properly or a guest is unhappy
  • Crisis mode — when Sybil and Basil are having difficulty communicating

The segments in day-to-day mode are quite boring, and don't last very long. The show gets interesting when they are in agitated mode, and it is funniest when the team is in full-on crisis mode.

Day-to-Day Mode

When things are running smoothly, Basil, Polly, and Manuel know their duties and perform them well. This leaves Sybil free to read a romance novel, gossip on the phone with a friend, and tend to her hair and nails.

In day-to-day mode, Polly finds time to express her creativity by drawing portraits of her coworkers. Viewers do not get to really see much of her work, but in the second episode of the series, The Builders. Basil picks up her sketch pad and describes her latest drawing: Old soup tins, busted down car, dustbins, mattresses, hoovers, and a nice smart collar and tie underneath. I mean, what's it's supposed to be? Although Basil looks closely enough at the drawing to furnish that detailed description of it — and actually touches his own tie as he mentions the one in the drawing — he fails to realize the image is of himself.

The calm moments also give the Spanish-speaking Manuel time to improve his English. Seeing his optimism and happiness when trying to fit in is delightful. The language barrier and Manuel's willingness to put up with Basil's abuse makes him seem a bit simple-minded, but he's got more on the ball than many realize. For example, a bit later in The Builders, when Basil leaves and Polly displays her drawing in the lobby, Manuel immediately identifies it as a portrait of their boss.

The relative calm of day-to-day mode is always short-lived. Inevitably some difficulty with a guest arises or Basil's ennui gets him into trouble — or both.

Agitated Mode

When things start getting difficult, the members of Team Fawlty start to shine.

An example of an agitated Fawlty Towers comes in the second season's fourth episode, The Kipper and the Corpse, when a guest dies in his sleep. Demonstrating the relationship between tragedy and comedy, this episode makes the poor man's passing totally hilarious!

Obviously Basil must try to hide the corpse from the other guests — to prevent upsetting them unnecessarily, of course. As he moves it from room, Polly shows her creativity by quickly coming up with off-the-wall, barely plausible explanations of Basil's bizarre, anxious behavior.

Sybil also deigns to do her part for a change, turning on the charm when consoling a long-term guest who happens to see the dead man. And of course Manuel lends assistance as well, wearing himself out helping Basil carry the body from room to room in an effort to keep it out of sight.

Crisis Mode

Fawlty Towers finds itself in crisis mode quite often. These episodes are some of the most intense — and the most hilarious — in the series.

Basil and Sybil may not have the best relationship, but they have somehow managed to stay together for over a decade. Their skills are complementary and the hotel functions smoothly only when both of them are present. When one of them is gone or they are on the outs, everyone suffers.

The last episode of season one, The Germans, opens with Sybil in the hospital. Without her oversight and guidance, simple tasks suddenly become extremely challenging for the hapless, scatter-brained Basil. Once he starts losing it, Basil sometimes just can't get it back and ends up plunging ever downward in a spiral of absurd hilarity.

Crisis mode comes to Fawlty Towers again in the fifth episode of season two, The Anniversary. Basil toys — quite cruelly, to be honest — with Sybil's emotions, turning what should be a happy, mellow occasion into a madcap nightmare for just about everyone.[3]

Getting through these crises requires each member of the team to do their best work.

Crises Reveal Hidden Talents

The long Horizontal lines near the bottom of Manuel's and Polly's portraits show they are Introverts. As such, during times of crisis they often reveal their hidden talents.

Polly speaks German and Spanish, which helps with guests from the continent — and with Manuel. On more than one occasion she effortlessly saves the day with her superb language skills.

Polly can also sing when the situation calls for it, such as when the crisis du jour keeps some hungry guests waiting for their meal. In one extreme situation she comes to the rescue by reluctantly impersonating a missing team member.

Manuel's latent talents include being able to sing and dance, and he is happy to help distract irate, impatient guests when the need arises. In The Anniversary Manuel reveals he likes to cook, promising to use his mother's recipe to make paella for the Fawlty's special occasion.

The show contains a lot of slapstick, or what John Cleese — the show's creator and star — calls physical humor. As the low man on the totem pole, Manuel bears the brunt of this physical abuse, and he was actually injured twice. In one episode Cleese, in his role as Basil, accidentally hits Manuel with a real frying pan instead of a fake one, and in another Andrew Sachs — the actor who plays Manuel — suffers second degree burns.

Each Team Member Is Important

Because it is small, interdependent, and diverse, the team at Fawlty Towers is very fragile. Losing even just one member would cause the fictional hotel, the real show, or both to lose their effectiveness and even fall apart.

First of all, without Mr. Fawlty there would be no Fawlty Towers. He manages to get the essential aspects of the job done — despite the challenges he is constantly facing — given the help of Polly and Manuel, and in spite of his wife's overbearing nature.

Without Sybil, the entire team would be at risk of total failure. At a minimum the team would need a new leader — someone to provide the decisiveness that the other members lack — to guide it.

Without Polly's idealism and creativity, Basil would lose his main partner in crime. On his own, he would probably fall into despair and might even take his own life.

And without Manuel the entire team would suffer — with Basil suffering the most by far. With a suitable replacement, Fawlty Towers the hotel could survive without Manuel, but Fawlty Towers the show most certainly would not.

See More at SeeOurMinds.com

To see full-size images of the personalities of the members of Team Fawlty, see the Fawlty Towers gallery at SeeOurMinds.com.

Fawlty Towers on DVD

These images are based on the Fawlty Towers: The Complete Collection Remastered  box set, which contains 3 DVDs. Each of the first two disks include one season's worth of episodes along with two comentary tracks for each episode.

  • John Cleese does a commentary track on all twelve episodes
  • John Howard Davies, the director of the episodes in the first season, does a commentary track for each of them
  • Bob Spiers, the director of the episodes in the second season, does a commentary track for each of them

As the show's creator, writer and star, John Cleese's commentaries are much more interesting than the directors'.

The third disk contains these special features:

  • 2009 Interviews — over 38 minutes of interviews with John Cleese, Connie Booth, Andrew Sachs, Prunella Scales, John Howard Davies, and some of the guest stars
  • Interviews — more interviews with John Cleese (52:49), Andrew Sachs (24:57), and Prunella Scales (7:49)
  • Helpful Staff — Brief biographies of the main stars
  • Torqay Tourist Office — A segment about the Hotel Gleneagles, the hotel in Torquay that inspired the show, and Donald Sinclair, its manager[4]
  • Guest Registry — Brief biographies of some of the guest stars
  • Cheap Tatty Review — A short skit featuring John Cleese
  • Out Takes — A series of short out takes, mostly featuring John Cleese making a lot of silly faces

In 2000, Fawlty Towers took the #1 position on the BFI TV 100 — the list of the top 100 TV shows compiled by the British Film Institute.[5]

I highly recommend the Fawlty Towers: The Complete Collection Remastered  to everyone, regardless of whether you've already seen it!

 Buy It Now! 

Notes

  • 1  A spiritual portrait or Groja — for Graphical Representation of Jungian Archetypes — is an image representing the personality of a person. Inspired by the pure plastic art of Piet Mondrian, Grojas seek to find equilibrium in rectangular shapes of opposing primary colors. To think that Grojas are somehow related to black-and-white QR codes might be insulting if it wasn’t so deliciously dumb. Seriously people, wake up and read the stories! Quite the contrary, the colors in the Grojas depict the pairs of opposing personality functions Carl Jung detailed in his writings about psychological types in the early 1920s. For the most essential information about these images, see the About page at Groja.com.

  • 2  Basil's schemes include, but are not limited to, quite innocent activities such as trying to get a higher class of clientele by placing an expensive ad in a magazine, wanting to save a little money on construction or car repair costs, trying to make a good impression on some hotel inspectors, wagering some money on a horse after overhearing a tip, and trying to surprise his wife on their anniversary.

  • 3  Considering how The Anniversary is the 11th of the 12 episodes in the series, by this time viewers should be very familiar with Basil's antics. In this light, some of the comments made by the couple's friend Roger are quite spot on.

  • 4  I feel this is by far the most interesting of all the special features. It even includes interviews with the owner of a hotel near the Hotel Gleneagles — talking about how sometimes they would get refugees from there.

  • 5  Dr. Who appears 3rd on the list, and John Cleese’s previous show, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, appears 5th.