Fawlty Towers/Basil the Rat
Basil the Rat is the sixth episode of the second season of Fawlty Towers, and the twelfth episode overall. It is also the final episode of the series, although it aired seven months after the previous episode, 2x05 - The Anniversary. John Cleese claims he and Connie Booth thought long and hard on the order in which to write, shoot and air the episodes of the second season. As they did not intend to make a third season, their primary concern was how to end it. According to Cleese, there were just certain states he couldn't leave Basil Fawlty in. Although several episodes seem to close with logical endings for Basil (2x03 - Waldorf Salad and 2x04 - The Kipper and the Corpse among them), Cleese and Booth settled on this one: Basil, believing he is doomed, his 15 years as a hotel owner over, Fawlty Towers to be shut down forever, faints. As the hapless Manuel drags his mentor and tormentor away, Sybil, acting casual, remarks, "I'm afraid it's started to rain again." The most fitting end Cleese and Booth could conceive of for this remarkable, legendary series.
Guest Stars: John Quarmby (Mr Carnegie), Ballard Berkeley (Major Gowen), Brian Hall (Terry), Gilly Flower (Miss Tibbs), Renee Roberts (Miss Gatsby), David Neville (Ronald), Sabina Franklyn (Quentina), James Taylor (Mr Taylor), Melody Lang (Mrs Taylor), Stuart Sherwin (Guest)
Government health inspector Mr. Carnegie visits Fawlty Towers and declares it filthy, but he gives Basil a day to clean everything up and avoid having his hotel closed down. Basil learns Manuel's pet "hamster" is really a rat, which simply must go before Carnegie returns. Polly claims to find Manuel's rat (named Basil) a good home, but secretly she, Manuel and Terry conspire to hide the rat in the shed. The next day, just before Carnegie arrives, the rat escapes and is spotted in the hotel. Basil the Man poisons a piece of veal as bait, but the veal gets mixed in with the other, non-poisoned meat just as Carnegie orders veal for lunch. While Terry and Basil use the cat as a guinea pig for Carnegie's veal, everyone tries frantically to catch the loose rat. At last, Manuel catches Basil the Rat and hides him in the biscuits, just as those same biscuits are served to a very surprised Carnegie.
The sign reads, "FARTY TOWELS." The final "S" is halfway out of frame.
This episode was entitled "Rats" in the original TV listings and "Basil the Rat" in the 1980s VHS release and all subsequent releases. See 1x03 - The Wedding Party for an explanation of the alternate titles. (See also: 1x05 - Gourmet Night, 2x01 - Communication Problems, 2x03 - Waldorf Salad and 2x04 - The Kipper and the Corpse.)
- When Sybil learns of Manuel's rat, she says to Basil, "Well, you mean he's had it for a whole year and you've only just found out?" In 1x06 - The Germans, Manuel claimed to have a hamster, but that took place three years prior to this episode by the timeline. However, as hamsters and rats alike have life spans of roughly two years, it is likely that Manuel had a hamster three years ago, and this "filigree Siberian hamster" was bought as a replacement for an earlier one, who died.
- Basil and Manuel: Manuel names his pet rat "Basil" - apparently as a tribute, although Basil takes it as an insult. This is further proof of the respect and affection Manuel has for Basil, even though Basil torments him.
- 1x04 - Hotel Inspectors: Basil mentioned "the cat" in passing in that episode. Their cat Puss is at last seen in this episode.
- 1x06 - The Germans: Manuel first mentioned his hamster in that episode, but this is the first time we've seen that he indeed has a hamster. Also in that episode, Major Gowen revealed his hatred of Germans. Thus, when Basil first sees the Major firing at "vermin," it is understandable he would think the Major was firing at Germans.
Behind the Scenes
- Family Connection: Melody Lang, who plays Mrs. Taylor, a guest at the hotel in this episode, is the real-life wife of Andrew Sachs, who plays Manuel.
- Donald Sinclair: When Quentina catches Basil checking her bag for the missing rat, Basil claims he is checking it due to a bomb scare. Donald Sinclair, the inspiration for Basil Fawlty, used the same excuse when he threw Eric Idle's briefcase over a wall. (See also: At a Glance.)
- Delayed Filming: Due to a BBC strike - the result of a BBC executive punching a gaffer during a dispute - filming of this episode was delayed nearly two weeks, and the airing was delayed several months. This gave the cast and crew several extra days of rehearsal, which they all appreciated and made the most of. As a result, this episode is the favorite and the favorite experience of many members of the cast, including Andrew Sachs, whose character Manuel has the largest role in this episode of any episode in the series. There is a certain irony, as in several episodes of the series - including this one - Basil and Major Gowen make references to the strikes occurring in Britain at that time.
Allusions and References
- Ludwig Wittgenstein: When Basil gives Manuel a task to prepare for Mr. Carnegie's return, Manuel (as always) does not understand. Basil says, "It's not difficult, Manuel. This is not a proposition from Wittgenstein." Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein was one of the most important thinkers of the 20th century with his groundbreaking, influential work on logic, language and the mind.
- Francisco Franco: When Basil first tells Manuel his pet is a rat, Manuel argues it's a hamster. Basil replies, "Well, of course it's a rat. You have rats in Spain, don't you? Or did Franco have them all shot?" Generalisimo Francisco Franco was the fascist dictator of Spain from 1939 until his death in 1975.
- The Bubonic Plague: While arguing over the rat, Basil asks Manuel, "Have you ever heard of the bubonic plague, Manuel? It was very popular at one time. A lot of pedigreed hamsters came over on ships from Siberia." The bubonic plague is a highly infectious, deadly disease caused by bacteria which are spread through flea bites. The fleas typically infest rats but can pass on the infection to humans. Throughout the Middle Ages, various parts of Europe and Asia were frequently ravaged by the Black Death, the greatest pandemic in recorded human history, believed to have been the bubonic plague. One of the last widespread outbreaks in Europe was the Great Plague of London, which first started in April 1665 and lasted throughout the year and into the first few weeks of the next. By some estimates, one-fifth of the population of that city was killed in the outbreak. It is believed to have occurred because of the growth of the rat population in the city.
- Mastermind: Sybil tells Basil if Mr. Carnegie sees the rat, he'll shut the hotel down, and Basil will have to get rid of it and make sure it doesn't return. Basil makes the snarky comment, "Can we get you on Mastermind, Sybil? Next contestant, Sybil Fawlty from Torquay, special subject: The bleedin' obvious." Mastermind was a highly popular quiz show in the UK from 1972 to 1997. It consisted of two rounds. In the first, the contestant answered questions on a special field of his or her expertise, and in the second, questions in general knowledge.
- The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show: To conclude a confusing conversation with Major Gowen, Basil says, "Say good night to the folks, Gracie." This was a catchphrase used by the comedy straight man George Burns to the daffy, literalist comic (and Burns' real-life wife) Gracie Allen on The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show. Contrary to popular mythology, Gracie's response was always, "Good night," and never, "Good night, Gracie." John Cleese has claimed Burns and Allen as one of his comedy influences when he was growing up.
- Annie Hall: To stall Ronald and Quentina while Basil checks Quentina's bag for the missing rat, Polly says, "La-di-da. Did you see Annie Hall? La-di-da!" The classic romantic comedy Annie Hall, directed by and starring Woody Allen, was a blockbuster hit on its release in 1977 that made an international feminist idol of its titular female lead, played by Diane Keaton, who said, "La-di-da," when she was nervous. It won four Oscars - including Best Picture and Best Actress for Keaton.
- Manuel: I say to man in shop, "Is rat." He say, "No, no, no. Is a special kind of hamster. Is filigree Siberian hamster." Only one in shop. He make special price, only five pound.
Basil: Have you ever heard of the bubonic plague, Manuel? It was very popular here at one time. A lot of pedigreed hamsters came over on ships from Siberia.
- Sybil: Basil, he's Manuel's pet. We have a duty to it. Perhaps we could find a home for him.
Basil: All right, I'll put an ad in the papers. "Wanted: Kind home for enormous, savage rodent. Answers to the name of 'Sybil.'"
- Manuel: Don't hit me! Always you hit me!
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