Fawlty Towers/Communication Problems

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Communication Problems
Polly, for the first time in my life, I'm ahead! I'm winning!
Season 2, Episode 1
Airdate February 19, 1979
Production Number
Written by John Cleese &
Connie Booth
Directed by Bob Spiers
← 1x06
The Germans
2x02 →
The Psychiatrist
Fawlty TowersSeason Two

Communication Problems is the first episode of the second season of Fawlty Towers, and the seventh episode overall. It aired three and a half years after 1x06 - The Germans, but approximately three years have passed within the show.

Guest Stars: Joan Sanderson (Mrs Richards), Ballard Berkeley (Major Gowen), Brian Hall (Terry), Gilly Flower (Miss Tibbs), Renee Roberts (Miss Gatsby), Robert Lankesheer (Mr Thurston), Johnny Shannon (Mr Firkins), Bill Bradley (Mr Mackintosh), George Lee (Mr Kerr), Mervyn Pascoe (Mr Yardley)


Plot Overview

A pushy, rude, brusque check-in, Mrs. Richards, interrupts Polly as she tries to attend to a check-out, Mr. Thurston. Polly palms Richards off on Manuel, whose language barrier frustrates Richards. After Polly checks Richards in, another check-out, Mr. Firkins, gives Basil a tip on a horse, Dragonfly, but Sybil refuses to allow Basil to gamble.

Mrs. Richards calls Basil up to complain the bath is too small, she does not like the view and the radio does not work. Basil cranks the radio up to deafening. He asks Richards if she wears a hearing aid, and she says she does, but she leaves it off to save the batteries. As he leaves her room, Basil asks Manuel to place the bet on Dragonfly for him in secret.

Basil's horse wins £75, and Manuel gives the money to Polly to give to Basil. Richards' room is out of lavatory paper, so she tells Polly, "There's no paper in my room," but Polly thinks she wants writing paper and asks embarrassing questions. The outraged Richards complains to Basil, who tries to explain, but Richards cannot hear him. Basil tries to write it down, but Richards cannot read without her glasses, and when Basil and Polly try to tell her they are on her head, she cannot hear them. After Richards leaves, Polly gives Basil his horse money. Sybil catches Basil singing to himself in the kitchen and becomes suspicious. Basil tries to tell Manuel to keep the win a secret, but he has trouble making Manuel understand.

Richards claims £85 has gone missing from her room and demands Basil call the police. Sybil says she saw Polly counting the horse money and suggests that might be Richards' missing money. Basil sneaks over to Polly and warns her, so when Sybil asks about the money, Polly claims she herself won it on the horse. Suspicious, Sybil asks Polly the name of the horse, and Basil plays a furious game of charades behind Sybil's back to tell Polly the name "Dragonfly." In the lounge, Basil pulls aside Major Gowen, who is headed to a funeral for an old Army comrade who was homosexual, and gives him the money for safe keeping.

The next day, Richards is still looking for her lost money. Basil discreetly asks the Major for his money back, but the confused Major does not remember what Basil wants. Just as Richards demands Basil call the police, the Major finds the money, which Richards assumes is hers, but with Sybil there, Basil cannot explain. After Sybil leaves to find the missing £10, Basil explains the situation to Richards and tries to make the Major remember so he can confirm, but the Major does not. Basil asks Manuel for confirmation, but as per Basil's instructions, Manuel says, "I know nothing." Sybil returns and tells Basil to reimburse Richards from the till, and the frustrated Basil takes off his shirt to give her that, too.

While Basil is having a nervous breakdown over his rotten luck, Mr. Kerr, a delivery man, arrives with a vase Richards ordered and £95 she left behind. Basil is thrilled as he realizes he is at last £10 up. He gives Richards the £10-difference from the found money, but Sybil enters and sees Basil with the remaining 85 pounds. Polly claims the money is hers, and Basil believes the situation is at last cleared up. However, as he hands Richards her vase in front of Sybil, the Major enters and announces he remembers where the money came from. "You won it on that horse!" the Major shouts. Startled, Basil drops the £75-vase and breaks it, so Sybil reimburses Richards from the found money.


The Sign

"FAWLTY TOWER," and the L is drooping. (See also: 1x02 - The Builders.)

Alternate Titles

This episode was entitled "Theft" in the original TV listings and "Communication Problems" in the 1980s VHS release and all subsequent sources. See 1x03 - The Wedding Party for an explanation of the alternate titles. (See also: 1x05 - Gourmet Night, 2x03 - Waldorf Salad, 2x04 - The Kipper and the Corpse and 2x06 - Basil the Rat.)


  • Sybil talks with Basil about Mrs. Richards' "stolen" money, but Basil goes off on a tangent about his marriage. Sybil asks, "What are we going to do?" Still musing, Basil replies, "Give it another 15 years?" This is the first reference made in the second season as to how long Basil and Sybil have been married. Given the timeline stated in 1x04 - Hotel Inspectors, about three years have passed betweeen that episode and this one. (See also: 2x05 - The Anniversary.)

New Staff

Terry appears for the first time as the chef at Fawlty Towers. (See also: Trivia: The Show: First Appearance.) Also, Sybil asks Polly, "Brenda can't start until Monday, so can you deal with the rooms until then?" Brenda is the maid, yet she is never shown on screen.

Arc Advancement



  • Polly and Manuel: Polly palms Mrs. Richards off on Manuel to take advantage of poor Manuel's language barrier—a move one might consider more typical of Basil.
  • Major Gowen: Major Gowen dislikes his deceased Army comrade because he is "one of those," a "pansy." Already proven to be a racist in 1x06 - The Germans, it appears the Major is also homophobic.


  • 1x02 - The Builders: Bob Lee plays Mr. Kerr, the brown trenchoat-wearing delivery man who drops off the vase Mrs. Richards ordered. In that episode, Lee played an unnamed delivery man in an identical trenchcoat. It is probable Mr. Kerr and the Delivery Man are one and the same.


The Show

  • First Appearance: This is the first appearance of Terry, the chef at Fawlty Towers. Aside from the Fawltys, Polly, Manuel and Kurt—the chef in 1x05 - Gourmet Night—Terry is the only staff member ever seen on screen. (See also: Notes: New Staff.)
  • Basil's Birthplace: Polly tells Mrs. Richards Manuel is from Barcelona, but Richards thinks Polly is referring to Basil. Manuel says, "No, no, he's from Swanage," the first reference to Basil's birthplace.

Behind the Scenes

  • Andrew Sachs' Script Input: Andrew Sachs claims to have offered no script suggestions, but he did request that one line of dialogue, cut in rehearsal, be put back. When Basil screams into Mrs. Richards' microphone, she bumps her head on a shelf. While Sybil tries to soothe Richards, Basil holds up a piece of lint and—just as Sachs requested—asks Richards, "Is this a piece of your brain?"
  • Basil Marries Mrs. Richards: John Cleese and Joan Sanderson, who plays Mrs. Richards, would work together again in the 1981 film The Great Muppet Caper, in which Sanderson plays Cleese's wife.

Allusions and References

  • St. George: A 3rd-century Roman soldier canonized as a Christian saint and martyr when, according to legend, he refused to assist the Roman Empire in its persecution of Christians and declared his adherence to the faith. One popular folk legend about St. George regards a town in which a dragon terrorized the heathen population and demanded human sacrifices. Before the townspeople sacrificed their own princess, St. George slew their tormentor. The grateful townspeople converted to Christianity.
Basil: Good old Saint George, eh, Major? ... Well, he killed a hideous, fire-breathing old dragon, didn't he, Polly?
Polly: Ran it through with a lance, I believe.
  • The Sydney Opera House: Located in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, it is one of the most recognizable architectural structures in the world. Its overlapping, curved shells are so distinctive that a shot of the Sydney Opera House is used in movies and TV shows as a short-hand establishing shot of Sydney or Australia.
Basil: Basil: Well, may I ask what you were expecting to see out of a Torquay hotel bedroom window? Sydney Opera House, perhaps?...
  • The Hanging Gardens of Babylon: Gardens in Mesopotamia which were one of the Seven Wonders of the World. They were a series of terraced mountains built and planted by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II to cheer up his wife. Although destroyed centuries ago—if they ever existed at all—they are described in Ancient Greek accounts as a breathtaking spectacle.
Basil: ... The Hanging Gardens of Babylon?
  • Krakatoa: An active volcano in the waters near Indonesia which had several eruptions in modern times. The most famous one, in 1883, caused an explosion which is the loudest sound ever recorded by human beings.
Basil: Why, because Krakatoa's not erupting at the moment, or...?
  • Cosmopolitan: A magazine founded in the late 19th century as an illustrated monthly but retooled in the mid-1960s as a women's magazine. Its UK counterpart began in the early 1970s. Both American and British versions are famous for graphic discussions of sex, celebrity gossip and health and beauty tips.
Sybil: Have you got... ah, have you got Cosmopolitan there? ...
  • Burt Reynolds: American actor who was one of films' most popular leading men in the 1970s.
Sybil: ... Page 42, you see Burt Reynolds?...
  • James Caan: A respected American stage actor who gained the attention of mass audiences for his role as the dying Chicago Bears running back Brian Piccolo in the TV movie Brian's Song. He was rocketed to international superstardom with his role as the volatile Sonny Corleone in the 1973 Oscar-winning epic The Godfather.
Sybil: ... Well, there's a girl standing behind him looking at James Caan.
  • "Camptown Races": The song Basil is singing to himself in the kitchen is "Camptown Races," a song about a Pennsylvania horse race by the 19th-century American popular music songwriter Stephen Foster. The lyrics to the first verse are:
De Camptown ladies sing dis song -- Doo-dah! doo-dah!
De Camptown race-track five miles long -- Oh! doo-dah day!
I come down dah wid my hat caved in -- Doo-dah! doo-dah!
I go back home wid a pocket full of tin -- Oh! doo-dah day!
Gwine to run all night!
Gwine to run all day!
I'll bet my money on de bob-tail nag --
Somebody bet on de bay.
  • "My Way": When Sybil enters, Basil maintains the tune of "Camptown Races" but sings the lyrics, "I did it my way," from the 20th century popular song by Claude Francois and Jacques Revaux adapted into English by Paul Anka. It is sung from the point of view of a dying man who looks back at his life and is satisfied with it. Famous covers of the song have been sung by Elvis Presley, Sid Vicious and Anka himself, but the most famous version is by Frank Sinatra.
  • Frank Sinatra: American singer and actor who enjoyed an unprecedented hold on the center of pop culture consciousness, beginning with his first musical hits in the late 1930s, and lasting to his death at the end of the 20th century. As one of the greatest superstars of all time, dozens of his recordings went on to become American popular music standards.
Basil: Can't stand Frank Sinatra....
  • "You Make Me Feel So Young": The title and first line of a 20th-century popular song by composer Josef Myrow and lyricist Mack David. It is a love song, sung by an older man to a woman who makes him feel like a child whenever she is around. It has become a standard, but the most famous version is the one sung by Frank Sinatra.
Basil: ... "You make me feel so young." Rubbish!

Memorable Moments

  • A few moments after Basil and Polly have tried to tell Mrs. Richards her glasses are on her head, Richards returns and scolds Polly for not seeing her glasses on her head. "Didn't God give you eyes?" asks Mrs. Richards. "Yes," replies Polly, "but I don't use them, because it wears the batteries out."
  • Basil plays charades with Polly. Polly goes through several incorrect guesses—Birdbrain, Fishwife and Flying Tart—before she hits the correct name, Dragonfly.


  • Basil: A satisfied customer. We should have him stuffed.
  • Basil: Oh, I could spend the rest of my life having this conversation. Please, please try to understand before one of us dies!
  • Basil: Seriously, Sybil, do you remember when we were first manacled together? We used to laugh quite a lot.
    Sybil: Yes, but not at the same time, Basil.
  • Sybil: If I find out the money on that horse was yours, you know what I'll do, Basil.
    Basil: You'll have to sew 'em back on, first!