Fawlty Towers/Sybil Fawlty

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Sybil Fawlty
Fawlty Towers
Actor Prunella Scales
First Appearance 1x01 - A Touch of Class
Last Appearance 2x06 - Basil the Rat
Series Billing Series: First Billed
Episode Count 12
Notable Episodes 1x02 - The Builders
1x03 - The Wedding Party
2x02 - The Psychiatrist
2x05 - The Anniversary

Sybil Fawlty, co-owner and co-manager of Fawlty Towers and wife of Basil Fawlty, is played by Prunella Scales, and appears in all 12 episodes of the show, achieving First Billing in all of them.


Basic Information

Sybil Fawlty receives a lot of insults from her husband Basil, but, according to John Cleese, what makes this work is she is not hurt by any of his insults. They run off her like water off a duck's back. Perhaps this is because she knows he is far, far more afraid of her than she of him, and with good reason. Not only can she "kill a man at ten paces with one blow of her tongue," as Basil puts it, she is also capable of great violent outbursts when necessary (1x02 - The Builders). More to the point, she is a much more competent hotel manager than Basil is. Although she would prefer to spend her time gossiping with her friends, she is more courteous and more apt at business than her husband. As Cleese says, "She could really function perfectly well if Basil buzzed off or fell under a bus. I don't think Basil could."

She spends much of her time gossiping on the phone with her friend Audrey, whose boyfriend George has a bad habit of leaving her (1x03 - The Wedding Party). Sybil responds to all complaints—especially Audrey's—with a sympathetic, "I knooow! Yes, I knoooow!" She is courteous to the guests—sometimes to the point of flirty—and encourages Basil to be courteous, although he never is. She is competent but not terribly intelligent nor educated. She declares Basil's classical music to be a "racket" (1x01 - A Touch of Class), and she reads only Cosmopolitan, other trashy magazines and pulp romance novels.

As little is said of Basil's past, even less is said of Sybil's. She is known to have a mother who is a "worrier" with a list of phobias as long as her arm (2x02 - The Psychiatrist). Prunella Scales posits that she met Basil shortly after his return from the military. As she was at least a second-generation hotel manager and firmly middle class, she was quite taken with the glamor of the much more "posh" Basil. They married and opened Fawlty Towers at the same time, yet when the "harsh reality" set in, they found themselves trapped in a loveless, sexless marriage.

Sybil's trademarks are her unusual laugh (which Basil likens to "someone machine gunning a seal"), her smoking, and her quick, sharp hiss of "Basil!" to pull her husband in line. She may even be better off without him, although he would never, ever admit it.

Character History

Memorable Moments

  • 1x02 - The Builders: When Sybil Basil hired a cheaper builder for renovations than the one she had approved, she proves that although her words may be vicious, her skill with a well-placed umbrella is even deadlier, as she beats Basil and his builder O'Reilly within an inch of their lives.
  • 2x02 - The Psychiatrist: Convinced Basil is on a ladder to sneak a peek at a gorgeous young Australian woman guest at the hotel, Sybil walks up to him and without saying a word slaps him hard enough to knock him down.
  • 2x03 - Waldorf Salad: While Basil, Manuel and Polly run frantically about her in one of Fawlty Towers' busiest nights ever, Sybil sits blithely gossiping with a guest who seems more interested in his dinner.



  • 1x02 - The Builders: O'Reilly, I have seen more intelligent creatures than you lying on their backs at the bottoms of ponds! I have seen better organized creatures than you running around farmyards with their heads cut off! Now collect your things and get out!
  • 2x02 - The Psychiatrist: You never get it right, do you? You're either crawling all over them, licking their boots, or spitting poison at them like some Benzedrine puff adder.
  • 2x02 - The Psychiatrist: Do you really imagine, even in your wildest dreams, that a girl like this could possibly be interested in an aging, brilliantined stick insect like you?