Fawlty Towers/The Builders

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The Builders
"Don't panic!" "What else is there to do?!"
Season 1, Episode 2
Airdate September 26, 1975
Production Number
Writer(s) John Cleese &
Connie Booth
Director(s) John Howard Davies
← 1x01
A Touch of Class
1x03 →
The Wedding Party
Fawlty TowersSeason One

The Builders is the second episode of the first season of Fawlty Towers, and the second episode overall. A high watermark in the first season and in the series, The Builders showcases the unique combination of comic styles which sets this series in a class by itself. John Cleese and Connie Booth draw on a rich tradition of British stage and film comedy throughout the series. Here, they recreate the old slamming-door farce—a staple of British theater—but they twist the formula by giving the characters, as a key plot point, no doors to slam.

Cleese had already proven himself a master of physical comedy on Monty Python's Flying Circus, but in this episode, Booth, Prunella Scales, Andrew Sachs and David Kelly are all given the chance to show off their slapstick chops, and they all succeed. There are extended moments—such as Basil's complete mental breakdown upon discovering the hotel lobby incorrectly remodeled, or Sybil's savage beating of Basil and a hapless Irish builder—in which the physical comedy is a sort of physical symphony. In addition, Basil and Manuel share an exchange over washing the windows which is reminiscent of such classic comedy duos as Abbott and Costello. And when Basil tries to cover up for Sybil's angry tirade against the builder, the scene becomes an example of the British comedy of manners.

It is difficult to describe certain episodes of the series as "notable episodes." There are so few episodes, and they are all so good, that the term becomes almost meaningless when describing this show. However, if such a term is applicable, The Builders is a notable episode.

Guest Stars: Ballard Berkeley (Major Gowen), David Kelly (O'Reilly), Gilly Flower (Miss Tibbs), Renee Roberts (Miss Gatsby), James Appleby (Stubbs), George Lee (Delivery Man), Michael Cronin (Lurphy), Michael Halsey (Jones), Barney Dorman (Kerr)


Plot Overview

Basil and Sybil are leaving for the weekend, and Polly is left in charge, although she has had very little sleep. Sybil has hired a professional builder named Stubbs to make some renovations to the lobby—closing off the drawing room door and installing a door to the kitchen—while they are away, but Basil has hired a cheaper, amateur builder, O'Reilly, to save a few quid. Basil tells Polly but asks her to keep it a secret from Sybil.

Later that day, Polly leaves Manuel in charge while she takes a nap, but she asks him to wake her when the builders arrive. While Manuel is behind the counter, a Delivery Man arrives with a garden gnome Sybil has ordered, and he has difficulty making Manuel understand why he is there. Manuel takes phone calls he thinks are asking for Basil, so he is rude to the caller. When O'Reilly's men—Lurphy, Jones and Kerr—arrive, Manuel finds Polly sleeping peacefully and decides not to wake her. Instead, he deals with the builders, and when the phone rings a third time, he is at first rude, until he discovers the caller is Basil himself. Basil tells Manuel to call Lurphy, the largest builder, a "hhhhideus orang ootang," which Manuel does, so Lurphy punches him out.

The next day, Polly is still asleep when Basil returns to find no kitchen door, the drawing room door still there and the dining room door blocked off. Basil first blames Polly, then Manuel, but when Polly reminds him he hired O'Reilly, Basil has a complete meltdown. Polly snaps him out of it so he can call O'Reilly to repair the damage before Sybil finds out.

It is Sunday, so O'Reilly arrives at the hotel alone, but he is laidback about his chances of correcting his mistake in time. Sybil arrives home early, so Basil has O'Reilly hide in the bar while he tries to blame the shoddy work on Stubbs. Sybil is not fooled, as she has seen O'Reilly's van in the front, but Basil claims O'Reilly is there to repair the damage done by Stubbs, whom he says is not home. Polly calls, posing as Stubbs' secretary, taking blame for the mistake and suggesting Sybil hire O'Reilly to repair the damage, but Sybil recognizes Polly's voice, and the jig is up. She chews Basil out, kicks him and throws things at him. Hearing the yelling, O'Reilly enters, and Sybil beats Basil and O'Reilly with an umbrella within an inch of their lives. She orders O'Reilly to leave and calls Stubbs to come the next day and repair the damage. After she leaves for her friend Audrey's, Basil tells O'Reilly to repair the damage he has done and make the proper renovations.

The next day, the work seems to have been finished correctly. Sybil is at first speechless when she returns home. When Stubbs arrives, he at first agrees the work is a "very good job," until he learns the lintel used to support the kitchen door is wood, which is not enough to hold up the supporting wall. As he races to replace the wooden lintel with a concrete or steel one, Basil leaves with the garden gnome so he can "insert" it into O'Reilly.


The Sign

This is the first time the lettering is in the Times-style font which will be used for the rest of the series. The sign reads "FAWLTY TOWER," and the L is drooping. (See also: 2x01 - Communication Problems.)

Arc Advancement



  • Basil and Polly: After minimal interaction in the first episode, Basil and Polly's peculiar relationship is explored here. Basil abuses Polly, verbally and physically, just as he abuses Manuel—at one point, he drags her around the lobby by her ear—but he trusts her, too. For her part, Polly is uncomfortable with Basil lying to his wife and threatens to tell Sybil the truth. Yet when push comes to shove, she cooperates with him in concealing his deceit. For more on Basil and Polly's relationship, see History.
  • Basil and Manuel: When neither Basil nor Sybil are around, Manuel treats guests and prospective guests rudely, just as he has seen Basil do. Thus, Manuel fears Basil, but admires and wants to be him.
  • Polly and Manuel: It is revealed Polly speaks Spanish—at least better than Basil does. She also takes a protective attitude towards Manuel against Basil. When Basil blames her for the builders' mistake, she at first denies responsibility, but when she realizes Basil will blame Manuel, she says, "It's my fault."
  • Polly: Polly's art comes up several times. Early on, she makes an abstract drawing, which Manuel recognizes as Basil but Basil himself does not. Later, she sketches Manuel standing over a leg of meat with a knife and fork, and while Basil tries to fix the damage O'Reilly has done before Sybil returns, she tries to sketch him.


  • 1x01 - A Touch of Class: The wall O'Reilly was hired to build but has not completed is referred to several times. It was first referenced in that episode in a phone conversation Basil had with O'Reilly.


The Show

  • First Appearance: This is the first appearance of Miss Tibbs and Miss Gatsby. Along with Major Gowen, these three are the "standing guests" at Fawlty Towers, seniors who apparently live in the hotel. Also, George Lee plays the brown trenchcoat-clad Delivery Man who drops off a garden gnome which Sybil Fawlty has ordered, but who finds it difficult to communicate with Manuel. In 2x01 - Communication Problems, Lee again plays a delivery man who wears the same trenchcoat. In that episode, the character is identified as "Mr. Kerr."
  • Address: Polly gives the address of Fawlty Towers as 16 Elwood Avenue in Torquay.
  • Manuel the Englishman: After Polly leaves Manuel in charge, he steps behind the front desk and attempts to speak in an English accent. ("Manuel Towers, how are you? Is nice today! Good. Good-bye!") In 1x06 - The Germans, Manuel again finds himself behind the front desk, and again attempts to speak in an English accent, to the confusion of Major Gowen.
  • Basil's Leg: When confronted by Sybil and under stress, Basil grasps his leg and moans in pain, then claims he is "getting a bit of gyp from the ol' leg this morning." Although it is questionable whether this is true or he is using it as a distraction, in 1x03 - The Wedding Party, Basil will claim to have served in the Korean War and suffered an injury to his leg there.
  • Audrey: This is the first time Sybil refers to her friend Audrey. Audrey, a sort of off-screen recurring character, is Sybil's friend and gossip-partner, with whom she can be heard talking on the phone in later episodes. She is only seen once on screen, in 2x05 - The Anniversary.

Behind the Scenes

  • Cleese's Least Favorite: Despite its high stature amongst fans of the show, John Cleese considers this his least favorite episode of the series and feels his performance in it is not up to par.
  • Studio Audience: During filming of this episode, the live studio audience's reaction was subdued. It was later discovered over half of them were visitors from the Icelandic Broadcasting Corporation who spoke almost no English and had no idea what they were seeing.

Allusions and References

  • The Gleneagles Hotel: An actual hotel in Torquay, where Fawlty Towers is set. In 1975, it was owned by Donald Sinclair, the real-life hotelier who was the inspiration for the character of Basil Fawlty. (See also: At a Glance.)
Basil: So you'll have to go to Gleneagles for your din-dins tonight.
  • Hadrian's Wall: Built between circa 122 and 132 AD, this massive public works project commissioned by the Roman emperor Hadrian cuts across the island of Great Britain. It was built to protect England, which the Romans had conquered, from the barbarians in Scotland, whom Rome had not brought to heel.
Basil: So, ah, next week's a definite, then is it? Oh, good. Well, that will be nice, won't it? I mean, we've waited for that wall about as long as Hadrian.... No, no, Hadrian! The emperor Hadrian. He had a wa... it doesn't matter, I'll explain next week.
  • Generalisimo: The highest rank in the military in Spain. The generalisimo to whom Manuel is no doubt referring is Francisco Franco, the fascist dictator of Spain who came to power in 1939. His reign ended when he died in November 1975, mere weeks after this episode aired.
Delivery Man: No, no, no, no. Where's the real boss?
Delivery Man: The... the... the generalisimo!
Manuel: In Madrid!
Basil: Well, whose fault is it then, you cloth-eared bint? Denis Compton's?
  • "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy": When Sybil enters the hotel after O'Reilly has redone the construction, Basil starts a cassette tape and runs to hide. The cassette plays "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy," a piece in The Nutcracker, a ballet by the Russian composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky.

Memorable Moments

  • Manuel's language barrier causes several memorable moments in this episode. The most memorable one is Basil's telling Manuel to call Lurphy a "hhhhideus orang ootang" and the response from Lurphy.


  • Miss Gatsby: And don't do anything we wouldn't do!
    Basil: Oh, just a little breathing, surely.
  • Manuel: (On phone.) Yes, yes, yes?!... Oh, is you again, now listen. He not here. How many times? Where are your ears, you great big halfwit?
  • Basil: Polly! What have you done with my hotel?
  • O'Reilly: Well let me tell you, if the good Lord meant us to worry, He woulda given us t'ings to worry aboot.
    Basil: He has! My wife! She will be back here in four hours, and she can kill a man at ten paces with one blow of her tongue!
  • O'Reilly: I'm tellin' ya, if the good Lord....
    Basil: Is meant to once more, I shall move you closer to him. Now please!
  • Basil: Oh, don't smile.
  • O'Reilly: Well, to be perfectly honest, Mrs. Fawlty, I like a woman with sperrit.
    Sybil: Oh, do you? Is that what you like?
    O'Reilly: I do, I do!
  • Sybil: 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!
  • Sybil: What is that doing here?
    Basil: It's your garden gnome, dear. Isn't it nice?
    Sybil: Well, don't you think it would be better in the garden?
    Basil: Yes, dear. Good idea.
    Sybil Oh, no, no, no, Basil put him back. On second thought, I think I'll leave him in charge. I'm sure he's cheap, and he'll certainly be better at it than you are.