How Fawlty Towers almost never opened its doors


This gem comes from Shaun Usher over at Letters of Note, a Manchester site dedicated to the seeking out fascinating letters, postcards, telegrams, faxes, and memos. To the British comedy world, there is none more ‘fascinating’ that this accompanying 1974 memo graphic supplied by Sam Ward. While we knew of this story through several interviews with John Cleese during our filming of Fawlty Towers Revisited for PBS several years back, it’s rather chilling to see evidence of it and realize just how close the series came to not be.

As the story goes, in May of 1974, following a now legendary 1972 stay at the Gleneagles Hotel by members of the Monty Python troupe, a pilot script written by John Cleese and his then-wife, Connie Booth, was submitted to the BBC. A clearly unimpressed ‘comedy script editor’ by the name of Ian Main sent the following memo to BBC Television’s Head of Comedy and Light Entertainment.

Luckily for the entire population of the free world, Main’s opinion was ultimately ignored by his superiors and a year later the script, thanks in large part to continued hammering by both Cleese and Booth, had evolved into a program which is, arguably, considered one of the funniest ever to come out of not only the BBC, but television as we know it. The show, or course, was Fawlty Towers. The thought of labeling Sybil, Basil, Polly, Manuel and even the Major as “stock characters”.

Makes you wonder what doesn’t get produced today because of some similar memo….

  • Costas Tsatsoulis

    Please, please, please, I rely on PBS/NPR to safeguard the English language, even the one spoken in the New World. “Its” does not require an apostrophe. It’s neither “it’s” not “its’.”

  • nick

    It is kind of worrying, but on the other hand look at the rubbish that often does get the thumbs up!

    Back then with only 3 Tv channels you can’t blame them for being a bit cautious. Seems obvious FT was a winner now, but that’s hindsight for you

    We have to hope that these things balance out overall. Good and bad.

    Thing is, we will never know what we might have missed.

  • Ade

    It’s is a contraction for it is or it has.

    Its is a possessive pronoun meaning, more or less, of it or belonging to it.

    And there is absolutely, positively, no such word as its’.

    A simple test
    If you can replace it[‘]s in your sentence with it is or it has, then your word is it’s; otherwise, your word is its.

  • jt

    I would venture to say that since this memo has been published on-line, if he is still alive, he has been eating a lot of Humble Pie.