John Cleese adapts ‘Fawlty Towers’ for London’s West End stage!

Fawlty Towers. Photo: BBC2

Just how does one tinker with perfection? This had to be a question that has run through John Cleese’s mind palace over the years when the annual question would come up as to why there has never been a Fawlty Towers remake. I’m guessing the same with Ricky Gervais when thinking about The Office (even though the American version was pretty darn good). Fawlty Towers has to be the greatest 12 episodes of comedy ever. The UK version of The Office is a close second.

So when word leaked that FT co-creator/writer, John Cleese, had penned a two-hour play based on three of the original TV episodes – “The Hotel Inspector” and “The Germans” and “Communication Problems”, one had to wonder what prompted this ‘tinkering with perfection’ moment as we head towards the 50th anniversary of the series premiere on BBC2 in September 1975.

According to Variety, the play, following a tip off that hotel inspectors may be visiting and eager to impress, Basil attempts to ingratiate himself with guests that he suspects are there to critique the establishment. The situation is further plagued by a party of Germans, the guest-from-hell, Mrs. Richards, whose infuriating complaints prevent him from hiding a gambling win from his ever vigilant and bossy wife, Sybil. Together they run their hotel with a little help from the unflappable Polly, and very little help at all from Manuel, the trainee waiter from Barcelona who is the butt of Fawlty’s frustration.

To further the belief that the original series was, indeed, perfection, one only has to look to science to prove it, but just how does one physically measure what makes a great comedy, well, great?

The perfect formula for classic comedy: [(R x D + V) x F + S]/A

Perhaps you’ve heard it before that sitcoms are too formulaic. But, have you ever taken the time to actually consider what is the perfect formula for a classic comedy? What makes some Britcoms fail to make the grade and never get passed the first season, while others are timeless treasures that make us laugh year after year? Is there actually a science to all the laughter?

Dr. Helen Pilcher, a British molecular neurobiologist by day and stand-up comic by night, set out several years ago to answer all of the above in a study commissioned by UKTV Gold, the satellite channel in the UK known as the home for classic Britcoms. Pilcher and her team of research scientists analyzed almost two decades’ worth of British comedies and actually came up with a mathematical expression for success – and failure.

It’s quite simple. A Britcom is a success if it scores high marks when applied to the following formula: [(R x D + V) x F + S]/A

Where’s the simple part, your asking?  Pilcher explains:

“Comedic value is determined by multiplying the recognizability of the main character (R) by their delusions of grandeur (D). This is added to the verbal wit of the script (V), and the total is multiplied by the amount someone falls over or suffers a physical injury (F). The difference in social status between the highest – and lowest – ranking characters (S) is added. Finally, the total is divided by the success of any scheme or stratagem in the show (A). Each term in the formula is assigned a value up to a maximum of 10 people to give an overall scientific score.”

See how simple it is?

From theory to practice, ‘Orrible was horrible

To actually put this formula into play, Dr. Pilcher established a baseline which, hopefully, no comedy would score lower than. One BBC show from 2001, ‘Orrible, came dreadfully close to achieving the lowest score among those tested. The bottom score was a pitiful 6.5.

After lengthy research, the long-running classic, Only Fools and Horses was voted No. 1 with a score of 696. At No. 2, a relative newcomer to the British comedy scene at that time was The Office, which finished with a 678 score.

Not to be outdone after 30 years of making people laugh in more than 60 countries, everyone’s favorite irascible hotelier, Basil Fawlty, and Fawlty Towers came in at No. 3. Another perennial favorite amongst Britcom fans, Blackadder, came in at No. 4.

So…next time you sit down and watch a new entry into the Britcom line-up, try thinking of [(R x D + V) x F + S]/A and be your very own network television Head of Light Entertainment and give it a thumbs up or down.

When you watch Fawlty Towers or head to London’s West End, make note of just how much “D” Basil has to go along with his perceived “S” and then marvel at all of the “F” and “V” and just…enjoy!

Previews of the West End adaptation will commence at London’s Apollo Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, from May 4, 2024.


In: Comedy