Touch of Class, A [1973]

John Cleese has always maintained that Fawlty Towers was inspired by a real hotel that was run by a proprietor who treated guests as an inconvenience to running a business. No one in the world, however, can possibly match the sheer insolence and incompetence of Basil Fawlty, perhaps the most brazenly rude character in the history of customer disservice. "A Touch of Class," the series pilot, finds Basil bemoaning the riff-raff he's forced to deal with when he signs in a Lord Melbury. Immediately melting into an embarrassingly obsequious toady, Basil is blinded by nobility and becomes the perfect patsy for the old con man. In "The Builders," Cleese proves there are no limits to what lengths Basil Fawlty will go to save a few quid. Enlisting a resistant Polly in his plot, he quietly fires the respectable carpenters hired by his wife, Sybil, and brings in a cheap crew with a history of disaster. Sure enough, they wind up walling up the entrance to the dining room, sending an insanely outraged Basil into a frenzy as he tries to correct the blunder before Sybil returns. Davis Kelly (Waking Ned Devine) costars as the genial but incompetent O'Reilly. Basil smells hanky-panky in the air in "The Wedding Party," when he signs in an unmarried couple and soon sees foreplay in every innocent kiss and embrace. Meanwhile, a sexy French antique dealer sends Basil into red-faced vexations with her flirtations and Manuel's birthday results in a drunken binge and a morning-after hangover that only adds to the bellhop's usual incompetence at the morning breakfast service. When Sybil overhears that "The Hotel Inspectors" are in the area, Basil makes an about-face in his brusque treatment of a demanding guest, falling all over himself to cater to the guest's every whim while he boorishly insults every other customer. When he discovers his mistake he makes up for lost insolence in a campaign of comic terror. --Sean Axmaker

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