Fawlty Towers Experience

The hotel inspectors

Jay Richardson reports from The Fawlty Towers Experience in Torquay and manages not to mention the war

A swarthy waiter pursues a hamster beneath a table of dinner guests, chased by a tall, quiveringly angry man with a moustache. The diners erupt with laughter as the waiter re-emerges, accidentally displacing the wig on a female guest’s head. The furious hotelier cuffs his hapless employee, produces a gun and shoots the rodent. Welcome to A Tribute To Fawlty Towers, a peculiarly English farce and weekend break being held at hotels around the UK.

An affectionate homage, it’s the latest development in a growing and lucrative comedy heritage tourism industry. Torquay cashes in on its most famous daughter, Agatha Christie, Morecombe pays homage to Eric Morecombe and a statue of Les Dawson is proposed for Lytham St Annes.

‘People just want to hear the great lines in an evocative setting,’ claims Michael Wilson-Green, who plays Basil in A Tribute To Fawlty Towers.

This is why we’re staying at Torquay’s Hotel Gleneagles, where the Monty Python team first arrived in 1971. The owner at the time was Donald Sinclair, a man whose personality betrayed a staggering lack of basic courtesy not to mention minimal investment in hospitality. During the Python team’s stay, he denounced Terry Gilliam’s table manners, allegedly telling the American ‘we don’t eat like that in this country’. He tossed Eric Idle’s bag over a garden wall, claiming it might be a bomb, and threw a bus timetable at a guest who was ill-mannered enough to ask when the next service into town might be. Predictably, the Pythons quickly decamped to another hotel, all except the fascinated John Cleese, who invited Connie Booth, his wife at the time, to join him. The rest, of course, is comedy history.

The hotel underwent a £1million refit last year and its current owners are tickled by their establishment’s notoriety. Behind the hotel’s rather ugly exterior, it’s actually a charming place to stay. Our room offered a lovely view of Ansteys Cove’s turquoise waters.

We had no inkling of our itinerary as victims of Basil’s hospitality, but it was worth the suspense.

After we had settled in we went down to the bar where we were overrun by the actors playing Manuel and Polly, the former engaging in more slapstick and cruder puns than the series ever allowed for, followed in time by an apologetic Sybil, and eventually, a strutting Basil, the four improvising around the show’s original storylines. It felt nearer the end of Blackpool pier than the English Riviera, but somehow it worked.

Moving through to the dining room and an excellent three-course meal, our admiration for the actors increased. Maintaining the energy and laughter of almost 30 guests for well over an hour is no small feat. Sybil kept the wine flowing while Manuel sang from the René and Renata songbook, and at one point I was whisked onto my feet to dance flamenco. Apparently, the same cast also do a Father Ted tribute, so I’m already planning my trip to Craggy Island in the autumn.

A Tribute To Fawlty Towers comes to the Dunblane Hydro on 9, 10 and 17 of February, as well as other hotels around the UK. Superbreak Holidays in association with Laughlines Entertainment. Tel: 0870 234 9999. www.superbreak.com

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