Cars in Film : Fawlty Towers

Almost 15 years before The Simpsons tapped the rich seam of dysfunctionality for comedic effect, Fawlty Towers was pioneering the concept.

Basil Fawlty personfied that peculiarly British brand of lower middle-class repression, trapped by his surroundings, his prejudices and his barely-more-than-perfunctory relationship with his wife Sybil, who always seemed to have the upper hand.

Seeing red

One of two cars driven by the Fawltys in the series, this poor Austin 1100 Countryman (WLG 142E) has a prominent role in the episode “Gourmet Night”, where Basil memorably vents his frustration by administering “a damn-good thrashing” with a nearby tree branch. John Cleese went on to abuse another 1100 in the film Clockwise, and co-starred with another in a 1980s TV advertisement for Talking Pages.

Upwardly mobile

Interesting choice of replacement for the 1100. It seems the Fawltys have eschewed its direct successor, the Allegro, in favour of the far more practical Maxi – certainly handy for Sybil’s golf clubs, although one suspects that the retention of the Countryman’s double-bed facility wasn’t a big factor in the decision. Once again, red seems to be the colour of choice, perhaps reflecting Sybil’s fiery temperament…

Plain clothes

A pair of plain-clothes detectives undertake a covert surveillance operation in their plain-Jane Maxi… what better choice of car for those who wish to remain inconspicuous? Indeed, it seems the Maxi was a popular choice with the police (on TV, at least), with further sightings in The New Avengers, The Professionals and the film Sweeney 2. Oh, and have you spotted the Vanden Plas Princess just driving past?

Thin end of the Wedge

It’s Basil and Sybil’s wedding anniversary, but his touching plan to make her think he’s forgotten about it backfires when she storms off just as the guests are about to arrive – including couple Roger and Alice in this Wolseley ‘Wedge’. Basil hatches a flaky plan to convince the guests that Sybil is ill in bed, but Roger (played by the ever-versatile Ken Campbell) sees through it straight away. Clearly a car for shrewd people, then…

Departing guest

Basil tries in vain to placate a disgruntled customer as she heads for her hubby’s P6, so once she’s out of earshot he declares her to be a toffee-nosed snob. The complexity of Fawlty’s character is often revealed in his interactions with others – fauning to a supposed aristocrat, yet grudgingly resentful of his social superiors (to whom he is beholden), and generally disdainful of anyone less repressed than himself.

This page was contributed by Declan Berridge

Keith Adams

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