John Cleese: Fawlty Farceur

Today is the birthday of John Cleese (b. 1939). I made up for a great defficiency in my education a few months ago by watching Fawlty Towers in its entirety. I won’t be adding anything new to world critical opinion by declaring it one of the great comedy shows of all time. What interested me most about it was the obvious influence of French farce on the writing and performance in the show. I tried to figure out a way to incorporate this fact into my new book Chain of Fools (as French farce was also a major influence on Mack Sennett), and I wanted to get more England into the contemporary chapters, but it proved to be too much of a digression, straying away from my main thread. But the connection deserves to be noted — and Cleese’s almost terrifying brilliance, both as a comic scenarist and as a physical perfomer, deserves to be celebrated.

And now one of the most memorable and notorious scenes from Fawlty Towers, in which Basil compulsively can’t refrain from bringing up World War Two as he attempts to serve a group of German tourists:

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