His pretentious snobbery leads Basil to encourage a somewhat classier clientele to Fawlty Towers. Lord Melbury’s arrival is right up his street; there is nothing Basil won’t do for the nobility. With hand-rubbing obsequiousness Basil is only too pleased to cash Melbury’s cheque.
Fawlty Towers episode guide
#1: A Touch of Class
Series One, Episode One — First shown 19 September 1975
Hell hath no fury like a Basil scammed, and scammed he well and truly is in the first ever episode of Fawlty Towers. A confidence trickster posing as a member of the aristocracy persuades Basil to cash a cheque for him and also has an eye for Basil's coin collection (“all British Empire of course”). Basil's judgement is seriously impaired by the fact someone with “A Touch of Class” has sought out Basil's own little corner of the Empire in which to stay for a few nights. A briefcase with a couple of house bricks inside, handed to Basil for safe keeping in the guise of a case of “valuables”, is all it takes to fool Basil into thinking that this new guest, Lord Melbury, is worthy of special treatment.
In what is a common thread throughout the Fawlty Towers series, Basil is at first rude to a guest then his persona changes dramatically once he finds out they are a few rungs up from the bottom of the social status ladder. All morning, Basil has been harassed by Sybil to hang a painting, type that day's menu and make out a bill for a young couple in a hurry to get away because Basil forgot to give them their alarm call. No sooner does Basil begin to attend to one of these tasks then Sybil inevitably harasses him to attend to one of the others.
Basil is trying to put his feet up in reception and listen to a little Brahms but there is little chance of any peace for Basil — Sybil won't let him rest for a second! She informs Basil that she is going out for the morning and expects the painting to be up by the time she gets back.
Basil, on seeing Manuel carrying some breakfast trays, informs Manuel that “there is too much butter on those trays”. “No, no senor”, Manuel corrects him, it should be “uno, dos, tres,”! Basil tries to converse with Manuel in Spanish but fails miserably. Just watch his face later on when a guest Basil thinks of as riff-raff strikes up an instant rapport with Manuel by speaking to him in perfect Spanish.
In this episode it is “Lord Melbury” who cons Basil into thinking he has a touch of class, but the problem for Basil is he has just been abrupt with this new guest when he arrives unexpectedly at reception looking for a room even though he hasn’t booked. Melbury announces to Basil that the reason he has only put one name down on the registration card is because he is Lord Melbury so only signs his name as “Melbury”. As usual, the transformation in Basil is swift, just imagine, a peer of the realm staying at Fawlty Towers!
As you might expect, Lord Melbury isn't quite what he seems — he's really a confidence trickster. And what is worse is that the guest whom Basil considers riff-raff is really a member of the local CID on the trail of Melbury. Whilst Polly is in town at the bank, collecting Lord Melbury's £200 loan from Basil as an errand, she catches sight of Detective Brown in a car keeping the phoney Lord under surveillance.
Danny Brown lets Polly in on the truth behind Lord Melbury but Basil won't hear a word of it. Only when Polly also informs Sybil of the truth, leading to her opening Melbury's case of “valuables” (much to Basil's dismay) does he finally accept the truth. Well he has to when confronted with Lord Melbury's highly desirable briefcase full of house bricks! In a dismal attempt to save face, Basil tries shaking the bricks, tapping them together and even smelling them in the vain hope that they are somehow not what they seem.
Now that the awful truth has sunk into Basil's brain, a dish best served cold is a late addition to the menu. Walking through from the office to reception to attend to some genuine class in the shape of Sir Richard Morris and his good Lady wife, he soon spots “His Lordship” coming down stairs and decides that a bit of sarcasm and derision is in order before he lets fly with the physical violence (if he can catch the trickster)! When asked by Melbury if Basil would still like his coin collection valued by the equally fictitious Duke of Buckleigh, Basil sarcastically informs that the Duke is dead — “got ’is ’ead knocked orf by a golf ball, tragic!” Basil grabs Melbury's cheeks and asks him if he's “alright me old mucker!”, Melbury realises he has been rumbled and takes off through the lobby with “You BASTARD!!!” ringing in his ears courtesy of a livid Basil Fawlty!
The police then chase Melbury through the hotel closely followed by Basil who manages a kick at Melbury once the police get Melbury under arrest with help from Manuel and a chair! Basil also makes sure he gets his cash back from Melbury's wallet before chucking it away.
The bewildered Sir Richard and Lady Morris quickly head back to their car because, much to Basil's dismay, the real nobility have just had an introduction to the reality of Fawlty Towers.
The episode closes with Basil manhandling the frustrated Mr Wareing back through to the bar after he comes through to the lobby and asks for his gin and orange, a lemon squash and a Scotch and water PLEASE! — for about the tenth time. Well, Basil has been too obsessed with pandering to the noble Lord Melbury, rather than the riff-raff, hasn't he?
|Basil Fawlty||John Cleese|
|Sybil Fawlty||Prunella Scales|
|Lord Melbury||Michael Gwynn|
|Danny Brown||Robin "Poldark" Ellis|
|Major Gowen||Ballard Berkeley|
|Sir Richard Morris||Martin Wyldeck|
|Lady Morris||Pat Symons|
|Mr Mackenzie||David Simeon|
|Mr Wareing||Terence Conoley|
|Mr Watson||Lionel Wheeler|
|Policemen||Dennis Plenty and Ian Elliot|
Thanks to Andrew Pixley for telling me who played Lady Morris and the policemen.
The outdoor scenes in this episode were filmed in Cookham High Street near Bourne End. The bank that Polly is seen coming out of is now a modelling shop. The building is actually called "The Old Bank". Compare how it looks now at the link earlier in this paragraph with the screen grab below. It's hardly changed at all.