Manuel insists that his pet rodent is a Siberian hamster. Basil is convinced that the pet shop has conned the gullible Spaniard and sold him a rat — a fine thing to have running round the hotel when the public health inspector is also on the loose.

Fawlty Towers episode guide
#12: Basil The Rat

Series Two, Episode Six — First shown 25 October 1979*

Manuel serenades his new pet hamster on his guitar but things are not quite as they seem. The Siberian hamster Manuel has been sold looks suspiciously like a rat to everyone (except Manuel). As if Basil didn’t have enough on his plate, he just happens to discover a Public Health Inspector nosing around the hotel kitchen.

Sybil and Basil enter Fawlty Towers to a situation far more serious than the trivial argument they are having about whether Basil is free to go to some social occasion that Sybil is nagging him to take her to. Basil would rather do the hotel accounts than attend, which sums up Basil’s opinion about most of Sybil friends — the Sherrins aren’t even part of the human race he retorts.

In the Fawlty’s absence, Mr Carnegie from the public health department is literally nosing around the kitchens, as Basil enters, Mr Carnegie has his nose in a tray of meat. Mr Carnegie is, to Basil, a complete stranger.

Scene in kitchenPublic Health Inspector

Classic Scene…

Basil (sarcastically): Shall I get you the wine list?
Mr Carnegie: Mr Fawlty?
Basil: Mister? Oh Please, call me waiter. Look, I’ll go and get a chair and then you can really tuck in — there’s some stuff in the bin you might like, potato peelings, cold rice pudding, that sort of thing — not exactly haute cuisine but it’ll certainly fill you up. Ah Sybil, may I introduce you to the gentleman who’s just opened the self-service department here… Mr …?
Mr Carnegie: Carnegie.
Basil: Mr Carnegie the scavenger gourmet from…?
Mr Carnegie: The Public Health Department.

Basil quickly attempts to rescue the situation by pretending it was one of his little jokes, insulting visitors on official business is something he does all the time, which is of course completely true. Much to everyone’s surprise, Mr Carnegie gives the meat the all clear but proceeds to read out a very long list of other faults he has found in the kitchen and elsewhere in the hotel including two dead pigeons in the water tank. “Otherwise OK?” queries Basil. Mr Carnegie refrains from closing down Fawlty Towers immediately but vows to return tomorrow and warns the Fawlty’s that he expects all the many faults to be rectified. Basil and staff have some work to do.

Basil and ManuelA rat in a cage

Basil rushes upstairs to get Manuel’s help for the clean up operation. Manuel is sitting on his bed, playing his guitar, serenading his pet Siberian hamster. First task assigned to the hapless Manuel is to retrieve the two dead pigeons from the water tank in the loft, predictably this causes Manuel to misinterpret pigeons as pigs, Manuel collapses onto his bed in fits of laughter. “Oink! Oink!”, he imitates! Basil then spots the pet, which is in fact a rat — Manuel has been conned by the pet shop into snapping up their bargain, last one in shop, Siberian hamster. Basil then confiscates the rat and heads off down stairs, closely followed by the protesting Manuel. Gatsby and Tibbs at first offer to look after Manuel’s pet hamster until Basil holds up the cage to them… Arrrghhh! A Rat! A Rat!, as they scamper for safety. Downstairs, Polly lets Manuel into a little secret, it is a rat. Manuel knows he can trust Polly to tell him the truth.

Basil and Sybil are in the kitchen discussing how they are going to deal with this little problem sympathetically. Let it go free back into the wild, finding it a new home or even having it put to sleep (the rat, not Manuel), are just some of the solutions put forward until Polly comes in and tells Manuel her friend will take it and Manuel can visit it whenever he likes. They are then seen walking down the hotel drive carrying the rat in its cage off to its new home. This is to put Basil (the hotelier) off guard of course, Basil the Rat isn’t going far at all, they are really just going to put Basil the Rat out in the kitchen’s outbuildings where they hope Basil Fawlty won’t find it and Manuel can sneak out food from the kitchen for it. That was the plan, and as someone (Robert Burns) once said, “the best laid plans o’ rats an’ men gang aft agley…” Or was it mice?

The kitchen is busy with everyone scrubbing and tidying ready for the inspection tomorrow by “old snoopy drawers” as Basil refers to him with mock affection. Meanwhile, Manuel is moping around with a black armband on just slightly overdoing the act of being in mourning for his departed friend. Polly warns him not to overdo it. Manuel then begs a piece of fillet steak from Terry the chef and disappears outside and heads furtively in the direction of the outbuildings. Once he makes sure the coast is clear he goes inside and we first learn of the name Manuel has given his pet rat — Basil!

Manuel played by Andrew Sachs

Basil the Rat has escaped!

Major Gowen in the bar

Major Gowen walks through into the deserted bar, deserted except for the rat happily nibbling on a tray of peanuts on a table. The Major exits promising the rat he will be back, which he soon is, with his double-barrelled shotgun! Basil spots the Major striding past him into the bar again, this time with his gun at the ready. In the bar…

Classic Scene…

The Major is wandering cautiously around the bar, looking for the now departed rat:
Basil: Do you need any help Major?
Major (pointing the shotgun at Basil): Don’t move! Vermin!
Basil: We haven’t got any this week, Major. No Germans staying this week… may I have the gun?
Major: I’m going to shoot him, Fawlty.
Basil: Yes… Major… Not… not legal anymore…murder…
Major: But they’re animals, Fawlty!
Basil: Oh yes, yes… Still, forgive and forget, eh, Major?
Major: Forgive ’em?
Basil: Well, pretend we do.
Major: But they spread disease, Fawlty… he was sitting there on that table, eating the nuts if you please.
Basil (to himself): He’s really gone this time.
Major: About that size. That with the tail (indicating the size of the rat).
The penny drops for Basil:
Basil: Tail… what did you say it was?
Major: Vermin… A dirty rat!

Basil heads out the bar leaving the shotgun behind the bar itself and enters the kitchen to find Terry looking behind a fridge, claiming he is cleaning behind it but he too is hunting for the elusive rat. Basil carries on through into the dining room where he soon discovers he has been betrayed — Polly and Manuel are both under tables hunting for the rat — and he also finds out the rat has been named in his honour! Once Basil has threatened them all with the sack, the rat hunt begins again with Basil taking the drastic measure of giving a veal fillet a liberal sprinkling of rat poison and placing it on the floor!

Just after Mr Carnegie arrives to carry out the inspection, two loud gunshots are heard coming from the bar, it seems the Major has decided to deal with the vermin once and for all. Mr Carnegie is looking slightly dismayed at this, and must be really wondering what kind of place Fawlty Towers is as Polly appears at reception wielding a large net.

Poor Manuel! He gets upset as he thinks the Major has just blasted his beloved pet to bits and gets even more distressed when he thinks that Terry has put Basil the Rat in the ratatouille! Manuel then goes storming off in a rage, heading for the kitchens, intending to throttle Terry but in their struggle they only manage to knock over a tray of veal. They pick them up of course (off the floor!) but fail to realise that one of the fillets was already on the floor — the one Basil laced with rat poison!

Much of the rest of the episode is taken up by a frantic Basil and the rest of the staff trying to deduce which of the veal fillets has the rat poison on it. The unfortunate Fawlty Towers cat (which only seems to make an appearance in Basil the Rat) determines which of the fillets is OK or otherwise: it was seen nibbling on one, so they decide that if the cat is all right then they can serve that piece of veal. Minutes later the cat is not all right after all so Basil then has to snatch meals from under people’s noses that might kill them! This goes on as meals get given the all clear and then snatched away again seconds later, much to several guests’ annoyance.

Mr Carnegie gets the worst of the “now you see it, now you don’t” routine. After giving the kitchens a clean bill of health he decides to take lunch at Fawlty Towers (Smash! Basil drops a wine bottle in fright) and happens to notice they had veal on the menu (Smash! There goes another wine bottle!). Basil even offers Mr Carnegie a bargain lobster or two, anything but the veal, as taking the life of a public health inspector would surely be the last straw for Fawlty Towers.

Everyone’s best efforts to cover up any evidence of a rat on the loose in the hotel aren’t helped much by the Major proudly announcing “So you’re the Rat Inspector” in a loud voice to Mr Carnegie, who must be beginning to at least smell a rat, even if he hasn’t seen it yet.

Meanwhile, a young upper class couple are in the dining room trying to order but not having much luck getting any sense out of Manuel, as Manuel thinks he has spotted the rat under the toff’s table and keeps glancing under it and totally ignoring the man’s attempts to order his starter. Once Basil gets involved and starts doing the same thing, the toff really gets annoyed at everyone seemingly paying more attention to his fiancée’s legs and gets up and announces they are leaving immediately. The only problem is that the rat is now in the young ladies bag and Manuel wants it back before they storm off with it, never to be seen again.

John Cleese and David Neville

Now at reception, Polly is behind the desk trying to keep their attention while Basil sneakily tries to get the rat from the lady’s bag without her noticing of course. Basil isn’t quite sneaky enough and the young lady does notice Basil in her bag and the upper class gentleman threatens to give Basil a “bunch of fives” as he is really “getting my dander up”! The quick-thinking Polly temporarily defuses the situation by admitting to the couple that they have had a bomb scare and Basil was only trying to check her bag without worrying her. This gives Basil a legitimate excuse to take the bag and have a proper look but he only succeeds in getting bitten by his namesake and the rat goes scuttling off into the dining room where it will play a starring role in the final episode's hilarious finale!

Classic Scene…

Manuel sees the rat scurrying past him, catches it and just after he has carefully hidden it in the biscuit tin, Mr Carnegie orders some cheese and biscuits! Basil’s world is about to collapse around him as, not knowing the biscuit tin now contains one large rodent, he proudly whips the lid of the biscuit tin right under Mr Carnegie’s nose to reveal the rat, sitting up, staring Mr Carnegie in the face…
The Public Health Inspector and rat
“Care for a rat!” says Basil nonchalantly to a dumbfounded Mr Carnegie who can’t quite believe what he is seeing.

Basil makes his final exit, being dragged feet first out of the dining room by Manuel, and no doubt straight off to the funny farm. Once the rat is whisked out of the tin Polly offers it again to a still stunned public health inspector, who isn't quite sure if he did indeed see a rat peeking at him from a biscuit tin. Sybil casually announces it has started to rain again and the credits roll.

It's all over, twelve classic episodes. Despite being pestered ever since, John Cleese and Co have never revealed what happened next in the madcap world of Basil Fawlty. Unlike a lot of comedy series of that era such as On The Buses, Porridge, Dick Emery (another favourite of mine) etc, a feature film based on the series never got past the planning stage. You'll just have to make do with watching the original twelve over and over and over…

Full cast list for Basil the Rat
Character Played by
Basil Fawlty John Cleese
Sybil Fawlty Prunella Scales
Polly Connie Booth
Manuel Andrew Sachs
Major Gowen Ballard Berkeley
Miss Tibbs Gilly Flower
Miss Gatsby Renee Roberts
Terry the Chef Brian Hall
Mr Carnegie John Quarmby
Ronald David Neville
Quentina Sabina Franklyn
Mr Taylor James Taylor
Mrs Taylor Melody Lang
Guest Stuart Sherwin
Basil the Rat Himself
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