Sybil can’t believe that Basil has forgotten their 15th wedding anniversary. In fact, Basil has arranged a surprise party. Unfortunately Sybil flounces off to the golf course leaving Basil up to his neck floundering in guests, lies and mayhem.

Fawlty Towers episode guide
#11: The Anniversary

Series Two, Episode Five — First shown 19 March 1979

It's Sybil and Basil's 15th wedding anniversary and Basil has arranged a surprise party and invited all their friends. In the meantime he swans around pretending he has forgotten which ultimately leads to Sybil driving off in a huff before Basil can explain he hasn't forgotten at all. The guests start to arrive but Sybil has gone so Polly is persuaded to pretend to be Sybil, Basil tells them Sybil is ill in bed. The plan might have worked but the guests insist on popping their heads round the door to say hello. Will they notice?

The Anniversary opens with Terry and Polly chatting away in the Fawlty Towers kitchen, Polly is telling Terry that Basil promised be would loan her money towards a car but now he is not so keen. Polly will later blackmail Basil into lending her the cash when Basil gets himself in trouble and only Polly can save him! Meanwhile, Manuel proudly announces he is going to make paella for the forthcoming surprise party — it's his mother's special recipe and it's famed in Barcelona!

Classic Scene…

Enter one very annoyed looking Sybil who tells Polly that Basil has forgotten the anniversary…or has he? Enter one very smug looking Basil; Sybil excepted, it is obvious to everyone including the viewer that Basil hasn't forgotten but is merely stringing Sybil along for his own twisted amusement. His blatant sarcasm and manner are a dead giveaway, except to Sybil, who gets even more annoyed when a simple "Do you know what day it is today, Basil?" leads to more heavy sarcasm from Basil — he is enjoying this!

Screenshot of Basil and Sybil

In a subplot woven into the episode, Terry expresses his annoyance to Basil that Manuel is making paella for the party and not him, as he is the trained chef.

Meanwhile, Sybil storms off in her car but Basil is just too late to stop her, and with the first two guests arriving soon after, Basil troubles are just starting. Wait, all is not lost, Manuel has a solution, "It surprise Party, Sybil no here, that is surprise!" Basil tells the two guests that Sybil is ill and quickly tries to entice them into the bar in case they ask to see her. Alice (played by Una Stubbs) is persistent, Basil is struggling, claiming Sybil’s face is swollen and she’s lost her voice, but while Alice is keen to go up and see poor Sybil, her husband Roger isn’t too bothered, he is happy to go in the bar, and secretly suspects that Basil and Sybil have had a row.

Screenshot of Basil and friends

Digging a deeper hole for himself, Basil remarks that the doctor hasn’t been yet but Polly puts her foot in it by saying he has, but Basil is now waffling on trying to keep the subject of conversation non-Sybil. Two more guests arrive and on hearing the bad news they offer to take up a slice of the cake they have brought with them for the anniversary party at Fawlty Towers. Basil is in too deep now, rather than face up to telling the guests what has really happened, he insists on building an elaborate tissue of lies that is guaranteed to backfire on him in the end! As if Basil didn't have enough to worry about, Manuel is complaining about Terry being difficult and obstructing him in the making of the marvellous paella. Basil and Polly have a break down in communication — now Sybil's thighs as well as her eyes are puffed up!

Basil is now worried he might not be able to keep them from Sybil, and getting himself in even deeper, he decides to claim the doctor has in fact been and it turns out Sybil's condition might be serious! A further two guests arrive and it is all starting to go horribly wrong for Basil when they claim they have just seen Sybil in town in the car! What can Basil do? He can, and does, make up an implausible story that the woman they have seen is just another woman who looks very much like Sybil!

Screenshot of Polly disguised as Sybil

Trying a change of tactic now, he insists they all do come up and see Sybil, whilst obviously hoping that they won't take him up on the offer as this would mean the guests admitting they don't believe Basil's version of events. Basil tries to persuade the reluctant Polly to lie in bed and pretend to be Sybil so Polly seizes her chance and blackmails Basil into giving her the £100 loan for the car in return for being a stand-in for the departed Sybil. To give Polly more time to don the Sybil disguise, Basil launches into a greatly exaggerated ‘playing for time’ farce before the guests are eventually let in to the darkened room to see ‘Sybil’. Polly is making a valiant attempt at being an ill Sybil, but disastrously for Basil, he glances out the bedroom window to see the real Sybil arrive back at Fawlty Towers! Basil rushes downstairs to quickly get rid of Sybil, who has just returned to collect her golf clubs, before the guests see her and the game would be up. He upsets poor Sybil even more by positively encouraging Sybil to leave him! Anything to get her to leave again is fine by Basil. Meantime, upstairs, Polly (as Sybil) has hit one of the guests who gets too close to revealing the truth!

Out in the Fawlty Towers car park, Audrey is comforting the now distraught Sybil, and it transpires that she has still not picked up the golf clubs which she originally came back for. She will have to go back in and get them. Finally, Basil's web of lies is going to be destroyed unless Basil has one last throw of the dice!

Classic Scene…

All the Fawlty anniversary guests have by now come down to the hotel lobby — just as Sybil marches in! Basil, floundering, greets her as the Sybil look-alike from town, and quickly leads her into the kitchen, stepping over Manuel and Terry fighting on the floor, and locks her safely out of the way — in a cupboard! Basil says goodbye to the thoroughly bemused guests, telling Polly "that was a piece of cake". He heads for the kitchen — "now for the tricky bit"!

What an anniversary! What a disaster!

Full cast list for The Anniversary
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
Roger Ken Campbell
Alice Una Stubbs
Arthur Robert Arnold
Virginia Pat Keen
Reg Roger Hume
Kitty Denyse Alexander
Audrey Christine Shaw
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