Not for the first time, Basil’s tight-fistedness finds him out. There is building work required in the hotel lobby and, when Sybil’s back is turned, Basil immediately goes for the lowest quote for the job. But he soon discovers why O’Reilly and his men come so cheap…

Fawlty Towers episode guide
#2: The Builders

Series One, Episode Two — First shown 26 September 1975

Basil and Sybil are away for the weekend and Basil has arranged for the useless builder O’Reilly to do some structural alterations to the hotel. Only problem is, Sybil thinks a reputable tradesman is doing the job. As you might expect at Fawlty Towers, things don’t go according to plan and certainly not to the building plans.

Given the chance to take a well earned break, Basil and Sybil decide to leave Polly in charge with Manuel as her less than able deputy. The hotel is quiet — the only guests seem to be the Major and the two old dears Miss Tibbs and Miss Gatsby — surely nothing too bad can go wrong? This is Fawlty Towers, of course things go wrong.

As the hotel is quiet, Basil and Sybil have decided this is the best weekend to carry out some internal alterations to Fawlty Towers. Sensible Sybil thinks the capable Mr Stubbs has been contracted. Basil the skinflint has other ideas, he has hired O’Reilly (the man whom Basil was on the telephone to in the previous episode when Lord Melbury arrived). You may remember from A Touch of Class (the first episode) that O'Reilly was the man Basil was still waiting on to build him a wall — “you know, in the traditional fashion, one on top of the other”. Maybe that is where Lord Melbury got his bricks — from the pile left uncemented by O’Reilly!

Basil whispers to Polly that she should expect O'Reilly not Stubbs but not to worry as O'Reilly has promised to send some of his best tradesmen — and definitely not a word to Sybil. If that is O'Reilly's best men, I wouldn’t like to see his least capable. Things might have went better but Polly was tired so she leaves Manuel in charge, with strict orders to wake her from her afternoon nap as soon as The Builders arrive.

It is in The Builders that we learn of Fawlty Towers’ address — 16 Elwood Avenue and you may also hear Basil mention to Miss Tibbs and Miss Gatsby that they have to go to the Gleneagles for their din-dins that night due to the building work. The Gleneagles is the real Torquay hotel that was the inspiration for the series.

Basil is away for the weekend so Manuel gets to play manager at reception

Meanwhile at reception, Manuel is basking in his new found glory, playacting manager to no-one in particular until the delivery man arrives with Basil’s garden gnome. Poor Manuel, he gets terribly confused when the delivery man tries to confirm this is 16 (Elwood Avenue). Manuel informs him 16 is upstairs but eating at the hotel — not possible. The confused Manuel then thinks that the man would like the gnome booked into room 16!

Classic Scene…

Manuel’s troubles have just started. In walks O'Reilly's supposed best tradesmen, in reality it is three stereotypical Irish workmen. Some of you may remember Lurphy, the spokesman for the three, as “Bullet” Baxter from Grange Hill. He quickly takes a dislike to Manuel for first asking them if they are men, then if they are Orrelly (O'Reilly) men. In the meantime, Basil keeps phoning the hotel to check everything is going according to plan but Manuel being Manuel, doesn’t realise the man on the other end of the phone, whom Manuel thinks is asking for Basil, is in fact Basil himself. Manuel in true Basil Fawlty fashion is equally rude to the caller as Basil would be. Only on the third or fourth call does he realise that it is Basil. Crafty Basil gets revenge by getting the dimwitted Manuel to call Lurphy, in all innocence, a hideous orang-utan. He gets a punch in the face thanks to Basil’s cruel trick.

The Builders try to get some sense out of Manuel

The workmen, not the brightest examples of the trade, predictably make a complete hash of the building work, as Basil soon discovers when he pops back to Fawlty Towers to discover they have blocked off the dining room. Polly rightly informs Basil that the disaster is really his fault for hiring cowboys. Fawlty Towers and Basil are rapidly spiralling downwards into utter chaos. O'Reilly is called out to repair the damage.

Sybil arrives soon after and her hackles are raised as she quickly notices O'Reilly's van in the car park. Basil naturally tries to blame the disaster on Stubbs but Sybil already knows the real culprits — Basil and O'Reilly, in that order.

By now Sybil is in a fury, wielding an umbrella and throwing anything that comes to hand at Basil. O'Reilly, who has been sheltering in the safety of the hotel's bar, decides to come through and persuade Sybil that everything is in hand, but only succeeds in propelling Sybil to a state of increased rage. Sybil phones Stubbs and arranges for him to come over next morning and put things right then declares she is going over to Audrey's whilst things are put right. Basil decides he will have none of it and over-rules Sybil (once she is safely out of earshot) and gets the unwilling O'Reilly to repair his own mistakes. Basil is a complete coward — he won't stand up to Sybil when she is present but, as soon as she leaves, he tries to prove he wears the trousers at Fawlty Towers.

An air of calm and tranquillity appears to have descended on Fawlty Towers but you can be assured that won't last too long. On the surface, everything seems to have been accomplished to the original plans, the door to the kitchen has been added and the original entrance to the dining room restored.

Basil is in his element thinking he has put one over on Sybil who is looking slightly embarrassed once Stubbs arrives in the lobby soon after her to put things right. Basil makes a great play of asking Sybil and Stubbs if everything is just fine and is on cloud nine as Stubbs at first assures Basil that things do look perfect, at least on the surface.

A photo of Basil heading for O'Reilly's carrying a large garden gnome in a menacing position!

It is only when Stubbs asks Basil if they used an RSJ, an iron girder or at the very least a concrete lintel that Basil begins to realise that the peace is about to disintegrate. The doorway that O'Reilly has used a wooden lintel over is a supporting wall and could collapse at any moment, so could Basil as he quickly tries to play down things and usher Stubbs out the building. It's too late, the game's up and Basil is last seen leaving the hotel carrying the large garden gnome which he intends to insert into O'Reilly and then escape to Canada!

Full cast list for The Builders
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
O’Reilly David Kelly
Stubbs James Appleby
Bennion the Delivery Man George Lee
Lurphy Michael Cronin
Jones Michael Halsey
Kerr Barney Dorman
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