Fawlty’s penny-pinching catches up with him as an American demands the quality of service not normally associated with the “Torquay Riviera”. A Waldorf Salad is not part of Fawlty Towers’ culinary repertoire, nor is a Screwdriver to be found on the hotel’s drinks list.

Fawlty Towers episode guide
#9: Waldorf Salad

Series Two, Episode Three — First shown 05 March 1979

An American couple arrive at reception and immediately get on Basil’s bad side. Will the forthright Yanks get what they want or will Basil get the better of them. They know what they want and make a noise making sure they get it… the problem for Basil is they want a Waldorf Salad.

The guests at Fawlty Towers are rather reluctant to complain about the service and when they do they don’t have much success. The American guests are adept at complaining so suddenly all the rest are inspired to speak their minds — Basil is not amused!

Waldorf Salad opens with Sybil chatting away to a guest about how frantic modern life is and how nice it is to get away from all the hustle and bustle. Meanwhile, Basil, Polly and Manuel are rushing around the unusually full dining room actually doing some work while Sybil takes it easy!

Screenshot of Basil and some guests

One man complains (above) that his wife's prawns may have been off but they get little joy complaining to Basil. When they suggest it should be deducted from their bill, and Basil points out that she has eaten half of it, the gentleman suggests they could deduct half the value now and if his wife brings up the other half during the night they will claim the balance. The other guests get the usual Basil indifference when they also complain. Basil is in no mood for guests (he never is) especially when he gets no help from Sybil.

Classic Scene…

The reception bell summons Basil through to find a rather attractive English lady who is obviously a bit more sophisticated than the usual riff-raff they get at Fawlty Towers. His foul mood suddenly mellows. When the guest comes through to retrieve the meals Basil has wandered off with, and embarrasses Basil, he is typically rude to the gentleman. “That's the kind of rubbish we get in here”, he remarks, with the implication that he considers her much better class and more worthy of his attention. A loud, brash American gentleman walks in, wet through from the terrible weather and complaining loudly about it and the “little back street called the M5”. “See what I mean?” mutters Basil under his breath whilst glancing sideways at the new arrival, “Rub—bish”. The boorish new guest is actually the woman's husband! Basil quickly retrieves the situation by pretending he was referring to some scrap of paper.

Screenshot of Mr Hamilton played by Bruce Boa

Polly and Manual are about to leave for an evening out but the new arrivals would like dinner even though it is after nine o'clock meaning the kitchen is closed. The rain-soaked couple are disgusted that they can't get dinner after their long drive and a little financial inducement (twenty pounds) is offered to Basil to help persuade the chef to stay on a bit longer. Basil pockets the cash of course.

Basil's attempt to bribe Terry the chef to stay a bit longer doesn't have much luck as Terry claims he has a karate lesson. Basil does get his way for a brief moment by promising Terry an hour-and-a-half overtime money for just half an hour of work but he soon takes his money back after Polly gives the game away that Terry is really meeting a woman.

Through in the dining room, Sybil is relaxing at a table reading a Harold Robbins novel when Basil enters with the Hamiltons and shows them to a table. Almost immediately the big difference in cultures shows as the Hamiltons order a screwdriver — Basil is thinking DIY tool, the Hamiltons are thinking vodka and fresh orange! Much to Basil's annoyance, the Americans immediately hit it off with Sybil, they notice the Robbins novel and admit they both like his books too.

A Waldorf Salad please…

When Mr Hamilton asks for a Waldorf Salad, Basil is completely flummoxed so tries to get round the situation by claiming that they are just out of Waldorfs; but Mr Hamilton, who is beginning to get annoyed, insists the chef surely must know how to fix him a Waldorf Salad. We'll never know of course, chef has gone but Basil isn't going to let Mr Hamilton know that!

The Hamiltons decide to order a Waldorf Salad in the Fawlty Towers dining room

Basil begins a ridiculous charade pretending the chef is in the kitchen by loudly berating him about his failure to rustle up a simple Waldorf Salad. When Sybil comes through to the kitchen and tells Basil how the Waldorf Salad got its name (after the Waldorf Hotel in New York), Basil has a brainwave! (oh dear!). Not to be out done by the Yanks, he is going to offer the Hamiltons a Ritz Salad!

Mr Hamilton won't be swayed though and is none too pleased about the service so far. He wouldn't board his dog here, he sneers at Basil. He wants the chef's ass busted and he wants Basil to do it! Sybil somehow manages to conjure up the Waldorf Salad from somewhere whilst Basil goes through and fakes a row with the invisible chef. The charade of pretending the chef is still there continues with Basil even presenting a letter of apology from the chef to the Hamiltons. The game is finally up when Mr Hamilton walks in to the kitchen to catch Basil loudly arguing with the “chef”.

Classic Scene…

Screenshot of a busy Fawlty Towers reception

Immediately, Mr Hamilton announces to his wife that they are leaving and walk out into the lobby where all the guests appear to witness Basil getting very publicly cut down to size. Mr Hamilton claims that Fawlty Towers is the worst hotel in all of Western Europe, but the Major, loyal as ever, won't hear of it, “There's a place in Eastbourne!” [that is worse!]. When Mr Hamilton sneered at Basil that he wouldn't board his dog at Fawlty Towers, Basil didn't exactly help matters by replying, "Fussy is he? Poodle?" Basil queries all his regulars and predictably they are happy enough but the rest of them take their cue from the American couple and suddenly voice their true feelings. Basil is none too chuffed at getting all Fawlty Towers' shortcomings pointed out to him then starts to order everyone out of the hotel. When Sybil asks what's going on, Basil explains and states it's either the troublesome guests (i.e. all of them) or him that leaves. It's not long before Basil is walking out of Fawlty Towers to face the continuing downpour but it doesn't take him too long to have second thoughts. Basil marches back in and declares he wants a room — with breakfast in bed: eggs, bacon, sausage, tomato, Waldorf Salad and all washed down with lashings of hot screwdriver!

Full cast list for Waldorf Salad
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 Harry Hamilton Bruce Boa
Mrs Hamilton Claire Nielson
Mr Arrad Norman Bird
Mrs Arrad Stella Tanner
Mr Johnston Terence Conoley
Mrs Johnston June Ellis
Mr Libson Anthony Dawes
Miss Gurke Beatrice Shaw
Miss Hare Dorothy Frere
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