Friday, February 27, 2009

What Makes Basil Run? Part 4

VOICE


Finally, I would like to mention the specific voice of the series. The humour of Fawlty Towers is quite specific. It almost always comes from within the characters, rather than from the obviously fertile mind of the writers.

While there are many funny one-liners, these are never mechanical. When Basil launches a quip, it is always to vent his frustrations or revel in a temporary triumph. The same thing applies to the physical comedy. It can go very far (the final scenes of The Germans, for example) but it is always properly motivated. Basil doesn’t just begin insulting his German guests accidentally - he has to have a concussion to do so.

The physical comedy in the series is often slapstick - in fact, some scenes are almost cartoonish. There’s a lot of black humour here, from messing with a corpse to Basil bullying his whipping boy, Manuel. Whatever the style of comedy though, situational, verbal or physical, every comedic opportunity is always exploited to the fullest. One never comes away from a Fawlty Towers episode feeling that the creators missed out on some opportunities.

Finally, taboos. Quite often, Cleese and Booth will break the barriers of good taste, not by grossing the audience out but by transgressing the socially accepted ways of behaviour. Dragging corpses around, insulting guests, screaming into hearing aids and groping Australian tourists are all types of behaviour rarely seen in comedies - at least, before the eighties and the rise of the Young Ones-generation. While shattering taboos isn’t the main thing on the agenda, it does give Fawlty Towers an edginess which many comedies lack, even today.

We hope this look under the hood of Fawlty Towers has proven to be enlightening and inspiring. If there is ONE lesson to be learned from this series, it is this : there is no substitute for a comedy series developed by talented writers who feel truly passionate about their creation. And it is this passion which makes Fawlty Towers a delight to this very day.

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