It's not a wise man who entrusts his furtive winnings on the horses to an absent-minded geriatric Major, but Basil was never known for that quality. Parting with those ill-gotten gains was Basil’s first mistake; his second was to tangle with the intermittently deaf Mrs Richards.

Fawlty Towers episode guide
#7: Communication Problems

Series Two, Episode One — First shown 19 February 1979

Manuel assists Mrs Richards

Above: Manuel lends Mrs Richards his assistance in connection with her reservation!

Communication problems indeed, anyone would have trouble getting through to the very hard of hearing Mrs Richards. Turning her hearing aid on might have helped but that was out of the question for Alice Richards — “it wears the batteries down.”

The episode opens with Polly at reception attending to a guest when in walks Mrs Richards, who, oblivious to the fact that Polly is busy, starts to demand attention. Polly manages to palm off the old bag onto Manuel who makes an instant impression by completely bamboozling Mrs Richards into thinking that the manager is a Mr K C Watt aged forty! (It all becomes clearer if you watch the scene.) Meanwhile, back at the desk, Basil is checking out Mr Firkins, an apparently satisfied guest (one of the few surely!) who is so impressed with Fawlty Towers that he gives Basil a red-hot tip for the gee-gees — Dragonfly, running later that day. The slight problem for Basil is that Sybil has by now come through from the office and overheard this tipster. Sybil doesn’t approve of Basil betting on the horses.

Later, Basil is informed that Mrs Richards is not happy with her room — this calls for Basil the Diplomat.

Classic Scene…

Basil and Mrs Richards (below) in one of the most famous Fawlty Towers scenes.

Basil and Mrs Richards debate what you might expect to see out of a Torquay hotel bedroom window

Along with just about every other aspect of the room, Mrs Richards doesn’t rate the view very highly. Cue Basil:
“What did you expect to see out of a Torquay hotel bedroom window? Sydney Opera House perhaps? The Hanging Gardens of Babylon? Herds of wildebeest sweeping majestically…!” — Basil is at his sarcastic best.

After sorting out Mrs Richards, Basil asks Manuel to put some money on Dragonfly for him, but “Remember, Manuel: Sybil No Know!” Manuel is sworn to secrecy. Naturally, the horse wins, it romps home at 14–1 so Basil wins £75 for his fiver stake. Manuel returns from the betting shop and gives Basil’s winnings to Polly but Sybil just happens to see her with the cash.

There then follows another great scene at reception when Mrs Richards complains that there is no toilet paper in her room but Polly misunderstands and thinks she means writing paper and asks the bewildered woman how many sheets she plans to use and whether she wants sheets with the hotel’s name on!

Polly and Mrs Richards in a funny scene at the reception desk

Polly then gives Basil his winnings but Sybil catches the buoyant Basil on cloud nine in reception and warns him what she will do to him if she discovers that he has been gambling. The wary Basil then warns Manuel that he “knows nothing,” i.e. don’t let on to Sybil.

Mrs Richards then reports £85 missing from her room and Sybil recalls seeing Polly with some money so plans to quiz her about it. Basil must get to Polly first and warn her — that money is his and he wants to hang on to it! Sybil gets hold of Polly in the dining room:

Classic Scene…

Polly (pre-warned by Basil) claims that it was her that won the money but the suspicious Sybil asks her the name of the horse. Polly hasn’t got the foggiest! Basil, standing behind Sybil, tries a frantic mime to Polly to let her in on the horse’s name. Flapping his arms furiously like wings (fly!) and pointing to his wife (dragon!), Polly gets the wrong end of the stick and tries a few guesses — Fishwife, nope; flying tart, nope. Eventually she gets it right but Sybil isn’t fooled so easily, she clearly knows she’s being lied to.

Basil’s next wrong move is to entrust his winnings to the absent-minded retired Major Gowen, just in case Sybil gets hold of it. The next day, Mrs Richards is insisting that the police be called to investigate her missing money. Basil decides to get his money back from the Major but unfortunately the Major hasn’t got the slightest idea what Basil is on about — he can’t remember Basil giving him the ill-gotten gains! With unfortunate timing, the Major at last remembers the money and produces it in the reception and announces, “found it!”. Prepare for some arithmetic…

Mrs Richards naturally claims it as hers but she lost £85 so she’s £10 short. Basil has to come clean and admit the money is his from the horses and tries in vain to get Manuel to back up his story, but remember, Manuel “knows nothing.” No amount of cajoling by Basil will get Manuel to tell the truth he now so desperately needs. Sybil then orders Basil to give Mrs Richards £10 from the till to make up Mrs Richards’ £85. Basil who is now descending into typical madness takes off his shirt to give Mrs Richards that as well. Enter the man from the antique shop in town.

It turns out that Mrs Richards was in town the previous day and bought the vase but left her glove behind —with not £85, but £95 in it. So! Basil gives Mrs Richards her missing £10 from the £95 leaving him £85, he's now £10 up on top of his horse winnings, things are turning in Basil's favour. But not for long, Basil is so high, he lets Sybil catch him gloating over his good fortune. Right on cue, Major Gowen walks up and announces to all, “I DO remember Fawlty, you won it on a horse!” Basil gets such a fright he knocks Mrs Richards’ vase off the desk, smashing it to pieces. “That cost £75,” demands Mrs Richards and Basil has to hand it over. By my arithmetic, Basil is still £10 in credit, but that will be scant compensation when Sybil gets her hands on him!

I don't think Sybil would have problems communicating her feelings regarding gambling with Basil Fawlty later.

Full cast list for Communication Problems
CharacterPlayed by
Basil FawltyJohn Cleese
Sybil FawltyPrunella Scales
Polly ShermanConnie Booth
ManuelAndrew Sachs
Mrs Alice RichardsJoan Sanderson
Major GowenBallard Berkeley
Terry the ChefBrian Hall
Miss TibbsGilly Flower
Miss GatsbyRenee Roberts
Mr ThurstonRobert Lankesheer
Mr FirkinsJohnny Shannon
Mr MackintoshBill Bradley
Mr KerrGeorge Lee
Mr YardleyMervyn Pascoe
Back to the top