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Thread: Fawlty Towers and 1970's British morality

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    Global Moderator Fusion's Avatar
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    Fawlty Towers and 1970's British morality

    Thanks to the glowing reviews I read about on CW, I decided to watch Fawlty Towers. I'm only through five episodes and I don't think I've laughed harder watching another sitcom save Arrested Development. What a genius show!

    However, one thing that is really interesting to me is to observe the British attitude of the time towards sexuality - both hetro and homo. Watching the five episodes I've seen so far, it is striking to me how a '70's era public TV show can be so refreshingly open in its attitude towards hetro-sexuality. Take "The Wedding Party" for example. The episode centers around Basil's prudish attitude towards the young unmarried couple who are all over each other as they try to rent a room. He almost turns them away until his wife intervenes. Then there was that heavenly sight of Polly walking around in a tight shirt without a bra and two..ahem...peaks clearly poking out. So much so that Basil orders her to change her shirt. The innuendo about sex surprised me, as I don't think an American TV show from the '70's could get away with that. But there was also a contradiction. In the same episode about a couple trying to get it on and a girl walking around bra-less, Basil and his wife are shown sleeping in separate beds. Why is that? Was that due to some censor policy? If so, it seems rather silly considering everything else that they allowed to go through.

    Also, it struck me that homosexuality was not as openly accepted on the show. There were snide jokes about it. Again consider "The Wedding Party". Part of the sub-plot is the guest's mistaken impression that Basil is having an affair with Manuel. One of the characters calls the behavior "disgusting". In a later episode, Basil makes a clearly demeaning joke about a gay character being from Greece because "that's where it originated you know". Now I would accept and even understand if the same type of jokes played on American sitcoms of the time, but I thought the British attitude was more liberal even back then? Am I reading too much into the jokes and perhaps no one else gets the negative vibes towards homosexuality from the show?

    I would be interested to read your thoughts on the matter.

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    Soutie Langeveldt's Avatar
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    Basil and his wife don't sleep in seperate beds for censorship reasons, more for lifestyle reasons..

    If you liked that, try watching the "carry on" series
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    International Vice-Captain Noble One's Avatar
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    I always assumed the separate beds was to display the lack of affection between the couple.

    Basil "Do you remember when we were first *manacled* together? We used to laugh quite a lot."

    Sybil "Yes, but not at the same time, Basil."

    Classic.

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    International Captain cover drive man's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fusion View Post
    Thanks to the glowing reviews I read about on CW, I decided to watch Fawlty Towers. I'm only through five episodes and I don't think I've laughed harder watching another sitcom save Arrested Development. What a genius show!

    However, one thing that is really interesting to me is to observe the British attitude of the time towards sexuality - both hetro and homo. Watching the five episodes I've seen so far, it is striking to me how a '70's era public TV show can be so refreshingly open in its attitude towards hetro-sexuality. Take "The Wedding Party" for example. The episode centers around Basil's prudish attitude towards the young unmarried couple who are all over each other as they try to rent a room. He almost turns them away until his wife intervenes. Then there was that heavenly sight of Polly walking around in a tight shirt without a bra and two..ahem...peaks clearly poking out. So much so that Basil orders her to change her shirt. The innuendo about sex surprised me, as I don't think an American TV show from the '70's could get away with that. But there was also a contradiction. In the same episode about a couple trying to get it on and a girl walking around bra-less, Basil and his wife are shown sleeping in separate beds. Why is that? Was that due to some censor policy? If so, it seems rather silly considering everything else that they allowed to go through.
    The separate beds thing is just another metaphor to the absolutely loveless relationship Basil has with his wife I would say. And the whole sex thing is just his old fashioned views. There might have been many people like him at that time but Cleese and the gang always seemed to mock that mindset as pretty much every episode ends in his miserable failure.

    Quote Originally Posted by Fusion View Post
    Also, it struck me that homosexuality was not as openly accepted on the show. There were snide jokes about it. Again consider "The Wedding Party". Part of the sub-plot is the guest's mistaken impression that Basil is having an affair with Manuel. One of the characters calls the behavior "disgusting". In a later episode, Basil makes a clearly demeaning joke about a gay character being from Greece because "that's where it originated you know". Now I would accept and even understand if the same type of jokes played on American sitcoms of the time, but I thought the British attitude was more liberal even back then? Am I reading too much into the jokes and perhaps no one else gets the negative vibes towards homosexuality from the show?

    I would be interested to read your thoughts on the matter.
    Basil wasn't intended to be the hero of the show and he is certainly not meant to be a role model. Again the team always tried to mock that old fashioned, snobbish, ignorant yet trademark English state of mind. So you could argue Fawlty towers has helped in weakening homophobia and snobbishness in Britain. Read this rather interesting book about Fawlty towers last year. I'd recommend it.
    Last edited by cover drive man; 08-06-2010 at 07:50 AM.
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    Hall of Fame Member _Ed_'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Langeveldt View Post
    If you liked that, try watching the "carry on" series

    Outstanding films.

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    Global Moderator Fusion's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cover drive man View Post
    Basil wasn't intended to be the hero of the show and he is certainly not meant to be a role model. Again the team always tried to mock that old fashioned, snobbish, ignorant yet trademark English state of mind. So you could argue Fawlty towers has helped in weakening homophobia and snobbishness in Britain. Read this rather interesting book about Fawlty towers last year. I'd recommend it.
    I understood that Basil’s character is not supposed to be held up as a “hero” figure. I know we’re supposed to mock his snobbishness and overly conservative attitudes. He’s much like the Archie Bunker character from All in the Family (though not to Archie’s bigoted extremes). The homophobic jokes were coming from other characters in the show as well, but perhaps we’re meant to mock society’s attitudes as a whole. Anyway, it’s not a big part of the show but just something I wanted to discuss.

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    Cricketer Of The Year Mr Casson's Avatar
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    I don't think a character making a joke belies any kind of intolerance on the part of the show's writers or the society in which it is set. Fawlty Towers was slapstick humour; it's about as indicative of reality as Donnie Darko.
    'Copperfield,' said Mr. Micawber, 'farewell! Every happiness and prosperity! If, in the progress of revolving years, I could persuade myself that my blighted destiny had been a warning to you, I should feel that I had not occupied another man's place in existence altogether in vain.
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    International Captain cover drive man's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fusion View Post
    I understood that Basil’s character is not supposed to be held up as a “hero” figure. I know we’re supposed to mock his snobbishness and overly conservative attitudes. He’s much like the Archie Bunker character from All in the Family (though not to Archie’s bigoted extremes). The homophobic jokes were coming from other characters in the show as well, but perhaps we’re meant to mock society’s attitudes as a whole. Anyway, it’s not a big part of the show but just something I wanted to discuss.
    Yeah, sorry if I tried to have the high ground there. It is interesting how popular media can reflect societal views. No doubt future historians will love Little Britain.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mr Casson View Post
    I don't think a character making a joke belies any kind of intolerance on the part of the show's writers or the society in which it is set. Fawlty Towers was slapstick humour; it's about as indicative of reality as Donnie Darko.
    More farce I would say.
    Last edited by cover drive man; 08-06-2010 at 08:42 AM.

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    Hall of Fame Member Goughy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fusion View Post
    I understood that Basil’s character is not supposed to be held up as a “hero” figure. I know we’re supposed to mock his snobbishness and overly conservative attitudes. He’s much like the Archie Bunker character from All in the Family (though not to Archie’s bigoted extremes). The homophobic jokes were coming from other characters in the show as well, but perhaps we’re meant to mock society’s attitudes as a whole. Anyway, it’s not a big part of the show but just something I wanted to discuss.
    Out of interest, do you know that two of the defining US shows of the 70s (All in the Family and Sanford and Son) were based on long running British shows (Till Death Do Us Part and Steptoe and Son) and British life and just adapted for the US market?

    I always find it interesting that two shows that are the bedrock of US culture are not from the US and dont originate from US culture.

    For the record, Alf Garnett >>>>>>>> Archie Bunker
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    Cricketer Of The Year Mr Casson's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cover drive man View Post
    More farce I would say.
    OK, you do that now.

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    International Captain cover drive man's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Goughy View Post
    Out of interest, do you know that two of the defining US shows of the 70s (All in the Family and Sanford and Son) were based on long running British shows (Till Death Do Us Part and Steptoe and Son) and British life and just adapted for the US market?

    I always find it interesting that two shows that are the bedrock of US culture are not from the US and dont originate from US culture.

    For the record, Alf Garnett >>>>>>>> Archie Bunker
    Love the theme tune to steptoe and son and sanford and son (although yes, I've probably just got the name to a merger show)

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    International Captain cover drive man's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mr Casson View Post
    OK, you do that now.
    Brilliant argument, it's really made me think about why I thought that and now I have to agree with you, well done sir.

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    Spanish_Vicente sledger's Avatar
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    Haha, CDM, calm down lad.

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    International Captain cover drive man's Avatar
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    Really ****ing me off now tbh. I've no idea what their problem with me is.

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    Spanish_Vicente sledger's Avatar
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    I don't think anyone has a problem with you lad.

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