// home

Latest Posts

Basil Fawlty Earns a "D" in the Science of Great Comedy

November 16, 2005

This post was archived from the original website for Fawlty Towers Revisited, which premiered on public television in 2005.

In 2000, the British Film Institute selected Fawlty Towers as the best British television show. After a year-long poll looking for Britain’s Best Sitcom, the BBC announced this year that Fawlty Towers ranked as the fifth best sitcom of all time by British viewers.  A huge feat considering there were only 12 episodes.

Among foreign viewers — even some Germans — Fawlty Towers topped the list as the top British sitcom of all time.

Even Fawlty Towers, the hotel itself, was voted #1 in a poll Hotels.com conducted to determine the all-time most memorable screen hotels.  It
outdistanced other such “hotels from hell” as the Bates Motel from Psycho and The Overlook Hotel, which provided a winter home for Jack Nicholson and family in The Shining.

Such polls are a measure of the enduring popularity of a show, but how does one measure what makes a great comedy, great?

Well, you’ve heard it before….and probably said it.  Sitcoms are too formulaic.  But, have you ever taken the time to actually consider what the perfect formula is for a classic comedy? What makes some sitcom fail to make the grade and never get past the first season, while others are timeless treasures that make us laugh year after year?  Is there actually a science to all the laughter? Dr. Helen Pilcher, a British molecular neurobiologist by day and stand-up comic by night, set out to answer all of the above in a study commissioned by UKTV Gold, the satellite channel in the United Kingdom known as the home for classic British comedy.  Pilcher and her team of research scientists analyzed almost two decades’ worth of British comedies and actually came up with a mathematical expression for success, and failure. It’s quite simple.  A sitcom is a success if it scores high marks when applied to the following formula.

[((R x D + V) x F)+ S]/A

Where’s the simple part, your asking?  Pilcher explains:

“Comedic value is determined by multiplying the recognizability of the main
character (R) by their delusions of grandeur (D).  This is added
to the verbal wit of the script (V), and the total is multiplied by the
amount someone falls over or suffers a physical injury (F).  The
difference in social status between the highest- and lowest- ranking
characters (S) is added.  Finally, the total is divided by the
success of any scheme or stratagem in the show (A). Each term in the
formula is assigned a value up to a maximum of 10 to give an overall
scientific score.”

See how simple it is?

To actually put this formula into play, Dr. Pilcher established a baseline
which, hopefully, no comedy would score lower than.  One BBC show
from 2001, Orrible, came dreadfully close to achieving the lowest score among those tested.  By the way, the bottom score was a meager 6.5.

After lengthy research, the long-running Only Fools and Horses was voted No. 1 with a score of 696.  At No. 2, a relative newcomer to the British comedy scene, The Office finished with a 678 score.

Not to be outdone after 30 years of making people lauch in more than
than 60 countries, everyone’s favorite irascible hotelier, Basil
Fawlty, and Fawlty Towers came in at No. 3.  Another perennial favorite amongst British sitcom fans, Black Adder, came in a No. 4.

So next time you sit down and watch a new entry into the sitcom lineup, try thinking of
[((R x D + V) x F)+ S]/A and be your very own network television Head of Light Entertainment and give it a thumbs up or down.

And when you’re watching Fawlty Towers Revisited, with its more than 40 minutes of the funniest clips from the two seasons of Fawlty Towers, make note of just how much “D” Basil has and his perceived “S.” And marvel at all of the “F” and “V”!

PBS Revisits Fawlty Towers for 30th Anniversary Special

November 15, 2005

This post was archived from the original website for Fawlty Towers Revisited, which premiered on public television in 2005.

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of Fawlty Towers, PBS stations across the country will check back in to the loony English hotel for an exclusive, definitive retrospective on what many consider to be one of the world’s funniest and most enduring situation comedies of all time.

Fawlty Towers Revisited, which will premiere in early December, is an 80-minute scrapbook filled with behind-the-scenes recollections and making-of insights from the Fawlty Towers cast and crew, and it includes more than 40 minutes of choice clips from the show’s 12 episodes.

We launched this blog to bring Fawlty Towers’ far-flung and fanatical fans together for a global online reunion and digital celebratory toast! For the next month, the blog will feature daily postings about Fawlty Towers, the cast and crew, trivia and interesting tales about how this iconic comedy and its unforgettable characters continue to entertain and inspire audiences.

This blog also features a link — see navigation bar above, “Find Your Fawlty Towers Revisited Station Here” — to an interactive map that you can use to find out when the PBS station nearest you will be broadcasting the show, as well as to get a direct link to each station’s web site and more information on the highly collectible, must-have pledge Thank You gifts. And we even will have tips and recipes you can use to host a Fawlty Towers Revisitedwatching party. The blog will have daily postings through mid-December.

Hosted by Andrew Sachs, who played “Manuel,” the devoted, but bumbling waiter from Barcelona, and John Howard Davies, producer and director ofFawlty Towers’ first season, Fawlty Towers Revisited features recent interviews with co-creators, writers, lead cast members and former husband and wife, John Cleese and Connie Booth. Cleese played “Basil Fawlty”, the inn’s boorish, ill-tempered, class-conscious proprietor, and Booth portrayed “Polly Sherman,” the chambermaid and tireless middle woman who worked diligently to lessen the fallout from Basil’s numerous missteps and Manuel’s blunders.

Fawlty Towers Revisited also includes interviews with Prunella Scales, who played “Sybil Fawlty,” Basil’s formidable, determined and thick-skinned wife; Bob Spiers, director of the show’s second season; and Terry Jones, one of Cleese’s Monty Python cohorts who shares the story about the English Riviera hotel that provided the inspiration for Fawlty Towers.

And fans will enjoy hearing about behind-the-scenes antics from guest stars in some of Fawlty Towers’ most popular episodes, including Bernard Cribbins from “The Hotel Inspectors” and Nicky Henson and Luan Peters from “The Psychiatrist.”

Fawlty Towers was first broadcast on Sept. 19, 1975, on England’s BBC 2. Ironically, while there were only two seasons and 12 episodes, the show’s clever writing, frenetic pace and unforgettable characters have kept it a Top 5 pick for the world’s best television comedy for three decades. This timeless collection of a dozen 30-minute farces has been shown in more than 60 countries, and it is a Digital Age testament to the show’s perennial popularity that a Google search on the show will note some 830,000 results.

The exclusive broadcast of Fawlty Towers Revisited on PBS stations nationwide is especially fitting because Fawlty Towers made its U.S. debut on public television stations in 1976, less than a year after it began airing in England. And it still is an audience favorite 30 years later.

Fawlty Towers Revisited is joint project of PBS and BBC Worldwide Americas, and was produced by Iowa Public Television.