Fawlty Towers – How Sports Betting Was Central To Legendary Series 2 Episode

By Ian John
June 18, 2024

Legendary sitcom Fawlty Towers used horse racing betting as a key plot in one of its most famous episodes.

When you think of sports betting on television, you may think of Ray Winstone in the popular bet365 Sport TV adverts.

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Yet sports betting is more prevalent on TV than you would imagine. In fact, for some TV shows, betting has been a key theme at times.

The greatest example of this, and without doubt the funniest, came in a famous episode of the 1970s sitcom Fawlty Towers.

Written by Monty Python legend John Cleese and his-then wife Connie Booth, the series centred on the crazy antics of hotel owner Basil Fawlty (played by Cleese), his wife Sybil (Prunella Scales), their hapless Spanish waiter Manuel (Andrew Sachs) and their put-upon but resilient hotel maid Polly (Booth).

Regarded as the finest UK sit-com of all-time by many, the show ran for just two series and 12 episodes. Each of which is regarded as a classic.

But one of the very best was the first episode of series 2. Titled Communication Problems, but also known simply as “Mrs Richards”.

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The Role of Sports Betting in Fawlty Towers’ Communication Problems

Fawlty Towers is ranked as one of the best sitcom ever because of how tightly it was scripted. Cleese and Booth meticulously worked over the script to pack in more jokes per minute than any other sitcom has managed before or since.

Central to that was a plausible plot and this is where the element of sports betting, specifically horse racing betting, plays an important role in this particular Fawlty Towers episode.

Communication Problems revolves around a rather strident, opinionated and self-important guest arriving to stay at the hotel, the erstwhile Mrs Richards (played superbly by Joan Sanderson). Just after she arrives, a happy guest (Mr. Firkins) enters reception to pay his final bill.

He informs Basil of a ‘very nice little filly running at Exeter this afternoon…Dragonfly”. Basil is keenly interested, but is aware his wife Sybil disapproves of his betting.

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Basil    Dragonfly?

Firkins Yes, it’s well worth a flutter…but pay the tax on it before…

Basil    (seeing Sybil coming out of the office) Sssshhhhh!…Well I’m delighted you enjoyed your stay

Firkins Very nice

Mr Firkins then pays his bill and wanders off with Basil uttering the immortal line to his wife Sybil.

Basil    A satisfied customer. We should have him stuffed.

Firkins (in the doorway and shouting across the room) Oh, Mr Fawlty. Three o’clock Exeter. Dragonfly. Right?

Basil    (eyeing Sybil suspiciously)…Yes Good luck. Jolly good luck with it.

Sybil glares at him to which he feigns indifference. Major Gowan, a longstanding resident, appears at the desk.

Sybil    What was that about the three o’clock at Exeter, Basil?

Basil    Oh some horse he’s going to bet on I expect, dear. (to the Major). You’re looking very spruce today, Major.

Major   St. George’s Day, old boy!

Basil    Really?

Major   Got a horse, have you? What’s its name?

Basil    (pretending not to know) Umm (to Sybil) Did you catch it, dear?

Sybil    Dragonfly, Major.

Major   Going to have a flutter, Fawlty?

Basil    No-o, no, no

Sybil    No, Basil doesn’t bet anymore, Major, do you, dear?

Basil    No dear, I don’t, No, that particular avenue of pleasure has been closed off.

Sybil    And we don’t want it opened up again do we, Basil?

Basil    No you don’t dear, no.

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Basil Makes The Bet

Of course, in true Fawlty Towers fashion, Basil does bet on the horse against his wife’s wishes. Unable to go to town to place the bet himself (and long before the days of online sites such as bet365 Sport), he asks Manuel, the Spanish waiter, to place the bet for him and tells him not to say anything to Sybil about it.

Brilliant as it is, this is just the sub-plot of this Fawlty Towers episode. The main plot revolves around Basil’s encounters with the hard-of-hearing and generally very unsatisfied Mrs Richards.

This starts immediately after this scene with Manuel coming downstairs to explain to Basil that Mrs Richards is unhappy with her room at the Fawlty Towers hotel.

This leads on to one of the most famous scenes in British comedy history.

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“Ah! Mr Fawlty! Your horse! It win! It win!

In dealing with Mrs Richards, who complains about everything at the Fawlty Towers hotel and proves to be a wealthy but somewhat penny-pinching guest, much of the humour in the episode revolves around that.

However, the two threads of the plot intertwine at the very end of the episode as Basil tries to hide the fact that Dragonfly did indeed win the race, leaving him with a wad of cash that he did not want Sybil to find. Asking The Major to watch his winnings for him as Sybil is suspicious and goes through his pockets most nights.

After finding out his horse had won, Basil decides to reiterate to Manuel the importance of not letting anybody know Basil had won £75 on the horse.

What followed is without doubt one of the genius Fawlty Towers scenes that made the show so popular.

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The Denouement and Twist in the Tail – Basil’s Winning Bet Still Loses

Unfortunately for Basil, Mrs Richards comes to the desk to complain she has had some money stolen from her room. £85, £10 more than Basil had won on the horse. The Major informs Sybil that he found some money in his suit (Basil’s winnings). Which Sybil hands to Mrs Richards who informs her it is £10 short.

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When Sybil disappears to try and locate the rest of the money, Basil tries to make Major remember that it was his money. Which he can’t and of course, Manuel “knows nothing” having been told to do so by Basil earlier.

Sybil asks Basil to give her £10 from the till and as he is doing so a man wanders into the shop holding Mrs Richards vase.

It is then revealed she hasn’t had money stolen. She left her purse in a shop when she bought a vase worth £75 which was being delivered later that day. Her purse has £95 in it.

Basil is gleeful. Not only will he get his £75 winnings back, but even if he pays Mrs Richards the £10, he is still £10 up. That is until the Major remembers Basil did give him the money and won it on a horse, saying so in Sybil’s range, at which point Basil drops the vase, smashing it.

Mrs Richards then informs him “That cost £75!”

If you have never seen this particular episode of Fawlty Towers, it is well worth watching.

And if you are going to put £10 on the 3.00 at Exeter, and if Dragonfly does indeed win, try and keep your winnings a little safer than Fawlty Towers hotel manager Basil did!

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