More than 45 years ago, the uptight manager of an English hotel inadvertently inspired Monty Python’s John Cleese to create a comedy legend. Now comes news that this landmark of sitcom history will soon be demolished.
The creation myth of Cleese’s Fawlty Towers — the short-run, but incredibly influential sitcom about high-strung inn owner Basil Fawlty and his motley crew of staff and locals — claims that in 1970, Monty Python was filming on location in the seaside town of Torquay and stayed at the Gleneagles Hotel.
The owner, Donald Sinclair, was later described by Cleese as “the rudest man I’ve ever come across in my life.” Things got so bad, according to anecdotes told by the Pythons in the decades since, that Sinclair actually threw one of their suitcases off a cliff (or out of a window, depending who tells the story) because he thought it contained a bomb.
Sinclair’s widow repeatedly denied many of the colorful stories about the Pythons’ three-week stay.
“There are no cliffs anywhere near the hotel,” Beatrice Sinclair told the Telegraph in 2002.
“My husband didn’t want the Python team to stay at the Gleneagles. They didn’t fit into a family hotel and Donald came to me and said they should go,” she recalled at the time. “He said they would upset the other guests. But it was off-season and they were filming for about three weeks and I argued that it was good money and we couldn’t afford to turn them away.”
As for the character of Basil’s bossy wife Sybil, Beatrice admitted that “Certainly I was the boss but I was never as bad as that.”
The Gleneagles has changed hands many times since the Sinclairs owned it. Most recently it was operated as part of the Best Western Group, reports Conde Nast Traveler.
This week, the Torquay Herald-Express brings the sad news that the hotel has again been sold, but this time it’s to be torn down and turned into a retirement home.
“Like its former guests, we’re sure new owners of the apartments will appreciate the development’s brilliant location and perhaps have a laugh at its quirky history,” says the planning director for the property’s new owner.
This now means that all real estate associated with Fawlty Towers will have passed on into memory. The exterior of the inn was not the Gleneagles, but the Wooburn Grange Country Club in Bourne’s End, Buckinghamshire. That building fell victim to a fire nearly 25 years ago and had to be demolished as a result of the damage.