I always wondered where they got the inspiration for the famous BBC series Fawlty Towers. Now I know.
There were only ever twelve Fawlty Towers episodes, but the good news is the producers have asked me to submit a screenplay for episode thirteen. My plan is to base the story on four travellers of a certain age, who stay a night at a B&B run by Basil Fawlty’s cousin on Vancouver Island. To add to the comic potential, I’ll say that these travellers come some very foreign place like, say, Australia.
In scene one, my fictional travellers will sail from the mainland on one of those big car ferries. They’ll say all sorts of amusing things like “Wow, we don’t get islands like this in Australia” and “Crikey, look at those people over there. The poor things can’t afford the ferry ride so they have to come to the island on that fifty-foot luxury cruiser.”
When they disembark (scene two), the travellers will pile into a rented minivan and follow the crowds to the Butchart Gardens. Here, they’ll wander aimlessly up and down through acres and acres of landscaped magnificence, occasionally getting lost or arguing about the best way to get out of the rose garden. As before, they’ll intersperse their wanderings with witty comments like “Wow, we don’t get trees like that in Australia” and “Crikey, look at those flowers over there” or, just to mix it up a little, “Isn’t that Japanese Garden a beauty.”
All this will take place in the first five minutes, because the real focus of the story is, of course, their escapades at the B&B, which start in scene three. In this scene, my unsuspecting travellers have finally managed to navigate their way into the heart of a city I’ll call “Victoria”, and the on-board GPS is announcing “arriving at destination – on right.”
They’ll all emerge from the mini-van at what they think is the right address. Yep, number 621 alright, but where’s the front door? Ah, here’s a little side door. Oh – it’s locked. Ah – here’s a sign – “Ring the bell for the manager.” They ring. Oh – no answer. Better check the sign again. Ah – “If there’s no answer when you ring the bell, call this number.” They call. A recorded voice says – “You have reached the – Beeeeeeeep – This message service has run out of recording space – please delete old messages.” Wait a few seconds for the background laugh track to finish. Now what? Check the sign again? Ah – there’s a little hand-written message at the bottom. “If you’ve tried the door, and the phone, and still can’t reach the manager – go across the road to number 608.” Ok, over the road they troop. Aha! There’s a young guy painting the steps of number 608. “Sorry, the owner’s not here. I’m only the painter, but I can fetch Manuella.”
Cue Manuella. She speaks no English, but is very friendly and helpful. By a sort of sign language, she conveys to the travellers that their rooms are, in fact, located in number 608, and she will help by carrying in the heaviest bags – oh, and don’t step on the wet paint on the only steps into the house – or touch the freshly painted hand rails. At this point, the audience will be wondering “Will they stay? Will they get all their gear past all the wet paint without any mess?” Well, the beauty of television is we can skip past most of the details and run a sort of quick montage of them entering the house, gaping in awe at the eclectic collections of antiques that line every nook and cranny of the downstairs rooms, and getting settled in for the night. I think, however, that it will be pretty funny to finish scene three with a couple of quick goodnight shots. Each bedroom is different, so I’ll show one of the ladies lying back comfortably in her four-poster bed, while her friend two doors down the corridor is trying over and over again to make the four-foot leap up onto a bed that’s so high you need an oxygen mask to sleep.
Scene four will be breakfast next morning. Just as our little group is leaving their rooms for the 8am sitting, they’ll be surprised to see the hostess tapping on a previously unnoticed little door in the hallway. “Manuella. Wake up. It’s 8 o’clock!” The twist will be that, when they sit down a few minutes later, with the other mysterious guests from “across the road”, Manuella will suddenly materialise with a steaming coffee pot and act as if she’s been up and active for hours.
After a few more quick snippets where people don’t get exactly what they asked for, and an unexpected family of four turns up but can’t get chairs or food until their designated 9am sitting, I’ll move to the closing scene, scene five. Our travellers will be loaded in their mini-van and ready to go. They’ll all be chatting about their experiences. Then, someone has to ask the question that’s hanging in the air. “Well, that was different. Will we ever stay there again?” They’ll all look at each other. They’ll all nod. “Crikey yeah!”