Fawlty Towers



Vintage British comedy shows its age but still entertains.

What parents need to know

Positive messages

The show has fun with the idea of social castes as seen through the eyes of upper-crust-wannabe Basil. His general distaste for anyone other than the highest class often clouds his judgment and causes him to lose the affection of many of his customers, and he never seems to learn his lesson. The show also mines the language and cultural barrier between Basil and his Spanish waiter, who speaks only broken English, for laughs, and Basil and Sybil's marriage is marked by insults and bad blood. On the other hand, the show's female leads come across as level-headed and competent, which contrasts with Basil's ineptitude.

Positive role models

Basil allows his intolerance and attempts to climb the social ladder to interfere with his ability to relate to regular people. This always causes problems for him personally and for his business, and, if not for his highly capable wife, their hotel likely wouldn't survive.


Occasionally a story line involves violence or death of some nature, but the show's comedy keeps things light.


There's more talk than action when it comes to sexuality, but it's often tapped for humor. Innuendo is common, and adults make offhand remarks about "getting lucky" and the like. Basil's intolerance for the subject brings occasions of it into greater focus for comic purposes.


Rarely "hell."

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Adult guests and Basil are often shown drinking wine or mixed drinks during cocktail hour or at dinner, but there are no ill effects.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Fawlty Towers is a short-lived 1970s-era British comedy series. Although the comedy is mostly clean-cut, it's an acquired taste for American viewers because of its age and roots in British culture. Expect some playful banter of a sexual nature (mention of "getting lucky" and other hanky-panky) that stands in hilarious contrast to Basil's uptight personality. A Spanish character is steeped in stereotypes -- including the language barrier that leads to plenty of laughable mishaps -- but it's meant to be funny, not hurtful.

What's the story?

FAWLTY TOWERS stars John Cleese as Basil Fawlty, a miserly hotel proprietor yearning to elevate his own social standing and to attract a more elite clientele. Unfortunately his efforts to do so often mean he neglects the needs of his average paying customers, much to the irritation of his practical wife, Sybil (Prunella Scales). Also lending a hand in the hotel are Polly (Connie Booth), the maid, and the jovial but mishap-prone Spanish waiter, Manuel (Andrew Sachs). A parade of eccentric guests keeps Basil on his toes with outlandish requests and one calamity after another.

Is it any good?


Fawlty Towers delivers classic British comedy by way of Cleese's delightfully neurotic character, whose attempts to advance his business always backfire in hilarious ways. His brilliance in the role is matched by the acerbic Sybil, who always manages to keep Basil under her thumb and dismantle even his best-laid plans. Their contentious relationship yields funny TV, even as it contradicts the very tenets of marital bliss.

Because this show's laughs generally are byproducts of eccentric characters, exaggerated scenarios, and running jokes about Basil's rudeness, its content will go over the heads of kids and tweens. But if your teens take an interest enough to see past the show's dated feel, rest assured that its content is proper enough that there's nothing to fear in letting them dabble in this classic.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about how comedy reflects its time and place. What can this show teach you about British society in the 1970s? How different is the humor from what you're used to? Is it fair to make generalizations based on one example?

  • Is it possible to avoid stereotypes altogether in entertainment? What examples are present here? What are they based on? Have our sensitivities to this kind of content changed over time? If so, is this necessarily good or bad? 

  • Central to this show's laughs is an argumentative marriage between Basil and Sybil. In general, do you find that the shows and movies you watch give an accurate impression of relationships? How would such a relationship play out in the real world?

TV details

Cast:Connie Booth, John Cleese, Prunella Scales
Network:BBC America
TV rating:TV-PG
Available on:DVD, Streaming

This review of Fawlty Towers was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.


Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

Find out more

About our buy links

When you use our links to make a purchase, Common Sense Media earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes. As a nonprofit organization, these funds help us continue providing independent, ad-free services for educators, families, and kids while the price you pay remains the same. Thank you for your support.
Read more

See more about how we rate and review.

About Our Rating System

The age displayed for each title is the minimum one for which it's developmentally appropriate. We recently updated all of our reviews to show only this age, rather than the multi-color "slider." Get more information about our ratings.

Great handpicked alternatives

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Teen, 13 years old Written byABCand123 September 29, 2014


What other families should know
Great role models
Parent Written byMaxwell Stentiford March 30, 2015

Hilarious but the language they use you can't get away with today.

'Fawlty Towers' is a hilarious comedy show. The language they use in it is very strong. There are no uses of f--k or sh-t but they no say: b-----d, n----r, w-g and bl--dy. They say many racist words and the other language they use, they could not get away with today. There is some violence as 'Basil' always hurts 'Manuel' but either hitting him with a spoon, poking him in the eye or kicking him. This movie is only appropriate for teenagers because of the language.
What other families should know
Too much swearing


Did our review help you make an informed decision about this product?

Star Wars Guide