The genesis of "Fawlty Towers" came when John Cleese and the rest of the Pythons were filming in the Southwest of England in May 1971. They were scheduled to spend two weeks at the Gleneagles Hotel in Torquay, but cut their stay to one night. It all had to do with the "wonderfully rude" hotel manager, the late Donald Sinclair.
Sinclair hated all the guests who had the shortsightedness to stay in the Gleneagles. Worse, Sinclair was only 5'4″ and was married to a large, domineering wife.
Cleese turned Sinclair into a character for a "Doctor in the House" script for the BBC in 1973. This was just after Cleese had finished his TV chores on "Monty Python's Flying Circus". Cleese wanted to strike out with his now-separated wife, Connie Booth, so the BBC gave both the offer to do a series.
It didn't take long at all for Cleese and Booth to make a series out of that Torquay hotel, which they named "Fawlty Towers". Cleese cast himself as manager Basil Fawlty, who felt that the main nuisances in a hotel were the guests. Wife Sybil Fawlty was Basil's equal and opposite, the co-owner who could lash out at Basil and win on the first stroke. ("We reversed the sizes [of manager and wife]," said the 6'4″ Cleese.)
Rounding out the regular staff at Fawlty Towers were Andrew Sachs as Manuel, the dumb waiter from Barcelona who could not make sense of Basil's commands (¿Qué?), and Connie Booth as Polly, whose calmness was sorely tested in each of Basil's schemes and cover-ups.
While most sitcom writers spend two weeks turning out an episode, John Cleese and Connie Booth spent six weeks writing each episode of "Fawlty Towers". Cleese said each program started with two or three plot threads, which start parallel, but begin to intertwine. The best shows, of course, are those in which the plot threads touch at the end. The production team spent nearly an hour editing each minute of every program, spending up to 25 hours on each show.
With such intense work put into each episode, "Fawlty Towers" drew raves around the world, exceeding the success of "Monty Python's Flying Circus" in some countries. But Cleese limited the run of "Fawlty Towers" to twelve shows. He did not want to diminish the impact "Fawlty Towers" has had. And there has been plenty of impact.
The show won 3 BAFTA Awards and one Broadcasting Press Guild Award. Despite being very short-lived and not airing too often, "Fawlty Towers" is recognised as one of the greatest British TV shows of all time. It was ranked #5 in the British Comedy Guide's list of Top 50 British Sitcoms. "Fawlty Towers" was voted #1 In the British Film Instuite TV 100. Other awards the show has won are: The Royal Television Society Programme Awards for outstanding creative achievements which went to John Cleese in May 1976, In April 1982, the two episodes of "Fawlty Towers" that were used as training films won a Queens Award for Export Acheivement, In 2001 the new "Fawlty Towers" DVD set won the 'Quality Street DVD award' for being the best comedy on DVD, Basil Fawlty was recognised as the most Monstrous Boss on British TV in May 2003 by UK Satellite Channel UK Gold, just beating David Brent from "The Office". "Fawlty Towers" has aired in over 60 countries in places like Tonga, China, Pakistan, Latvia, Malta and Denmark.