Saturday, 30 July 2011

Fawlty Towers - Series One, Episode Five - Gourmet Night (1975)

Fawlty Towers has a new chef named Kurt who has been found for them by André, Kurt's culinary trainer and a friend of the Fawltys, just ahead of a gourmet night that Basil, ever eager to attract the upper crust of clientéle in Torquay, is intending to host at the hotel. Kurt has taken a liking to Manuel. Basil, meanwhile, is having trouble with his Austin 1100 Estate car. Despite Sybil's insistence that he take the car to be mended, the miserly Basil tries to fix the car himself. Unfortunately, when the gourmet night arrives, only four people turn up (Colonel and Mrs. Hall, both JPs and Lionel Twitchen, one of Torquay's leading rotarians, along with his wife, Lotte) due to Basil including a "no riff-raff" notice in his advertisement after a rude and pampered boy brands the hotel a "dump" simply because his chips weren't the shape he preferred and they didn't have any salad cream (to which Basil responds by "accidentally" elbowing him in the head and comparing him to "Henry Kissinger"). A party of four, the Coosters, was supposed to be in attendance, but are forced to cancel at the last minute due to one of them getting ill. When Basil learns of this, he snidely remarks "let's hope it's nothing trivial."

As the episode unfolds it is revealed that Kurt is a homosexual alcoholic and his interest in Manuel is actually on a romantic scale, but Manuel, who is straight, is not interested, so Kurt seeks solace in alcohol and ends up drunk to the point of being unable to cook, unbeknownst to Basil, as the dinner guests are arriving.

Basil displays his extreme social awkwardness as he becomes over sensitive to Colonel Hall's introduction to the other guests. The Colonel has a nervous twitch which causes his neck and head to convulse violently. When Fawlty attempts to introduce the two couples he gets hung up on the name of "Lionel Twitchen", so as not to offend the Colonel, and is unable to introduce them, thereby causing maximum embarrassment for himself. Mr Twitchen, upon seeing the Colonel's twitch, realises what has happened and gives his surname as "Twychen'.

Basil is horrified to realise that Kurt passed out, and after he vomited, now doesn't have a chef. Fortunately, André, who was aware of Kurt's alcoholism, is on hand to help Basil. However, as André's restaurant has a restricted availability, the 'gourmet' menu ends up with only three possible dishes for Basil's guests to choose from - all consisting of various forms of duck: Duck with orange, duck with cherries, or 'duck surprise' (duck without oranges or cherries). When Basil is asked what happens if they don't like duck, he responds "If you don't like duck... then you're rather stuck!" (to which Mrs. Hall responds that she loves it).

Basil's attempts to obtain the food are complicated. The first duck is ruined when Basil accidentally drops the tray and Manuel's foot gets lodged in it, so Basil ends up having to ask André for another. The second attempt is hampered by Basil's car, which finally breaks down on his way back with the food; the scene ends with what is arguably one of the most famous sequences: Basil screaming at the car and giving the vehicle fair warning, followed by a "damn good thrashing" with a tree branch after it finally completely refuses to start.

The staff try to stall for time while waiting for Basil to return with the duck: Manuel plays Flamenco tunes on his guitar, Polly sings "I Can't Say No" from the musical Oklahoma!, and Sybil drunkenly recounts an anecdote about "uncle Ted and his crate of brown ale." Basil manages to get back to the hotel on foot and the guests are finally presented with the "duck" which they have so eagerly awaited, only to discover that, due to a mix-up in Andre's kitchen, it has turned into a Bombe Surprise when Basil removes the cloche. Basil is so surprised that he searches through the trifle with his hands to see if there is a hidden duck. When asked to explain this, Basil deadpans "Duck's off, sorry."

A 1999 poll for NatWest car insurance voted the scene in this episode where Basil attacks his car with a tree branch as "most momentous motoring moment".