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Prunella Scales with a lifesize Basil
Prunella Scales with a lifesize Basil

Sybil back at Fawlty Towers

Prunella Scales (aka Sybil Fawlty) has officially re-opened the Torquay hotel which inspired the legendary sitcom series, Fawlty Towers. She arrived in a replica of the red Austin 1100 car which was famously thrashed by Basil Fawlty.

A Devon hotel which inspired the legendary TV comedy series Fawlty Towers has been officially re-opened by one of the show's stars.

Actress Prunella Scales played the part of Sybil Fawlty in the 1970s BBC sitcom series.

The world's best known hotel receptionist made a star appearance at the reopening of the Hotel Gleneagles in Torquay following a major refurbishment.

She arrived  in a replica of the red Austin 1100 flayed by screen husband Basil in one episode.

Take a look at the photo gallery:
More 'Sybil' photos >

Fawlty Towers was based on the Gleneagles, where John Cleese stayed with other members of the Monty Python team in the early '70s.

Cleese, who of course played Basil Fawlty, based the character on the owner of the hotel, Donald Sinclair, who he described as "the most wonderfully rude man I have ever met."

Prunella signing autographs
Prunella signing autographs

Mr Sinclair, who died in 1981, is said to have thrown Eric Idle's suitcase out of the window "in case it contained a bomb" and complained about Terry Gilliam's table manners.

Looking back, the real Sybil, Beatrice Sinclair, agrees her husband was not good with the guests.

"Not really, he was a commander in the Royal Navy and he liked to have the last word. I don't think he ever really enjoyed the hotel life."

The hotel was recently bought by local businessmen Brian Shone and Terry Taylor.

They have spent £1 million on refurbishing the facilities, and Prunella Scales was guest of honour at the official relaunch on 18th September 2006.

From her bark of "Basil!", to her sympathetic phone manner (catchphrase "Oh, I know"), Prunella Scales' portrayal of Sybil was comic genius.

Prunella admits that at the time she had no inkling that the series would become a British comedy masterpiece.

"I don't remember very much from the early days of recording Fawlty Towers. We recorded an episode every week, so it was a question of learning the lines and getting them in the right order.

Prunella behind the reception desk
Prunella behind the reception desk

"It was very very distinguished writing, John and Connie did a wonderful job. It was good writing about men and women, and power and pain - all the important things that get the best laughs.

"There was a great deal of pain in it both physical and mental, I think that's why it has endured.

"The truth is we never filmed down here - we made the whole series in the Thames Valley so I didn't know what to expect or what it would look like.

"I think Sybil might have quite impressed with the hotel as it is now, she wouldn't let on but I think she would have been.

"I hope people will come  back and if they have a good time at the Gleneagles, then it will put Torquay back on the map with a vengeance."

The actress remembers her first meeting with John Cleese to work out one of the most iconic screen relationships in British comedy.

"He said have you got any questions and I said, why did they get married in the first place?

"We thought that they fell in love and got married and then he wanted to run this very pretentious hotel and she knew the business and had to put the brakes on him because his ideas were too pretentious."

Mr Shone arranged for the actress to arrive at the Asheldon Road hotel in a red Austin 1100, just like the one owned by Basil Fawlty.

Basil gives his car a good hiding
Basil gives his red Austin 1100 a good hiding!

In one of the series' most famous scenes in 1975, Basil gave the car a good hiding with a branch when it conked out and wouldn't restart.

"We wanted to make her arrival as memorable as possible and what better way than to have her arrive in the back of a red Austin 1100," said Mr Shone.

"She's never visited the hotel before so this was her first time here, which is amazing."

The actual hotel seen at the start and end of the sitcom was the Woodburn Grange Country Club in Buckinghamshire, but that burned down in 1991.

Coachloads of tourists turn up to the Hotel Gleneagles in the Wellswood area of Torquay every day - just to take a look at the place which inspired probably the most famous comedy series ever made.

"We get about eight or 10 coaches a day stopping outside," said Mr Shone. "Some people just want to walk about inside.

"It is the spiritual home of Fawlty Towers." However, Mr Shone is emphasising that the hotel relaunch event is invite only, and is not open to the public.

Mr Shone keeps Fawlty Towers memorabilia inside the foyer of the hotel which, with its new boutique hotel look, is otherwise very different from the hotel in the series.

Only 12 episodes were made of Fawlty Towers, and they were first aired on BBC1 more than 30 years ago.

But the legend of Basil and Sybil lives on...

last updated: 18/09/06
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