LONDON – They don’t make ’em like they used to. Bunch of money-chasing idiots. Not like in my day!
Sounding rather like an inn keeper on a short fuse, John Cleese reminisced Wednesday about making “Fawlty Towers,” back in the epoch he remembers as television’s golden age.
“I don’t think the writers work as hard as they used to, and I think they may lack experience because I don’t think the writing is as good as it used to be,” said Cleese, who wrote the classic comedy series with Connie Booth, who was then his wife.
“But I do proudly say that in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s we did have the least bad television in the world, and that’s quite a claim. I think the main problem now is it’s run on the basis of money.”
Cleese was reunited with Booth, Prunella Scales (Sybil Fawlty) and Andrew Sachs (Manuel) at an event to publicize an upcoming 30th anniversary documentary on the making of “Fawlty Towers.”
Cleese recalled submitting the first script to Jimmy Gilbert at the British Broadcasting Corp. Gilbert responded that the script was “full of cliched situations and stereotypical characters, and I cannot see it as being anything other than a disaster,” Cleese said.
“And Jimmy himself said, ‘You’re going to have to get them out of the hotel, John, you can’t do the whole thing in the hotel.’ Whereas, of course, it’s in the hotel that the whole pressure cooker builds up.”
Though the show was done for noncommercial television, Cleese said it couldn’t have been made without commercials – the ones he did on the side.
“I have to thank the advertising industry for making this possible. Connie and I used to spend six weeks writing each episode and we didn’t make a lot of money out of it,” he said.
“It took six weeks to make each show, so that’s 36 weeks, one week to film them – 37 weeks – and six weeks to actually tape them in the studio so that’s 43 weeks’ work, for which I was paid for writing and performing and filming, 6,000 pounds (C$10,600),” he added.
“So that meant that I was able to subsidize my writing time by doing commercials.”