But in 1979, 'Fawlty Towers' returned in a 9 P.M. slot on Monday evenings, directly opposite the W.W.2 drama 'Danger U.X.B.' ( starring Anthony Andrews ) on I.T.V. Though I liked the latter, I was not about to let a gripping series about an army bomb disposal unit get in my way of Basil's return.
Also returning that night was the David Jason sitcom 'A Sharp Intake Of Breath' ( noticeably improved after a patchy first season ). However, only one comedy was being discussed in the playgrounds and offices of the country the next morning - and it wasn't 'Breath'.
'Communication Problems' sees us back in Torquay. The hotel has clearly undergone redecoration and there is a new chef, Terry ( Brian Hall ). An annoying elderly guest, Mrs.Richards ( Joan Sanderson ) is selectively hard-of-hearing ( she only hears what she wants to hear ), and complains forcefully about everything under the sun - the service, the view from her room, the size of the bath, the lack of lavatory paper, and, of more importance to Basil and Sybil, the 'theft' of £85 pounds from her room. She wants to call the police, but Basil and co. try to keep a lid on her complaint by searching for the money themselves. On top of this, Basil is trying to conceal from Sybil the fact that he won £75 by betting on a horse named 'Dragonfly'. Heaven help him if she finds out...
Any fears the new season would not be as good as the first are dispelled here. Though the studio audience is slow to get laughing ( only when Manuel appears do they seem to remember they are watching a comedy ), when they start they do not stop. And who can blame them? In 'Mrs.Richards', Basil has an 'opponent' of the calibre of the fussy Mr.Hutchison ( Bernard Cribbins ) from 'The Hotel Inspectors' in Season 1. Joan Sanderson was, of course, 'Miss Doris 'Rotten' Ewell' in 'Please Sir!' so knows something about playing old rat bags. Here she surpasses herself. A viewer wrote to 'The Radio Times' to complain about a deaf woman being made fun of, and Cleese defended himself by stating that Mrs.Richards was not as deaf as she made out ( presumably the same person also complained about 'Arkwright', Ronnie Barker's stammering shopkeeper in 'Open All Hours' ). Ballard Berkeley is also on top form here, being given Basil's winnings for safe-keeping and then forgetting about it ( only to remember at a wrong moment ).
There are so many funny moments it would be impossible to list them all. Nevertheless, I've selected two - 1) Basil pretending that the batteries in Mrs.Richards' hearing aid have run out of power. She turns up the volume, and he proceeds to scream at her, almost deafening the old bat.
2) A delivery man arrives with a vase just in time to see Basil, sans shirt, sobbing hysterically behind the desk in the foyer.
Everything about this episode works perfectly. It is television comedy of the highest order, and it has not stopped being so just because it is thirty years old.
Communication Problems is a strange episode from the show . Like the episode featuring hotel inspectors the audience are asked to empathise with Bssil far more than usual . It'd be different if Mrs Richards was merely deaf but she's an arrogant selfish horror whose behaviour borders on the narcissistic played superbly by Joan Sanderson . we all know someone like that and we all hope their attitude comes back to bite them . Basil also has the duel problem that Sybil is suspicious of his betting habit at the bookies . We're asked more than empathising with Bsil we're asked to sympathise with him which is not something that happens in the show very often
This slightly atypical episode means it sticks out more than it possibly deserves to . I remember reading somewhere that despite having more memorable episodes it was this one that won a public vote as the funniest episode . It's good on its own but it's not even the funniest episode of the season
This simple set up leads to loads of hilarity, with Polly and Manuel trying to help Basil keep his winnings, but this being Fawlty Towers, the poor hotel owner is destined to lose his money, closely followed by his composure.