THE REAL SYBIL FAWLTY WEIGHS IN ON "FAWLTY TOWERS"
"My husband was not like Basil"
by Richard Savill
published in The Telegraph (www.telegraph.co.uk) on 11 May 2002
Monday, 13 May 2002

The real-life Sybil Fawlty has broken her silence for the first time in more than 30 years to defend her late husband, the hotel owner on whom John Cleese based the character Basil Fawlty.

Beatrice Sinclair, 87, who helped run a seaside hotel at which the Monty Python team once stayed, said yesterday that her "war hero" husband had been "turned into a laughing stock".

She added: "I regard John Cleese as a complete and utter fool. He's held my family up to ridicule and made a lot of money doing it. My husband was no Basil Fawlty. He was a gentleman and a very brave man.

"Certainly Donald was a disciplinarian and he couldn't stand fools. But he was not the neurotic eccentric that John Cleese made him out to be."

Mrs Sinclair and her husband ran the Gleneagles Hotel in Asheldon Road, Torquay, when Cleese and his fellow Monty Python comedians stayed there in 1970 while filming in nearby Paignton.

Mr Sinclair, a former Commander in the Royal Navy who was torpedoed three times during the war, died in 1981 at the age of 72. Cleese has always said the hotel was the inspiration for Fawlty Towers.

The first episode was transmitted in 1975, but subsequent visitors to the hotel were disappointed to find the management was not as inept as they had imagined.

Yesterday Mrs Sinclair, now retired, decided to speak out after being told of a DVD of the comedy series now being sold in America. "Our family has suffered for far too long and it is about time the record was put straight," she said.

Legend has it that during his stay, Cleese's luggage was thrown over a cliff when Mr Sinclair mistook it for a bomb. "That's a load of rubbish," said Mrs Sinclair. "It never happened.

"There are no cliffs anywhere near the hotel." The hotel did have a foreign waiter at the time Cleese stayed there, she conceded. "But he was nothing like Manuel, the Spanish waiter in Fawlty Towers.

"He was a highly intelligent man and very efficient and courteous at his job." She added: "My husband didn't want the Python team to stay at the Gleneagles. They didn't fit into a family hotel and Donald came to me and said they should go.

"He said they would upset the other guests. But it was off-season and they were filming for about three weeks and I argued that it was good money and we couldn't afford to turn them away.

"I have seen the series, of course. I suppose Sybil is meant to be me. Certainly I was the boss but I was never as bad as that." Mrs Sinclair acknowledged that she was the driving force behind the hotel business.

"Donald ran the bar and was invaluable in keeping the books and accounts, but I was the boss." She bought the property as a private house and renamed it Gleneagles after a favourite part of her native Scotland.

She turned it into a family hotel business while her husband was in the Navy and he later agreed to leave the Navy and join her. "Reluctantly of course," she said.

"The Navy had been his life and he told me a million times that he lost a good pension by doing so. I assured him that we would make much more than that pension if things went well - which they did."

Mrs Sinclair is now a great-grandmother with one daughter, Ann, living in Palm Beach, Florida, and the other, Helen, married to a dental surgeon in Somerset.

"Both have implored me to say something in the past about the Fawlty image because it's so hurtful and unjust. I have always thought that it was best left alone and you shouldn't rake up the past.

"But now this cruel DVD is being shown in America. I spend a lot of time there and have many friends who may see it."