PYTHON BITES BACK AT SYBIL FAWLTY
excerpted from "My husband was no Basil Fawlty"
by David Smith
published in The Express on 11 May 2002
Tuesday, 14 May 2002

Here are excerpts from another article about Betty Sinclair and her reaction to John Cleese's portrayal of Basil Fawlty (inspired by her husband) in the British sitcom Fawlty Towers. I found this interesting as it also quotes reactions by John Cleese and Michael Palin.

THE widow of the hotelier who inspired Basil Fawlty has hit back at the show which immortalised her husband as a henpecked, goose-stepping maniac.

Betty Sinclair, 87,... who has endured 30 years of Fawlty Towers reruns, said of her
husband Donald: "He was no Basil Fawlty."

Donald and Betty ran the Gleneagles Hotel in Asheldon Road, Torquay, where Cleese and the rest of the Monty Python team stayed in 1970 while filming in Paignton.

She explained Cleese and Co were unwelcome guests. "Donald didn't want the Python team to stay at the Gleneagles. They didn't fit into a family hotel. 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."

"They were quite insulting, particularly John Cleese. I remember one day, when I was at the reception desk, Cleese walked into the bar and snapped his fingers at Donald and shouted, 'Get me a taxi'. No please or thank you, just, 'Get me a taxi'.

My husband just looked at him and said there was a telephone in the hallway and he could order a taxi himself.

"But I don't think he wanted a taxi at all, he was just trying to upset Donald. Their stay was full of little things like that."

Betty added: "All the stories about Donald are just a lot of nonsense without any truth in them. Yet they keep being repeated and repeated. But just ask anyone who knew Donald at the time and they'll tell you what a gentleman he was."

But Cleese did get one thing right - it wasn't Basil but Sybil who was in charge. "I was the boss. Donald ran the bar and was invaluable in keeping the books and accounts, " she said.

Monty Python star Michael Palin last night rejected her claims. "For us it was the other way round, " he said.

"He was an incredibly rude man, terribly difficult, and ran the place like a high-security prison. The fact she says he did not want us there in the first place explains a lot.

"We had dinner there and Terry Gilliam, who is American, left his knife and fork at a two o'clock angle. Sinclair leant over him while Terry was in full flow, put his knife and fork together, and muttered, 'This is how we do it in England'.

"I remember we asked for a wake-up call and he said with great irritation: 'A wake-up call?! What time?' We said seven o'clock and he exclaimed, 'Seven o'clock!'

"Terry Gilliam, Graham Chapman, Terry Jones and myself checked out after just one night.

I couldn't understand why John stayed, but now I realise he must have been researching a later show."

Cleese, speaking from his home in California, said: "To put it tactfully, my recollection is somewhat different from Mrs Sinclair's. Her husband was extraordinarily rude and difficult.

"I do remember all the other Pythons left, but Connie Booth and I were lazy. We stayed on and didn't realise we were accumulating material.

"I take the point he was a war hero but as a hotelier he really was astonishingly rude. I think a newspaper tracked him and his family down many years ago and showed them an episode. I believe his daughter said, 'Yes, that's my dad'."