Friday, September 17, 2010

The REAL Sybil dies aged 95: Woman's Torquay hotel helped inspire Fawlty Towers

The hotelier who was the inspiration behind Basil Fawlty’s wife Sybil in the classic BBC comedy Fawlty Towers has died aged 95.
Beatrice Sinclair and her husband Donald were immortalised in fiction by John Cleese after he stayed at their Gleneagles Hotel in Torquay, Devon, in 1971.

Mr Cleese was staying in the resort while filming Monty Python's Flying Circus and became impressed by Mr Sinclair’s ‘wonderful’ rudeness. He is said to have terrorised his guests and at one point threw Eric Idle's suitcase behind a wall in the garden in case it contained a bomb.

Mr Sinclair barked and threw maps at them and Mr Cleese found his behaviour so funny he was inspired to write Fawlty Towers and create Basil in his image.

It is unclear how much of the character Sybil was based on Mrs Sinclair but during the Python's stay she apparently tried to charge Graham Chapman and Michael Palin a two week fee for a night's stay.

She was also the ‘driving force’ and founder of the hotel and her husband would always address her with 'Yes Dear', just as Basil addressed Sybil, played by Prunella Scales, in the popular TV series.

Mrs Donald - who always denied her husband was anything like Basil - died on Monday at the Georgian House care home in Torquay aged 95.

The hotel's current owner Brian Shone said: ‘She was the person who drove the business and she was the strong one. Whenever she told Donald what to do he would say “yes dear”. ‘I am sad. It's the end of an era but the era goes on, really. The Fawlty Towers theme is still carrying on and is as strong as ever. ‘We still get Japanese, Australians and Germans here on a daily basis. They just want to take photographs. We have six coaches a day stop outside.’

Mrs Sinclair remained silent for 30 years over the television series before finally speaking out to insist the Fawlty Towers image was not true. She said the image portrayed was unfair to the memory of her retired naval officer husband, who was torpedoed by the Nazis three times. Donald Sinclair died in 1981.

Mr Shone bought the hotel for £1.5million in 2005 and says Mrs Sinclair visited a few times to see a refurbishment. He said: ‘She did come to the hotel a couple of times. She was a very, very nice lady. She really did not want to go in the Fawlty Towers direction at all. ‘It was a case of “you get on with it”. Sadly, she did not want to be part of it.’

Mrs Sinclair bought the house, then called Overnstey, for £7,000 in the 1960s while her sailor husband was at sea. She turned it into a hotel before renaming it Gleneagles and eventually persuaded her husband to leave the Royal Navy and join her.

In 1971 while Monty Python were filming in the area the cast and crew stayed in the hotel - a stay that would inspire Fawlty Towers.
During their stop one guest asked when the next bus would arrive to take them into town - and Mr Sinclair threw a timetable at him.
He then placed Eric Idle's suitcase behind a wall in the garden in case it contained a bomb - while it actually contained a ticking alarm clock.

Mr Sinclair also criticised the American-born Terry Gilliam's table manners for being too American because he had the fork in the ‘wrong’ hand. It is believed that incident inspired Basil's treatment of an American visitor in the episode 'Waldorf Salad'.

He also ‘flew into a fit of rage’ when he saw some builders having a tea break - thought to have inspired the episode where Basil thrashes his car with a branch.

Graham Chapman and Michael Palin decided to leave after just one night - but Mrs Sinclair gave them a bill for two weeks.

Mr Cleese’s co-star Palin supported his assessment of the couple, saying that Mr Sinclair saw the Pythons as a ‘colossal inconvenience’.

After leaving the hotel, Mrs Sinclair continued to live a short distance from the Gleneagles and later moved into a care home.


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