The Gleneagles Hotel, Torquay
The Gleneagles Hotel was the inspiration for Fawlty Towers. John Cleese stayed at the hotel with the Monty Python Team in 1972. He is thought to have based Basil's character on the owner Mr Donald Sinclair. Manuel may have been based on a Spanish waiter, who was there for just one season. Much has been written about the Hotel and the eccentric behaviour of the owner.
In the late 1970s, there was much talk in the bars of Torquay's hotels as to whether there was a "real" Basil Fawlty in Torquay. It was known that Monty Python were filming in Torquay in the early seventies and stayed at several hotels. The Links Hotel, St Marychurch was mentioned in one newspaper article, but not the Gleneagles. The BBC at the time refused to divulge this information. In 1979 the then owner of the Gleneagles, Mr Pat Phillips, revealed that John Cleese had stayed there and asked him about real incidents he could use. John Cleese had returned to the Gleneagles hoping to find the original owner, Mr Sinclair, still there, but he had sold the hotel in 1973 and moved to Florida. Mr Phillips told John Cleese about a Spanish waiter he had employed at a hotel in Shropshire and about problems he had had with unmarried couples (this was the early 'seventies!). John Cleese, as Basil Fawlty, returned the compliment by telling elderly residents Miss Tibbs and Miss Gatsby that they could have dinner at the Gleneagles when the builders were in (second episode).
As well as its links with Fawlty Towers, the hotel itself is interesting. Many hotels were modified in the 'sixties to cope with the increasing demands of holiday makers for en-suite rooms and more modern accommodation. The Gleneagles is one of the best examples. The Gleneagles appears to be a modern hotel, built in the late 1960s. In fact it is a much older building, heavily modified.(*)
The Gleneagles first took paying guests in 1963. It was opened as the Gleneagles apartments under the ownership of Donald Sinclair. He advertised this as "This is new and Beautiful". With hindsight "and now for something completely different" might have been more appropriate. The Gleneagles offered fifteen self-contained holiday apartments. Donald Sinclair was already well-established in the hotel business. He had been running the nearby Greenacres Hotel since 1950. (Sadly this building has been demolished to make way for retirement flats)
The exterior view of the Gleneagles taken in 1970. The Hotel went through a metamorphosis from 1962 to 1970, being modified a little bit more each year to reach this stage. You can still see evidence today of the original building in the staircase and main reception area and in a couple of stone mullions left hiding beneath the sixties' exterior. In 1970 the Gleneagles was a luxurious, 4 star hotel. All rooms had a private bath or shower. There was a very modern open-plan lounge and bar and a superb open air pool. In the late seventies the Hotel was mentioned in the upmarket "Signpost" guide book. Mr W G McMinnies, author of "Signpost" since 1936, drew readers' attention to the well-designed and modern bedrooms, the varied and interesting menu and the swimming pool with a glass-screened sun patio.The pool - heated to 80°F. This was not uncommon for a swimming pool in a 1960s hotel.(*)
The Gleneagles today
Today the Gleneagles is much the same as it was in the early 1970s when John Cleese stayed there. The colour scheme has changed and there have been some alterations, and no doubt the decor has been updated, but it still has the look and feel of a late 1960s hotel, it still retains the original pool and bags of style. These photographs were taken in August 2003.The Gleneagles in 2003 - new colour scheme, but still a 'sixties hotel.
The superb outdoor pool at the Gleneagles - heated to 86°F!
The wonderful 'sixties' staircase at the Gleneagles Hotel.
(*)Pictures taken from "Torquay - the English Riviera", 1963 and 1970 - published by Torbay Borough Council and reproduced with their permission.
More about the Gleneagles and Fawlty Towers
Fawltysite is a comprehensive site packed with facts about Fawlty Towers - www.fawltysite.net.
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