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Culture

How to shoot yourself in the foot

"Don't mention the War...I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it all right..." says the disastrous guesthouse owner in the 1970s sitcom classic Fawlty Towers. It has been remade for German television...

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Say no more...

"Mr. Cleese is happily unmarried and is the President of the Holland Park Schadenfreude Society", the man says about himself. Cleese is a busy man. "I've got a script conference at nine in the morning. I've got to write an intro to a book by five in the afternoon, a press conference at five-thirty and dinner with four of the dullest people in Europe after that..."

John Cleese is a founding member of Monty Python the series that revolutionised British television comedy. And he created Fawlty Towers with his then wife Connie Booth about a seaside guesthouse owner Basil Fawlty in the 1970s sitcom classic. Cleese played the inept and irritable Basil, whose attempts to assert control inevitably spiralled into chaos – particularly when the subject touched on the Second World War: Mr H: What the hell's wrong with this country? You can't get a drink after three, you can't eat after nine, is the war still on? German: Will you stop talking about the war! Basil: Me? You started it! German: We did not start it. Basil: Yes you did, you invaded Poland...

The cult programme has now been remade for German television. "They did a good job", Cleese said in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Newspaper. He worked as a consultant on the German version. The re-make includes moving the hotel from Torquay to the North Sea island resort of Sylt. And the most famous scene with the Germans has been cut out. In the original, Basil’s exaggerated lengths to avoid any references to World War II proved as subtle as a brick.

Basil: (whispers to Polly) Don't mention the War..._I_ mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it all right...(he returns to his guests) So it's all forgotten now and let's hear no more about it. So that's two eggs mayonnaise, a prawn Goebbels, a Hermann Goering and four Colditz salads...no,wait a moment, I got a bit confused there, sorry...(one of the German ladies starts to sob) I got a bit confused because everyone keeps mentioning the War, so could you...

Perhaps the funniest thing is that a recent study into universal humour has found that out of 11 nationalities, Germans rated more jokes "very funny" than anyone else. The study conducted by Laugh Lab project, run by Professor Richard Wiseman at the University of Hertfordshire revealed one of Germany’s favourite jokes to be: "Why is television called a medium? Because it is neither rare nor well-done." Quite.

The last word should go to Cleese as Basil: 'Well... may I ask what you were expecting to see out of a Torquay hotel bedroom window? Sydney Opera House, perhaps? The Hanging Gardens of Babylon? Herds of wilde beeste sweeping majestically...'