He hates just about everyone, but we still love Basil

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The Independent Online

The late Donald Sinclair would be thoroughly disgusted to learn that Fawlty Towers has been voted the greatest British television programme of all time in a poll conducted by the British Film Institute.

The late Donald Sinclair would be thoroughly disgusted to learn that Fawlty Towers has been voted the greatest British television programme of all time in a poll conducted by the British Film Institute.

Sinclair was the model for John Cleese's epically irascible hotelier. He was the proprietor of the Gleneagles Hotel in Torquay, Devon, where the Monty Python team stayed in the early Seventies while they were filming in Brixham nearby.

Sinclair did not warm to the Pythons. He threw Eric Idle's briefcase into the street, believing that a ticking alarm clock inside was a bomb, and complained that Terry Gilliam had offensive American manners. Cleese - who wrote Fawlty Towers with Connie Booth, then his wife - later described Sinclair as the rudest man he had ever met.

Still, Sinclair has acquired immortality of sorts, inspiring a series which topped a list of 100 programmes voted for by 1,600 figures from the television industry. The runner-up in the poll, which was unveiled yesterday by broadcaster Michael Parkinson, was Ken Loach's documentary-style drama about homelessness, Cathy Come Home. First shown in 1966, Cathy Come Home was so powerful that it led practically overnight to the establishment of the charity, Shelter.

It is an invidious business, comparing Fawlty Towers with Cathy Come Home with (third-placed) Dr Who. But as Mr Parkinson (whose chat show finished eighth) said: "The particular significance of this list... is that it reflects the votes of the television industry. Those involved in programme-making... can be a tough audience."

Nevertheless, Fawlty Towers, of which only 12 episodes were made and for 11 years was the BBC's best-selling programme abroad, has long been venerated in television circles.

The accomplished comedy writer David Renwick, creator of One Foot in the Grave, even accords it JFK status, in that he can remember his exact circumstances when he watched the first episode in 1975.

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