Basil's understanding of the Hungarian Manuel was faulty

Chris Gray
Friday 20 December 2013 03:17

Basil Fawlty had it wrong all along; his hapless waiter Manuel came not from Barcelona, but Budapest.

The inspiration for the Mediterranean waiter who found his shortcomings constantly blamed on his Catalan origins was in truth a Hungarian restaurant manager.

Alex Novak, now 65, worked in Torquay at a restaurant where John Cleese frequently went drinking with other members of the Monty Python team in 1970. They would call in while staying at the Gleneagles Hotel, whose manager reputedly gave Cleese the idea for the Fawlty Towers series, and Mr Novak's broken English provided the idea for Manuel.

Although he was first named as the real-life Manuel almost 30 years ago, Mr Novak has refrained from speaking about his alter ego until now, following a precedent set by Beatrice Sinclair, whose late husband, Donald, was said to be the model for Basil Fawlty.

Mrs Sinclair tried to set the record straight this month when she said her husband was nothing like the "neurotic eccentric" portrayed by Cleese, but a "brave gentleman" who suffered in silence from his association with the programme.

Mr Novak is equally unimpressed with his portrayal in the 12-programme series that became a worldwide cult and the BBC's biggest-selling export. "I was a restaurant manager, I was not a waiter. I was there, but I don't want to be Manuel," he said yesterday.

Mr Novak admitted being surprised when he was first told that Manuel was based on him, but accepted there were several incidents in his restaurant that could have put ideas in Cleese's head. "There was the time when a waiter left a bowl of soup on the floor outside the dining room and a waiter accidentally put his foot in it. But they still served it.

"Or the time when I dropped a whole tray of desserts in the dining room. But most of it was to do with my difficulties speaking English. I'm much better now," he said.

His thoughts on the Python team were as unflattering as Cleese's portrayal of his restaurant skills.

"Mr Cleese was a real character but many times I had to tell him to stop fooling around. They were all, as the English say, piss artists.

"I didn't realise that Mr Cleese was taking so much interest at the time. They were just a crowd of people who came in every night to get drunk."

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