The hotelier who was the model for the bossy Sybil in 'Fawlty Towers'
Published 26/09/2010 | 05:00
Beatrice Sinclair, who died last Monday, aged 95, was the real-life inspiration for Sybil Fawlty, Basil's formidable wife in the sitcom Fawlty Towers; unlike her fictional counterpart (played by Prunella Scales), she never saw the funny side.
Beatrice Sinclair and her husband Donald, a retired Royal Navy commander, were running the Gleneagles Hotel in Torquay when John Cleese and the Monty Python team came to stay in the summer of 1970 while filming in nearby Paignton.
Donald Sinclair's particular brand of hospitality, which the Pythons claimed included throwing Eric Idle's suitcase over a cliff because he thought it contained a bomb; flinging a timetable at a guest who asked when the next bus left; and scolding Terry Gilliam for leaving his knife and fork at an angle rather than together, "as we do it in England", is said to have inspired Fawlty Towers.
Cleese later described Sinclair as "the most wonderfully rude man I have ever met" and his wife as domineering. Michael Palin, who recalled that Beatrice threatened them with a bill for a stay of two weeks even though most of the team had checked out as soon as they could, noted that every request seemed to be the "most unforgivable imposition".
For 30 years Beatrice Sinclair refused to talk about Fawlty Towers. However, in 2002 she broke her silence to insist that the sitcom had been unfair to the memory of her late husband, a war hero who had been torpedoed three times. He had been "turned into a laughing stock" and her family held up to ridicule, she complained.
She conceded that Donald Sinclair had been a disciplinarian who did not tolerate fools and explained that his patience had been tested beyond endurance by the Python team: "Donald came to me and said they should go. He said they would upset the other guests. But it was off-season and they were filming for about three weeks and I argued that it was good money."
She soon came to regret her decision: "The entire cast behaved so badly it defied belief. And if there was one thing my husband couldn't stand it was bad manners."
Born in Aberdeen in 1915, Beatrice married her husband, Donald, in Glasgow during the war and moved to Torquay shortly afterwards. She later admitted that John Cleese had been right in at least one respect: that she was the driving force behind the hotel.
It was she who bought their original Torquay house and then, while her husband was at sea, bought another which she turned into a hotel and renamed Gleneagles.
"Donald ran the bar and was invaluable in keeping the books and accounts, but I was the boss," she recalled.
She is survived by her two daughters.