Major Gowen

Major Gowen, usually referred to simply as the Major, is a fictional character played by Ballard Berkeley in the BBC sitcom Fawlty Towers.

Major Gowen
Fawlty Towers character
First appearance"A Touch of Class" (1975)
Last appearance"Basil the Rat" (1979)
Created byJohn Cleese
Connie Booth
Portrayed byBallard Berkeley
OccupationArmy officer (retired)
NationalityBritish (home nation: England)

Major Gowen is an old, befuddled, retired artillery officer permanently residing in the hotel. He appears in all 12 episodes, along with the other permanent residents Miss Gatsby and Miss Tibbs. He enjoys talking about the world (especially the cricket scores and workers' strikes) and is always on the lookout for the newspaper. He has trouble forgiving Germany for the Second World War. He often appears slightly hard of hearing, which leads to some confusion and misunderstandings with Basil Fawlty.

The Major hangs around the bar, and has an uncanny ability to turn up at 6pm when it opens. Basil has called him a "drunken old sod". Despite this, most staff and residents think of him fondly. He is one of Fawlty Towers' few satisfied customers, voicing his dissent against the complaints of the dissatisfied American Mr. Hamilton, in "Waldorf Salad", if only to opine that he has seen one worse hotel in Eastbourne.

His eccentricity leads him to believe preposterous ideas, such as that Basil's moose head could talk (Manuel was cleaning the desk behind it). Though he shows surprise on this occasion, his detachment from reality causes him to remain completely calm in the most bizarre of circumstances: he does not seem remotely concerned at the disappearance and blocking off of the dining room door in "The Builders", assuring Basil that "it's bound to turn up", or to learn that the hotel kitchen is on fire in "The Germans", or to discover the dead body of Mr. Leeman in Basil's office in "The Kipper and the Corpse", commenting merely that "he doesn't look quite the ticket". Later in the episode, after another encounter with Leeman's corpse, he calmly asks Basil "Another one, Fawlty?" At the end of the episode, when everyone else converges on Sybil for an explanation, the Major walks over to Leeman's body (now propped against the hat-rack) and cheerfully asks "What's going on, old boy?"

The Major's tendency to forget, confuse and muddle situations leads Basil into farce. In "Communication Problems", he contrives to lose Basil's money, which Basil had won from a bet on a horse and was asked to keep safe. In "Basil the Rat", it transpires that the Major keeps a shotgun in the hotel, possibly unlicensed, with which he attempts to shoot a rat which he encounters in the bar. He subsequently fails comprehensively to grasp Basil's proposed cover story that he was attempting to shoot a starling through the window, cheerfully greeting the health inspector as a "starling inspector".

Major Gowen tends in the morning to ask "Papers arrived yet, Fawlty?" – invariably they have not, the paperboy being perennially late. On one occasion he manages to say it while having a newspaper folded under his arm. At 6pm prompt he says "I think it's about that time, Fawlty!" while pointing to the clock and his watch – an obvious hint that the bar should be open and his drink should be served. Early in the day, Basil tends to say "Ah, morning Major".


  • Slide, Anthony (1996). Some Joe you don't know: an American biographical guide to 100 British television personalities. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 21. ISBN 0-313-29550-6.
  • Terrace, Vincent (1985). Encyclopedia of Television Series, Pilots and Specials: 1974–1984. VNR AG. p. 141. ISBN 0-918432-61-8.
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