Mr. Hutchinson, the first 21st century man
Remembering "Fawlty Towers's" most prescient guest
Bernard Cribbins, the actor who played fussy “Fawlty Towers” guest Mr. Hutchinson, has died, aged 93. He’s the one from “The Hotel Inspectors” who wants “a glass of fresh water.” By way of plot summary, here’s all you need: Hotel owner Basil thinks Mr. Hutchinson is a hotel inspector and fawns over him until learning that he actually sells spoons, at which point Basil’s attitude towards him changes ever so slightly. (A spot of farcical violence ensues.)
I think about Mr. Hutchinson all the time because of the peas scene, Britbox-screenshotted below:
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I’m a big fan of fresh peas when they’re in season, and cannot shell a single pod without the phrase, “I always feel that the peas are an integral part of the overall flavor” repeating on loop in my extremely normal mind.
It’s struck me for a while that Mr. Hutchinson’s oddest quality is existing, on an episode from 1975, as a man out of 2022. He makes more sense now than he did then. It’s as if he was dropped in from our times to theirs. Contrast him with the other guest Basil mistakes for a hotel inspector. The one who requires an ashtray and a bottle of wine with his lunch, and exudes 1970sness. Teetotal vegetarian (one presumes) Mr. Hutchinson however, well! He would have his own sanctimonious Twitter account. If I were more into such things I’d go make him one, fanfic style.
What makes Mr. Hutchinson so very now?
-Germophobia! Break out those Lysol wipes whenever Mr. Hutchinson is around. “I never uses a telephone if I can avoid it.” Asked why, he says, “Risk of infection.” Mr. Hutchinson was ready for Covid a half-century before he needed to be. (Yes I know it’s aerosols not surfaces but allow me this much poetic license.)
-He cares about where his food comes from. “I only eat fresh vegetables,” he tells an incredulous Basil. But Mr. Hutchinson, in his suit, is no hippie. He’s just a farm-to-table snob.
-He’s a white man sanctimoniously interested in Indigenous people. We know this because he requests a television set to be brought into his hotel room, so he can watch “a documentary on BBC2 this evening about Squawking Bird, the leader of the Blackfoot Indians in the late 1860s.”
-He’s timelessly self-important. “If anybody wants me, I’ll be in the lounge,” he tells Basil, prompting Basil to mutter, “who’s he expecting, Henry Kissinger?” Henry Kissinger, still alive (at 99, apparently), still in the discourse.
It probably doesn’t say anything great about our times but what can I say? Mr. Hutchinson, c’est nous.
Close-reading the reruns with Phoebe Maltz Bovy has all the breaking news, like that one scene from that one show from 50 years ago.