Fact, it is often said, is stranger than fiction. Put another way – you couldn’t make it up. But that is exactly what writers are supposed to do. Fiction writers that is, not biographers, and historians. Even those writing autobiographies should at least try to be accurate. ‘My truth’ as Prince Harry has said to justify the, let’s call them anomalies, in his autobiography, Spare, has already caused ridicule, and history will no doubt fact check many of his recollections when biographers and historians get going.
But back to my main point. There are many hilarious, outlandish and frankly unbelievable tales in the fiction section, be they in novels, plays or TV soaps. Dig a little though and you may well find that many if not all of them are based on a true story which is far, far, stranger. My own novel, Silent Echoes, for example, uses the deafness and behaviour of one of my grandmothers as a central motif, that affects the lives and behaviour of future generations in the family. (I won’t tell you what she did, you’ll have to read the story to find out more. But I can tell you that most of her actions in the novel are made up – I wasn’t there after all. Only the obviously ‘unbelievable’ act is true).
A more famous, larger than life character, is Basil Fawlty, rendered unforgetable in the TV series, Fawlty Towers. John Cleese (of Monty Python fame) plays the infamous irrascible hotel owner – a character both appalling and sympathetic; toe curlingly embarrasing and surprisingly vulnerable. Basil Fawlty was based on a real person – Donald Sinclair. A man John Cleese described as, “the most wonderfully rude man I have ever met.”
In 1970, the Monty Python cast were filming in the Sout West of England and were put up in the Gleneagles Hotel in Torquay which was run by Sinclair and his wife, Beatrice. Sinclair clearly didn’t want any of the actors staying there and made their lives Hell, Every request was seen as an imposition.
As fellow cast member, Michael Palin recalled “That man Sinclair ran it like a high security prison [and] seemed to view us as a colossal inconvenience. It’s funny now, but it really did seem like the worst hotel in the world.”
All the cast soon moved on to another hotel, apart from Cleese and his then wife, fellow actor and writer Connie Booth. They stayed on for another two weeks, gleefully gathering material for what was to become one of the most brilliant sit-coms of the era, lampooning, as it did, a particular type of Britishness that was already on its way out.
Was Basil Fawlty too extreme to be a genuine character? Some of the episodes do seem OTT. But so was Donald Sinclair. Long after the Fawlty Towers episodes had been aired, Sinclair died. But his passing reads like the script for the final epsiode of the series. He had fallen out with some builders big time (as Basil frequently did). In revenge they had visited his hotel in the middle of the night and sprayed his car and patio furniture with grey paint. Allegedly, on seeing this the next morning he had a heart attack and died.
You couldn’t make it up!
Silent Echoes. Loosely based on family memories. The Carters seem just like any other family. Apart, that is, from the life changing events nobody wants to talk about. Will history just keep repeating itself? Ebook-£1.99, Print-£7.99.