Major Gowen is an old, befuddled, somewhat senile ex-soldier permanently residing in the hotel. 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 Wars.
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 worse hotels.
His eccentricity leads him to believe preposterous ideas, such as that Basil's moose could talk (Manuel was dusting 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". John Cleese has said that the Major was based on his Latin teacher from school.