'Fawlty Towers' Actor Andrew Sachs Dies At 86

Dec 2, 2016
Originally published on December 5, 2016 11:44 am
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Let's pause now to remember a British actor best known for playing a Spanish waiter in a 1970s BBC series that lasted only 12 episodes - Andrew Sachs. He died at age 86. As NPR's Ted Robbins tells us, his relatively small role left a big impression.

TED ROBBINS, BYLINE: For decades, if you turned on PBS, you were bound to come across a rerun of the 1970s British comedy "Fawlty Towers."

(SOUNDBITE OF DENNIS WILSON SONG, “FAWLTY TOWERS THEME MUSIC”)

ROBBINS: John Cleese created and started it, as hotel owner Basil Fawlty. Basil frequently had some kind of misunderstanding with his earnest, bumbling Spanish waiter Manuel.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FAWLTY TOWERS")

JOHN CLEESE: (As Basil) There is too much butter on those trays.

ANDREW SACHS: (As Manuel) No. No, no, Senior, not on those trays - no, sir - uno, dos, tres.

(LAUGHTER)

ROBBINS: As the son of refugees from Nazi Germany, Andrew Sachs wanted to play Manuel with a German accent. But Cleese reportedly insisted he be Spanish. So Sachs did it wearing a big black mustache. His trademark line - well, trademark word - was que - Spanish for what. Here he is with a snooty guest in a scene worthy of Abbott and Costello.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FAWLTY TOWERS")

SACHS: (As Manuel) Que.

(LAUGHTER)

JOAN SANDERSON: (As Mrs. Richards) What?

SACHS: (As Manuel) Que.

SANDERSON: (As Mrs. Richards) K?

SACHS: (As Manuel) Si.

SANDERSON: (As Mrs. Richards) C, K.C.?

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERSON: (As Mrs. Richards) K.C., what are you trying to say?

SACHS: (As Manuel) No, no, no - que, what.

SANDERSON: (As Mrs. Richards) K. Watt?

SACHS: (As Manuel) Si - que, what.

SANDERSON: (As Mrs. Richards) C.K. Watt?

SACHS: (As Manuel) Yes.

SANDERSON: (As Mrs. Richards) Who is C.K. Watt?

SACHS: (As Manuel) Que...

ROBBINS: OK, making fun of someone's language is not acceptable now. But it was common on TV 40-plus years ago. Andrew Sachs' character was not stupid. In fact, Manuel was often the victim of the really dumb one, Basil Fawlty, who would bonk him on the head after insulting him.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FAWLTY TOWERS")

CLEESE: (As Basil) Come here.

SACHS: (As Manuel) Eh?

CLEESE: (As Basil) You're a waste of space (slaps Manuel with spoon).

SACHS: (As Manuel) Oh...

(LAUGHTER)

ROBBINS: Andrew Sachs was asked if it hurt to get hit. It did, he said, but he didn't much mind. He was a professional with many other credits on stage, on TV and in the movies from the 1950s through 2012. Andrew Sachs had vascular dementia. He died in a London nursing home. Ted Robbins, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.