LONDON — Comic actor Andrew Sachs, known primarily for his role as the well-intentioned but somewhat dim character of Manuel in the 1970s comedy “Fawlty Towers,” has died. He was 86 and had been suffering from vascular dementia.
Actor John Cleese, who played alongside Sachs in the TV show, led tributes Friday to the German-born British actor, who made the role of the bumbling Spanish waiter with the massive moustache all his own.
His son, John Sachs, says his father was not interested in being a celebrity or seeking the limelight. What he loved was the craft of acting.
“He stuck that big moustache on because he didn’t want to be recognized,” John Sachs told The Associated Press.
Born Andreas Siegfried Sachs in Berlin on April 7, 1930, his family moved to England when he was eight to escape Nazi persecution of Jews.
Though he performed in a number of television shows in the 1960s, he shot to fame in 1975 with “Fawlty Towers,” about a fictional hotel in the seaside town of Torquay. The program centers around owner Basil Fawlty, played by Cleese, whose acidic wit and rude behavior offers the irreverent backdrop to efforts to run a hotel visited by eccentric guests.
Even though only 12 episodes were made, it was voted number one in the British Film Institute’s 100 Greatest Television Programs in 2000.
In the program, Sachs plays the lovable waiter Manuel who struggles with his English and whose trademark “Que?” led to some of the program’s most humorous exchanges.
“There’s a certain Charlie Chaplainesque talent that he had,” his son said, noting that Manuel’s limited language skills made movements and athleticism all the more important. “He brought that to Manuel.”
In one episode, “Basil The Rat,” Manuel keeps a pet rat, which he mistakes for a Siberian hamster. Basil catches him.
Manuel: “I say to man in shop, ‘Is rat.’ He say, ‘No, no, no. Is a special kind of hamster. Is filigree Siberian hamster.’ Only one in shop. He make special price, only five pound.”
Basil: “Have you ever heard of the bubonic plague, Manuel? It was very popular here at one time. A lot of pedigreed hamsters came over on ships from Siberia.”
Later in the same program, as Basil tries to reassure him with a slap on the back, Sachs offers the line that was often associated with Manuel.
“Don’t hit me! Always you hit me!” he said.
At a reunion of cast members in 2009, Sachs spoke fondly of his memories of the show. He said some politically incorrect material may prompt complaints from viewers now.
Even so, he hoped “we can always get away with good comedy.”
Cleese, the co-creator of the program, told the BBC that acting with Sachs was “like playing tennis with someone who is exactly as good as you are.”
“Sometimes he wins and sometimes you win but somehow there’s a rapport and it comes from the very deepest part of ourselves,” he said. “You can work on it, but in our case we never had to work on it, it all happened so easily.”
In 2008, Sachs found himself at the center of a controversy when comedian Russell Brand and TV presenter Jonathan Ross left lewd messages on his answering machine and joked on air about Sachs’ granddaughter.
Viewers protested to the BBC, which was forced to apologize.
“It certainly upped my profile,” Sachs said after the incident that became known as ‘Sachsgate.’ “In some ways, that’s very nice. What it’s done for my personal life is less admirable, but quite independent of that it’s put my name in the papers a lot.”
A quiet and insular person, Sachs’ family kept both his illness and death quiet until after services were concluded. He is survived by wife Melody, three children and four grandchildren.