As the news broke early Thursday evening that Andrew Sachs had passed away at the age of 86 on November 23, I am at this moment officially done with 2016. Diagnosed with vascular dementia four years ago, Andrew was, by far, best known for his spot on portrayal of Manuel, the constantly confused waiter from Barcelona with a limited grasp of the English language and customs. Throughout the series, Manuel suffered constant verbally abuse and was physically assaulted on numerous occasions at the hands of his boss, Basil Fawlty, the proprietor of Fawlty Towers.
Back in 2005-06, several of us had to great good fortune to spend a few days with Andrew during the taping of our PBS special, Fawlty Towers Revisited. Besides offering priceless insight into his character of Manuel, Andrew served as host of the program which was produced to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the iconic British comedy series, Fawlty Towers, which premiered on BBC2 in 1975.
If this wasn’t enough of a bucket list entry for us all, we were also fortunate enough to speak with Andrew together with his Fawlty Towers co-star, Prunella Scales, as both offered insights on two more of our PBS productions in addition to Fawlty Towers Revisited, Funny Ladies of British Comedy and Funny Blokes of British Comedy.
Without question, I can’t think of a more gracious individual as he shared both his time and talents with British comedy fans in America for these specials. Having spoken to him several times since, those of us involved in these productions considered Andrew a true friend and a very special person.
During the taping of what is generally considered as the best British comedy series of all time, Andrew suffered two fairly serious injuries on the set. He was almost knocked unconscious after being hit over the head with a frying pan (after John Cleese accidentally picked up a real frying pan instead of a rubber-padded prop) and in a later episode he suffered second degree burns from a fire which ignited the chemicals used to create smoke that coated his clothing. Here, in a segment from our Funny Blokes of British Comedy, taped in 2004 with Lenny Henry as host, Andrew spoke about that famous kitchen scene from “The Germans”.
Born in Berlin, Germany, Sachs fled with his family at the age of 8 to London in 1938 to escape the Nazis. What many may not know is that Sachs’ radio, television and stage career spanned over seven decadesand that he was an accomplished photographer. He could frequently be heard on BBC Radio 4 in a number of radio dramas, portrayed Albert Einstein in the 1996 episode for the PBS NOVA series, “Einstein’s Universe” and appeared in both Coronation Street (2009) and Eastenders (2015).
In 1977, Sachs played a hotel manager in the big screen version of Are You Being Served? Post-Fawlty Towers, from 1984-86, he portrayed Father Brown for BBC Radio 4 and from 2002-10, Sachs played John Watson, taking over from Michael Williams, opposite Clive Merrison as Sherlock Holmes. As recent as 2012, he played the part of the Book in the live tour of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
R.I.P. Andrew. Thank you so much for sharing yourself and your talents with the world. The laughs you created will live on forever. 2016 – can we please stop now?