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'Fawlty Towers' Actor Andrew Sachs Dies At 86


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."


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.


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.


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.


SACHS: (As Manuel) Que.


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.?


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.


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...


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.

As supervising editor for Arts and Culture at NPR based at NPR West in Culver City, Ted Robbins plans coverage across NPR shows and online, focusing on TV at a time when there's never been so much content. He thinks "arts and culture" encompasses a lot of human creativity — from traditional museum offerings to popular culture, and out-of-the-way people and events.