Andrew Sachs, a Germany-born British actor best known for his role opposite John Cleese on the seminal UK sitcom Fawlty Towers, has died. He was 86. He died November 23 in a London nursing home, but the news was announced today.
Born on April 7, 1930, in Berlin, Sachs moved with his parents to England at age 8, when they fled the increasing persecution of the Nazi regime. Growing up in London, Sachs began his career as an assistant stage manager in Bexhill, East Sussex, while performing in plays. He later served as a stage manager in Liverpool and finally moved back to London, where he auditioned constantly for roles with BBC before being hired as a writer. During the period he also appeared onstage in the Whitehall farce Simple Spymen.
His film debut came in 1958 with The Night We Dropped a Clanger, before going on to a host of roles on television throughout the 1960s, including appearances on such shows as The Saint and Randall and Hopkirk.
In 1975 he would land his best-known role, the bumbling Spanish waiter Manuel on Fawlty Towers. One of British sitcom history’s most iconic characters, Manuel was a well-intentioned but confused and disorganized waiter from Barcelona whose English was spotty and who was constantly berated and assaulted by his boss Basil Fawlty (Cleese). Sachs paid a physical price for the role, being injured twice on set, including once being burned by acid. The character proved one of the most popular of the series; Sachs appeared in both of the show’s series and would reprise the role in radio adaptations of Fawlty Towers, providing linking narration.
After Fawlty Towers ended, Sachs continued to work regularly. In 2009, at age 79, he was brought on for 29 episodes of the long-running soap Coronation Street, and he appeared in the 2012 films Run for Your Wife and Quartet. Other film and TV appearances from throughout his career include Nothing Barred (1961), Hitler: The Last Ten Days (1973), Are You Being Served? (1977) and Mel Brooks’ History of the World, Part I (1981), in which he appeared during the film’s French Revolution-set final segment.
Sachs also had numerous radio roles and voice-over narration roles. They include Father Brown in an adaptation of GK Chesterton’s detective priest stories, radio productions of Sherlock Holmes and PG Wodehouse’s The Code of the Woosters and narrating all five series of BBC’s The Trouble Shooters.
Sachs briefly was catapulted into international notoriety in 2008 after receiving an obscene phone call from Russell Brand and television presenter Jonathan Ross during an episode of Brand’s BBC radio show. Brand had been bragging about having had a sexual relationship with Sachs’ granddaughter. The BBC would later issue an apology for Brand’s behavior, and Brand resigned from the network.
Sachs retired from acting in 2012 after being diagnosed with vascular dementia. He’s survived by his wife of 56 years, Melody Lang; his three children; and grandchildren.