Fawlty Towers co-writer Connie Booth has praised Andrew Sachs in a touching tribute paid following his death.
Her words add to the outpouring of praise for her co-star, who played hapless Spanish waiter Manuel in the BBC sitcom, after he died aged 86 on November 23.
The BBC changed its schedule on Friday to broadcast the Fawlty Towers episode Communication Problems, featuring Manuel’s famous “I know nothing” line.
Writing for the Guardian, Booth, who played Polly Sherman in the 1970s television show, said Sachs was still unknown to her when the cast first met to start work on the show 50 years ago.
The 72-year-old compared the pairing of John Cleese and Sachs to Abbott and Costello or Laurel and Hardy, with Basil Fawlty “tall and dogmatic” and Manuel “small and confused”.
She wrote: “People say that nobody but John could have played Basil; it’s just as true that nobody but Andrew could have played Manuel, even though there was a time when Andrew, who was German by birth, wanted to play the character in German. The character became iconic.”
Booth said that, in person, Sachs was not the typical comedian, but his “detachment” transferred to the stage and screen when comic set-pieces backfired.
She remembered one classic Fawlty Towers scene in which Manuel sets the hotel kitchen on fire. Despite the protective jacket he was badly burned.
“In that moment of panic and pain, Andrew remained calm… And again, in another scene when John whacked him on the head with a frying pan, he ended up slightly concussed but showed no pain,” she said.
“It reminds me of my first question to Andrew about what makes something funny.
“He used the example of slipping on a banana peel. If an actual person slips on a banana peel, he said, we’re concerned for him.
“To be comic, the audience must instinctively know he’s hasn’t been hurt, that he’s OK. Off-stage or on, I never saw pain in Andrew.”
Booth’s words appeared with the foreword Fawlty Towers co-creator John Cleese, 77, wrote for Sachs’s autobiography, titled I Know Nothing!
Cleese, who played Basil Fawlty, recalled how he first saw Sachs at the Lyric Theatre in 1973, where he was appearing alongside Alec Guinness in Alan Bennett’s farce Habeas Corpus.
He said Sachs produced “one of the funniest farcical moments I have ever seen”.
“Weak with laughter, I managed to open my programme and underline his name,” he continued.
Cleese claimed credit for the “inspired idea” of casting Sachs as Manuel and explained how the actor could easily be mistaken for a senior civil servant, physician, academic, or research scientist in a social situation.
He added: “He was quiet, thoughtful, beautifully mannered, well informed, observant and extremely kind. But once you put that moustache on him … Ole! Manuel appeared, as if from nowhere.
“I salute you, Andy. You created one of the great comic characters.”