John Cleese says he ‘could not have found a better Manuel’ than his late friend Andrew Sachs

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As despotic hotelier Basil Fawlty and his hapless Spanish waiter, Manuel, they made millions roar with laughter. But yesterday Fawlty Towers star John Cleese spoke of his sadness at the death of his friend Andrew Sachs. “It’s very sad. He was wonderful,” said the Monty Python legend. “He was just a very nice, sweet man. If you met him you would never for a moment think he was a comedian, you’d think he was a rather cultivated bank manager. “He was quite quiet, poised and thoughtful, and then you stuck that moustache on him and he turned into a completely different human being.” Sachs, who played Manuel on Fawlty Towers from 1975 to 1979, died at the age of 86 after a four-year battle with vascular dementia. By the end he was left unable to speak, write or recognise himself on recordings of the hit sitcom as a result of his illness. But for fans, the results of the incredible collaboration between Cleese and Sachs will endure. “It was like playing tennis with someone who’s exactly as good as you are,” Cleese, 77, said. “There’s a rapport and it comes from the very deepest part of ourselves. You can work on it, but in our case we never had to work on it, it all happened so easily. Read More Andrew Sachs dead at 86: John Cleese leads tributes to beloved Fawlty Towers star Cleese and Sachs on the set of Fawlty Towers (Photo: PA) “He was one of the easiest to work with, not just that he was totally agreeable, but that he just was a brilliant farceur and it was so easy for us to work out all the physical business. “Farce is, I think, the hardest form of acting. I mean, A lot of actors are good at straight stuff and not good at comedy, but there’s alot who are good at comedy and not good at farce. He was just a delight.” He added: “I could not have found a better Manuel. Inspired.” Cleese recalled a particularly brilliant performance by Sachs in the Kipper and the Corpse episode of Fawlty Towers. Manuel and Basil are forced to slyly remove a dead guest in a linen basket after he eats the hotel’s out of date kippers. “That was some of our best very physical comedy,” he says, “working out all that stuff about getting that body into the basket and getting it out again. It was so much fun.” Sachs’ family had kept his illness private, even from Cleese. “I knew he was having problems with his memory,” he said, “but I had no idea his life was in danger.” Cleese said Sachs’ wife Melody had told him he was struggling with his memory when, two years ago, he attended Cleese’s 75th birthday “roasting.” Then about eight or nine months ago he saw him again, and could tell there was something wrong. Sachs in his younger years (Photo: Rex Features) “We were doing a photograph together for some reason,” he said, “and I realised then that although he was there, a very quiet, very sweet presence, he obviously wasn’t totally present.” Cleese and Sachs enjoyed a close working relationship on the set of Fawlty Towers. It often required huge amounts of trust. In one episode, The Wedding Party, he had to hit Manuel with a saucepan, and Andrew felt every blow. “I don’t know why we didn’t get a rubber one,” Cleese later admitted. “I’m afraid he had a headache for about two days.” Cleese was just one of a chorus of stars who mourned the loss, including Blackadder star Sir Tony Robinson who said: “So sad that Andrew Sachs has died. A true friend and a kindred spirit.” Samuel West, whose mother Prunella Scales starred alongside him in Fawlty Towers, said: “Creator of one of our most beloved EU migrants. Such warmth and wit; impossible to think of him without smiling.” And David Walliams, who worked with Sachs, said: “A beautiful soul who never tired of my Fawlty Towers questions.” David Walliams tweet (Photo: Twitter) Andrew died on November 23 in Denville Hall, a private care home in Northwood, Middlesex, where his family were said to be preparing a special Christmas, buying presents for the staff and patients and throwing a Christmas movie marathon in the home’s cinema. He’d been there for the past eight months after suffering several bouts of pneumonia. His son, John Sachs, revealed how vascular dementia, the second most common form of dementia after Alzheimer’s, was the cruellest blow for a man who’d built a 70-year career as a performer. “It’s a terrible thing for an actor because you lose your voice, you lose movement,” he said. “They even tried playing Fawlty Towers to him but he didn’t even recognise it, so it is a terrible change.” Sadly Sachs found himself unexpectedly thrust into the limelight in 2008 when comedian Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross left obscene voicemail messages on his phone during a BBC Radio show. They revealed how Brand had slept with his granddaughter Georgina Baillie, who was a burlesque dancer at the time. It caused a huge rift in his family and sparked outrage across the country. OfCom launched an enquiry, the Prime Minister slammed them both and Ross was suspended by the BBC for three months. But though anger followed the stunt, now his family remember his bravery at the end amid their grief. Melody said when his condition deteriorated he never complained. “I never once heard him grumble. He had the best life, and the best death you could ever have. “Dementia is the most awful illness. It sneaks in in the night, when you least expect it. It took a long time for Andy’s brain to go. Even about a month before he died he was sitting in the garden and chatting away. “My heart has been broken every day for a long time.” She added: “It wasn’t all doom and gloom; he still worked for two years… We were happy, we were always laughing, we never had a dull moment. He had dementia for four years and we didn’t really notice it at first until the memory started going. Read More Andrew Sachs’ ‘biggest regret was missing out on Doctor Who’ leading role Andrew Sachs with Gary Webster and George Cole for Minder’s 100th Episode (Photo: Alpha Press) “It didn’t get really bad until quite near the end. I nursed Andrew, I was there for every moment of it. “Don’t feel sorry for me because I had the best life with him. I had the best husband and we really loved each other. We’re both as daft as brushes. We loved each other very deeply and it was a pleasure looking after him. I miss him terribly.” Sachs was born in Berlin, Germany in 1930 just as Hitler was rising to power. In 1938 his father, Jewish insurance broker Hans, was arrested by the Nazis as the family ate supper in a city restaurant. As SS officers marched him away they said: “This is the last time you will see him.” He was later released but, sensing impending doom, in December of that year Hans and his wife, librarian Katharina, felt compelled to leave their homeland. “We fled to England while we could,” Sachs once said. “If we’d stayed he’d have ended up in a concentration camp.” They settled in North London, from where Sachs pursued acting from an early age, applying for RADA but landing himself a job before he got in. In the 1950s he started his acting career on BBC radio, then in the 1960s he went on to appear in The Saint, Randall and Hopkirk and made guest appearances in Casualty and Doctor Who. He also met Melody, who was a divorced actress, through showbusiness. They married in 1960, Andrew adopted her two sons, Bill and John, then they had a daughter, Kate, in 1961. By the 1970s he was a credible stage actor too. Cleese first spotted him in the Alan Bennett play Habeas Corpus in 1973, and as he toyed with hiring him for Fawlty Towers, the deal was sealed when the Monty Python legend saw him in another show. “I was appearing in No Sex Please, We’re British in London and John Cleese came to see me before making the final decision to cast me as Manuel.” Sachs recalled. “My only day off was a Sunday, so that’s when we shot Fawlty Towers. The critics panned No Sex Please, but it played to packed audiences for almost ten years. I love farces – the only thing that counts is getting laughs. End of story.” Read More Andrew Sachs’ wife vows she’ll ‘hit Jonathan Ross one day’ to get revenge for sick radio stunt he pulled with Russell Brand Sachs appeared on Coronation Street playing Ramsay Clegg (Photo: ITV) It was a similar story with Fawlty Towers which was torn apart by TV critics but got 12million viewers when it appeared on the BBC. Though many of the scenes are considered classics – and earned him a Bafta nomination – Sachs often suffered for his art. In one scene he emerged from a kitchen fire with his jacket smoking, but he got scorched by the mixture of salt and acid they used. The BBC paid him £700 in compensation. Most injuries came from Cleese, however. But Fawlty Towers made Sachs, and Manuel, a household name. He even got a waxwork dummy in Madame Tussauds. Though he continued working, even putting his name forward to play a new incarnation of Doctor Who in the 1980s, he never shook off the association with his Basil Fawlty character. Though he also made mistakes, turning down the role of Victor Meldrew, played by Richard Wilson, in BBC sitcom, One Foot in the Grave. However, he became sought-after as a voice over artist for documentaries and natural history shows, but in 2009 appeared on Coronation Street playing Norris Coles’ brother, Ramsay Clegg. Among the long line of tributes came one from Melody, simple but which summed up the sentiment of the nation. “He’s one of the nicest people I’ve met in my entire life,” she said. “He’s loved and respected and the public adore him.”

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