Manuel (Fawlty Towers)
|This article does not cite any references or sources. (December 2008)|
|Fawlty Towers character|
|Portrayed by||Andrew Sachs|
|First appearance||A Touch of Class (1975)|
|Last appearance||Basil the Rat (1979) (Fawlty Towers episode)
We Are Most Amused (2008) (sketch)
|Created by||John Cleese and Connie Booth|
Manuel is a fictional character from the BBC sitcom Fawlty Towers. Played by Andrew Sachs, he is an iconic character in British comedy history. He reappeared for a small sketch with John Cleese in We Are Most Amused in November 2008.
Manuel himself appeared on the audio adaptations of Fawlty Towers as a linking narrator, explaining things from his point of view, when the series was released on audio format. The first two episodes released did not feature him at all, as the dialogue was edited and short burst of piano music would indicate a change of scene. However, when the whole series was re-released, they were re-edited with Manuel's linking commentary.
Manuel is a well-meaning but disorganised and constantly confused waiter from Barcelona with a limited grasp of the English language and customs. He is constantly verbally and physically assaulted by his boss. He is afraid of Mr. Fawlty's quick temper and violent assaults, yet often expresses his appreciation for being given the position, despite Basil's abusive treatment toward him. Sybil also appears to hold Manuel in low esteem, dryly remarking, "It'd be quicker to train a monkey." When told by either Basil, Sybil or Polly what to do, he frequently answers "sí" ('yes'), and "¿qué?" ('what?') which once led to a particularly harebrained guest (Mrs Richards) believing Basil's name to be "C. K. Watt". Manuel and Polly are both quite scared of Basil. An oft-quoted catchphrase of the character is "I know nothing", from the episode Communication Problems. Other phrases commonly associated with Manuel are "I can speak English, I learn it from a book", "she go crazy" and "Is hamster". By the time of the second series, his English has improved greatly (though a sequence in The Germans implies that he actually improved his English off-screen during the first series, but chose to hide this fact from Basil to make his life easier), although he still has problems understanding specific orders or people, such as Mrs. Richards, owing to her way of talking (and partially due to her own dottiness). He is also very good friends with Polly, who can communicate best with him (Basil claims to have learnt "classical Spanish", whereas Polly speaks the actual language) and often uses him as a model for her sketches. Basil also suggests she take him to the local ice rink in Basil the Rat.
He is known for his passionate patriotism, amplified in The Anniversary when he tries to make Terry the chef let him cook a seafood paella to his mother's recipe. Manuel has a large family in Spain, mentioning in The Wedding Party that he has five brothers and four sisters.
Basil hired Manuel because he was very cheap labour, but Manuel was variedly able to try to bend the situation around on Basil, and then became the brunt of extreme violence: from being hit on the head with various objects like spoons, saucepans, and a moose's head—to being picked up like a ragdoll and forced to do a chore—Manuel has suffered much violent harassment. Basil's excuse for everything Manuel does is "He's from Barcelona", an excuse that Sybil and even Manuel himself once resorted to.
During the episode Basil the Rat, Manuel acquires a common rat while under the impression that it is a Siberian hamster, and names it Basil (likely out of gratitude to his boss). He becomes very emotionally attached to the rat, and even threatens to leave Fawlty Towers altogether if Basil and Sybil dispose of it, to which Basil immediately responds, "Well, goodbye." The episode also highlights the fact that Manuel is rather dim even without the language barrier, as he lets the rat out of its cage for some exercise.
Sachs claims that he only had a few weeks to learn the difficult and complex accent that Manuel is so famous for (in fact, being German-born, Sachs initially suggested playing a German waiter), but loved his experiences on the show (even after he was physically hurt twice on screen, see The Wedding Party and The Germans for more information). Sachs still has Manuel's attire today. Sachs suffered two serious injuries during Fawlty Towers. In The Wedding Party, 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 The Germans, he suffered second degree acid burns from a fire.
Sachs's less than flattering portrayal of the Spaniard resulted in the character's nationality being switched to an Italian from Naples called Paolo for the Spanish dub of the show broadcast in Spain (and in The Anniversary, his desire to make paella is changed to lasagna). In the Catalonian TV3 channel, Manuel's origin was changed from Barcelona to Mexico and the character has a Mexican Spanish accent. The French version also gives his nationality as Mexican.
In scenes in which Manuel appears there are several references to Spain, and to General Franco, who died in 1975. In The Builders when Bennion the delivery man says "No no, where's the real boss? ... The...the generalissimo" Manuel looks at him daftly "In Madrid!". Since the Catalan version was broadcast in 1986, eleven years after Franco's death, Manuel says 'Dead!'. In Basil the Rat Basil says to Manuel "You have rats in Spain, don't you—or did Franco have them all shot?"
In popular culture
The movie-mocking television program Mystery Science Theater 3000 has referred to Manuel on several occasions. When a character on screen speaks with a Spanish accent, the riffers would often respond with "I'm so sorry, he's from Barcelona".
Sachs made a cameo appearance in We Are Most Amused, as an aged Manuel.
A young girl once wrote into Jim'll Fix It, wanting to teach Manuel how to speak English. Sachs appeared in character to allow the girl the chance to make this wish come true.
- Bright, Morris; Ross, Robert (2001). Fawlty Towers: fully booked. BBC. p. 85. ISBN 0-563-53439-7.
- Christopher, David (1999). British culture: an introduction. Routledge. pp. 118–119. ISBN 0-415-22053-X.
- Gubler, Fritz (2008). Waldorf hysteria: hotel manners, misbehaviour & minibars. Great, Grand & Famous Hotels. ISBN 0-9804667-1-7.
- Mortimer, David (2007). Classic Showbiz Clangers. Classic Clangers. Robson. pp. 87–88. ISBN 1-86105-928-0.
- Potrč, Matjaž; Strahovnik, Vojko (2008). Challenging moral particularism. Routledge studies in ethics and moral theory. Taylor & Francis. p. 205. ISBN 0-415-96377-X.