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Thread: Leslie Phillips

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    Leslie Phillips - a rake's progress

    The Times | UK News, World News and Opinion

    Leslie Phillips is famous for playing the rogue, leering �Hell-lo" at a foxy nurse. Now, at 80, he wants to be taken seriously, he tells Tim Teeman

    The catchphrases are wearing thin �Ding dong", "Ah hell-lo", "Oh, I say" yet wherever Leslie Phillips goes people beg him to say them. He made only three Carry On films and three Doctor films but the image of the sleazy posh rake stuck, and, as the puddle of fan mail on his living room floor testifies, he joined the pantheon of English comic icons.

    He turns 80 on Tuesday and this is not how he wishes to be remembered. �Don't get me wrong, it pays for this,"� he says, indicating his imposing Maida Vale home, bought in 1967. �But I can do more. I want to do more."

    There is a steeliness about him, and beneath that a sweetness and frailty, quite at odds with the frothy, campy lech he played on screen. We sit at angles to each other, frequently assailed by his two Burmese cats, Mr Big and Misha. A magnolia tree blossoms outside. He doesn't feel 80 he says. �I felt it at 70" three score years and ten and all that - but I don't worry about age. I've found much more interest and joy in my job as I have got older." He jerks his thumb over his shoulder at the television. �The old films still come out and you can't get away from them. But I don't mind, though it used to get on my tits that all these people were making money out of them and I wasn't."

    Phillips was born and raised in Tottenham, North London. His father Fred made gas cookers, his mother Cecilia took in sewing. �My family was not orientated to Sexy Beast or theatre at all. The big problem was Dad. He was ill all the time. He had rheumatic fever. It affected his heart. My mother was always looking after him but he never gave up. They brought him his work to do on his bed. He couldn't afford to be ill. We just accepted he was a sick man and that he would go on working to keep us. It was damned hard, especially on my mother. She was so strong."

    His father died when Phillips was 9. �It was very muddling. One hadn't really come across death at all. We thought he was a sick man and he would go on."

    Just then Angela, his second wife, comes in to the living room. �I'm going swimming. I've left a note for the cleaning lady to get her to use this water spray on the ironing."

    �What's that for?"� Phillips asks, eyeing the sprayer.

    �To damp it down," Angela says.

    �Damp what down?" Phillips inquires.

    �The sheet,"� Angela says, smiling indulgently at her husband's domestic cluelessness.

    �The what? You're talking about ironing. You want me to do it?"� he persists.

    �No. She's going to do it. But she won't be able to get in unless you answer the door,"� says Angela firmly but kindly, the arbiter of domestic order, and leaves. Phillips turns back to me. "This is a girl we have to help around the house." he says, by way of explanation. �She's lovely."�

    He resumes talking about his father. �I saw him in his coffin. In our sort of family you put him in the front room in a casket. That was very worrying. I would look at him and see the changes take place. He wasn't properly prepared. His face went an extraordinary colour, fungus grew on his ears and nose. All the family trooped around. For a few days it was continuous crying and screaming."

    Phillips became a child actor after his mother saw an advertisement �Children wanted for Christmas show" in a newspaper. In fact it was an advertisement for the Italia Conti stage school. �I had no ambition to be an actor. I was very sporty. I started earning when I was 10. My first paypacket was Peter Pan. I didn't want to go to the audition at first. I had football that morning. But I did a piece from Julius Caesar. I realised I had to get rid of the cockney accent. You couldn't be an actor and have a regional accent in those days. Of course today you can't be an actor without one."

    He stayed at school until he was 14, and appeared in plays for the HM Tennant group. He lost his accent, �through association. The lighting man, the carpenter, the prop man - they became my sort of uncles - I was quietly being educated." He worked with Rex Harrison �always concerned with himself and whatever lady he was with at the time" and Vivian Leigh (�lovely"�) and Laurence Olivier (�Larry was always coming to the theatre in in his Fleet Air Arm gear").

    During the Blitz, he became a �fireboy" at night, scouring the West End from rooftops to notify the authorities of the locations of the many blazes. He remembers V1 rockets. �If the engines cut out we knew they were coming down and I would jump behind the nearest wall and lie down. And there were bombs on parachutes too that would float down, silently. Horrible. I was a man at 16. I knew about life."

    When Phillips joined up aged 18 his theatre training meant �I looked like a boy from a well-educated family". He got an officer's commission in the Royal Artillery, and trained by charging up mountains with live ammunition slung around his back.

    He had a far from spiffing war. In 1942 he joined the Durham Light Infantry. �The beginning of my trouble was continuous bombardment and the bangs. It was nerve-wracking with aeroplanes flying over and shooting them down. I used to get a sort of paralysis on the left side of my body. I suppose it was a form of shell-shock. I never really recovered."

    In 1945, just shy of the end of the war, he left the Army. �I went into a place, Woodside Hospital in Muswell Hill, with people who had every known kind of problem. It was a great mess of people who were suffering. To be honest I never thought I'd survive the war. I always thought "Any minute now I'll be bloody killed - so I was quite surprised to be alive." His voice becomes shaky and thick. �I wasn't well by the end of it. I had this problem. I was in charge of men and I could never be quite good enough. You didn't always want to complain. There were groups of people who were all suffering like you were."

    Did he get back into life easily?

    �No I didn't" he says quietly, then repeats himself angrily: �No I didn't. I didn't know what the bloody hell to do. I had no idea. I never thought of going back to theatre."� He was offered a job, �importing and exporting things in Basra", but failed the medical. Then, walking along Shaftesbury Avenue he bumped into some old mates from the theatre. He rejoined HM Tennants and began performing again.

    A role in Les Girls (1955), a Gene Kelly musical, was his first real break. The Carry Ons began with Carry on Nurse (1958), from which �Ding dong" came. �I did enjoy making the Carry Ons up to a point," he says, frowning. �But when I realised Peter Rogers (their creator) intended me to be one of the regulars it was goodbye. I didn't want to be in series of comedies of that sort. I wanted to get back to classical theatre.

    �The Doctor films were slightly better. They cost more, had class. But people put you in a mould, and while that signifies success it's a danger too. I went on to play Falstaff at the RSC and appeared in Empire of the Sun but that thing" another violent thumb jerk at the TV �brings you back to your previous life. Those films come out on it every bloody week."

    His love life was tangled. He married his first wife Penelope Bartley in 1948 and they were happy for a time, producing four children, Caroline, Claudia, Andrew and Roger. But Phillips went away to the US to work �and we drifted". He began an affair with Caroline Mortimer, stepdaughter of Sir John, and Bartley divorced him in 1965. He and Mortimer broke up after nine years -� she wanted children, he didn't,� but he maintained contact with Bartley. She suffered a stroke in 1981 and Phillips would carry her from the car into the house for family gatherings. A year later she died in a fire and Phillips married his present wife, Angela, 22 years his junior, whom he had met while working on a play in 1976.

    �For a long time, in a twisted way, I thought I should never have married Penny," he says. �We married because we thought we ought to. But I was still recovering from the war. It was very sad, though I love my children dearly."

    But acting, rather than family, seems to have consistently come first. On his acrimonious divorce from Bartley he says: �It was hell, but with this job it doesn't matter what happens, it is so powerful you can cope with almost anything because it's a dedication."

    Phillips insists that in real life he has not played �I'm asked to play it for laughs. It pays the rent, that's all. See that lot down there?" He indicates the fan mail. �British people are very affectionate to people they like. They never give you up."3 He pauses. �I don't know if I love it or hate it but it is part of one's life and one has to cope with it."

    Phillips is certainly a realist. Asked how he would like to be remembered, he answers: �Oh, I wouldn't expect too much there." He knows he must court the devil - that screen over his shoulder; �it has to be done" if he is to make a splash. He has appeared in Tomb Raider and was the voice of the Sorting Hat in the last Harry Potter. He has parts in a new John Malkovich film about a man who pretended to be Stanley Kubrick and a biopic about Churchill, but he wants a primetime role �a Pride and Prejudice" to stretch him. �I'm still ambitious,"� he says, dead serious.

    The year he bought his Maida Vale home (1967) he also bought a finca in Ibiza. This he has finally got round to renovating. It's cost tens of thousands of pounds but Phillips says it means everything to him to finish it. �I want to enjoy life," he says. "I had an inherent fear when I watched my mother. She literally had no money. She was mugged when she was 92 and died weeks later. She was at a bus stop and three young boys attacked her. She wouldn't let them have her purse. They dragged her along the road. She broke so many bones. She was murdered. It was the first time in her life she had ever been in hospital. My sister Doris, who cared for her, never recovered from it. She had a stroke and died soon after." The failure of his marriage he counts as the greatest tragedy of his life, the death of his mother �a close second".

    On Tuesday he will hold his family close, celebrate his birthday and toast a role, still to materialise, that could displace �Ding dong" from our memories. �The Government is extending the retirement age,"� he ponders, summoning a naughty grin. �Well, that suits me fine."

    Oh I Say: Leslie Phillips at 80 is on Radio 4, Tuesday, at 11.30am

    Life and times

    April 20, 1924 Born in Tottenham, North London.

    1929 Aged 5 starts at the Italia Conti School and makes his stage debut as Peter Pan.

    1942 Called up to the Durham Light Infantry.

    1945 Invalided out of the Army after a nervous breakdown.

    1948 Marries the actress Penelope Bartley with whom he has four children.

    1958 Appears in Carry on Nurse as Jack Bell, who utters �Ding dong . . ."�

    1960 Plays the role of Dr Tony Burke in Doctor in Love. Originates catchphrase: �Well, hell-lo".

    1976 Meets second wife Angela Scoular, whom he marries in 1982.

    1987 Plays Maxton in Empire of the Sun.

    1998 Appointed OBE.

    2001 Plays Wilson in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.

    2002 Is the voice for the Sorting Hat in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

    Katherine Courts

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    A very interesting article. But there is, however, an obvious error towards the end of it. Leslie starred with Angela Scoular in DOCTOR IN TROUBLE, released in 1970. So he obviously met her before 1976.

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    Leslie Phillips gave a wonderful performance as the crusty judge in the dramatised documentary called "The Trials of Oz." I was hoping to see him on stage in the play "Gross Indecency" about the trials of Oscar Wilde but he was, unfortunately, indisposed.

    One of the more positive aspects of being "type-cast" I suppose is that an actor becomes so because he plays the part so well. The career of George Sanders, the urbane, super-suave rake rather plummetted towards the end of his life when films were being made which largely excluded this sort of character.

    I suppose there will always be parts for lecherous, slightly comic old gentlemen in plays and films so Leslie ought to be in demand for years to come!

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    He's in the cast of the new Carry On film (Carry O London)

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    Administrator Country: Wales Steve Crook's Avatar
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    JamesM:

    He's in the cast of the new Carry On film (Carry On London)
    Oh please tell me my eyes are deceiving me. But no, it's listed on the IMDb as "Announced" (not yet in production). It (provisionally) includes Paul "Lily Savage" O'Grady as "Charley Gaebody" and Leslie Phillips as Arthur Moment (ho ho).



    Didn't they learn their lesson after Carry On Columbus?



    Steve

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    With my reputation?



    He's Britain's best-loved bounder. But 70 years into his career, Leslie Phillips is a lot more than just a cad with a moustache. Rather, says Dan Davies



    Saturday November 27, 2004

    The Guardian



    Having pressed the doorbell (it doesn't go "ding dong", rather disappointingly) and shuffled backwards on the front step of Leslie Phillips' grand west London home, I feel childishly excited in anticipation of receiving one of the great man's trademark greetings. Perhaps a devilish twitch of the moustache? A "hell-ooo" that sounds like it has been swilling around the back of his cravat-adorned throat for decades, part cheroot smoke, part cashmere? In fact, no. Instead, a small, well-dressed 80-year-old pokes his head out and ushers me inside. His home, it turns out, is jammed with furniture, antiques and curios, and in residence today are Leslie's wife (Angela), umpteen cats (one angry) and sundry Polish builders.



    Leslie shows me into a large living room, excusing the mess, and invites me to pick a chair from the selection on the limited floor space available not occupied by the piles of his private correspondence. It's the by-product of writing his autobiography, he confides, which is a project he's been meaning to get round to for years. You have to hope that everything is contained in these piles of paper, all down in black and white, because as he begins to look back over a 70-year career that spans well over 100 films (the latest one of these, Churchill: The Hollywood Years, is out soon, but is sadly not a terrific movie), scores of theatrical productions, and work with the greatest British actors of successive generations, it quickly becomes apparent that his relentless schedule has reduced names and dates to something of a blur.



    Pigeonholed in the popular psyche as the roguish charmer from the Carry On and Doctor marques, Phillips has spent the second half of his extraordinary working lifespan quietly reminding the world that there is more to his repertoire than suggestive winks and saucy cackles. In 1969 he told his agent that he was ditching the Lothario image and set about reclaiming a professional reputation that had been built as a child actor learning the ropes from Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, Rex Harrison and John Gielgud. It was a reputation that looked set to grow after he was offered his big break in Hollywood during its mid-1950s heyday.



    "I didn't want to become a poor man's David Niven," says Leslie of his decision not to commit himself to the States after winning strong reviews in Les Girls. "And besides, I was a theatre actor and I didn't necessarily think of America as a theatre place."



    While he can utter the words "dahhling" and "I say" like nobody else on the planet, and was part of the artistic Ibiza set of the 1960s that numbered Denholm Elliott, Errol Flynn, Ian McShane and Terry-Thomas among others, do not, despite appearances, dismiss Phillips as a stereotypical luvvie. His longevity has been driven by a work ethic that stems from his poor upbringing in 1930s Tottenham.



    "I had no illusions," he says of his paid acting debut as a 10-year-old in Peter Pan alongside Anna Neagle. "I went on stage as a way to earn money for my mother and the family because my father had died." By the age of 18, when he was called into the army, Leslie Phillips had done little else but act for his keep.



    After the war, which, he says, "left me damaged all over the place... I didn't think I would survive" (he was discharged), he eventually returned to his trade. He recalls sitting at lunch with members of the cast during a break in filming at Pinewood. They were bragging about the first year they had worked there. "I was the youngest so no one said anything to me," he says. They were shocked silent when he told them he had first worked at the studios in the late 1930s.



    "I'm a worker," offers Phillips quietly by way of explanation. "There was a time when I was playing the lead in a play in London, doing a radio series, a television series and I made two films, all at the same time. You can do that in England but you can't do that so easily in the States." Although he claims to be baffled by the association, we eventually return to his position alongside Terry-Thomas and David Niven in the unofficial roll call of British cads. It is a tag he's both thought about and is comfortable with.



    "I get worried by the name. Cads and bounders are not likable. I sort of fought that. I played naughty fellows but everyone liked me. Cad is a Victorian word that means you're a b*****d. It's got mixed up. We were womanisers, not nasty, unpleasant or dislikable. If we were dislikable we would not have become idols. I suppose the essence of being a bit of a devil," he adds, "is that people like you. That's why I don't like the word cad."



    Phillips nevertheless perfected the persona of suave wag; a creation that owed something to the pencil-thin moustache, which survives to this day, something to an impeccable wardrobe, but was ultimately most indebted to "the voice", a highly lucrative Edwardian purr that was first cultivated from his native cockney. "It happened by accident," he insists, "and is totally unconscious."



    Phillips bridles slightly when I ask about the last role that required him to ditch "the voice". "I am capable, you know. I did one quite recently, played a Yorkshireman actually. They asked me whether they wanted anyone to go through the part with me but I was in York Rep for some years, just after the army.



    "Ronnie Barker is a great mate and I see a lot of him. He does every accent and he's a brilliant raconteur. He still practises it and now he's coming back. He told me he never would but he is and he's doing it very cleverly. He's coming back as an actor and not in his comedy status. He's a fine actor, and that's why he's so different to all the others. I'd put him at number one, he's always been a marvellous actor."



    Leslie's wife, his second, and the four grown-up children from his first marriage, have ceased discussing his plans for retirement. He has always said that a fear of poverty drove him on but, ironically, now that he no longer needs to work himself so hard, the opportunity to pick and choose is limited by to the paucity of good material out there. "The family would like me to go on because they think I'm happier when I'm working. But it is more difficult to do good things and that's why I'm thinking of stopping.



    "I really love good work," he says, pointing me towards a programme for Naked Justice, a John Mortimer play that he recently enjoyed appearing in, "because it's easy making a living doing crap. I've been in every conceivable type of film. I've done the smallest, the cheapest, the crappiest. I've done some wonderful big blockbusters [Spielberg's Empire Of The Sun, Harry Potter], I've tasted every known type of director and every big star. I've had a wonderful career."



    Indeed he has. Having specialised in playing squadron leaders, captains and commanders in his early films, and a titular feast of minor aristocracy thereafter, is it not now time Sir Leslie was awarded his own knighthood for keeps?

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    I do enjoy watching Leslie but when I heard him narrating a Tory political broadcast..... smash doh scold moon

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    I suppose that means you read The Guardian?

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    Senior Member Country: Scotland julian_craster's Avatar
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    Hello: The Autobiography

    by Leslie Phillips



    Publisher: Orion (31 Aug 2006)

    ISBN: 0752868896



    Leslie Phillips's story begins with a poverty-stricken childhood in north London, made all the worse when his father died when Leslie was just ten years old. Soon after, he began his acting career, and since then he has worked with Steven Spielberg, Laurence Olivier, Anthony Hopkins and Angelina Jolie, among many others. Best known for his comic roles in the Carry On and Doctor series, he took the decision in later life to take on more serious roles in films such as Empire of the Sun, Out of Africa and Scandal, as well as performing in plays such as The Cherry Orchard. In this, his long-awaited autobiography, he will recall some of the great characters he has worked with, and the book will be be packed with hilarious anecdotes. He also highlights how different he is in real life from his public image as a bounder. It is a fascinating story, brilliantly told.

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    Now that, I'll have to read.



    My favourite screen appearence of his was when he stole the show in The Fast Lady/Father Came Too! films. He played the usual cad & bounder type role brilliantly, though the scenes with him crawling to James Robertson Justice were some of my particular favourites.



    Not forgetting his other work too - I'm sure there's an awful lot of his later work that I've yet to discover.

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    He was brilliant as the crusty old judge in the TV re-creation of "The Trials of Oz".

    I booked theatre tickets a few years ago to see him in "Gross Indecency" (about the Wilde trials) but unfortunately he was indisposed and couldn't appear. I wonder if he's given up performing in the theatre now.

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    the mere mention of Leslie Phillips will almost undoubtedly bring a smile to the face of any British film fan - he is one of the most unforgettable faces/voices of British film (and like fellow greats, Ian Carmichael and George Cole to name just two, we see far too little of them and they have not yet been duly celebrated - either by way of BAFTA tribute/knighthood or preferably both)



    He also appeared in some serious films early on in his career such as the 1938 classic 'The Citadel' (nearly 70 years ago!!!), 'Train Of Events' (1949) and 'The Sound Barrier' (1952).



    i'm a big fan and so i will definitely be getting this book.

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    Leslie Phillips may not be a bounder or cad in real life but I'd be interested to read whether he was really the womaniser that he was depicted to be in many of his film appearances.:)



    One of Britain's most loved comedy actors. I can imagine he has many interesting stories to tell.

    Like everyone else I'm looking forward to reading the book.



    Dave.

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    Quote Originally Posted by David Brent
    Leslie Phillips may not be a bounder or cad in real life but I'd be interested to read whether he was really the womaniser that he was depicted to be in many of his film appearances.:)



    One of Britain's most loved comedy actors. I can imagine he has many interesting stories to tell.

    Like everyone else I'm looking forward to reading the book.



    Dave.


    Looking through some old tapes I found a Bob Monkhouse "What a Performance" programme on "Cads."

    Needless to say, along with Terry Thomas, George Sanders, Peter Wyngarde etc., Leslie Phillips was featured. Monkhouse stated that, in real life, Phillips was a gentle, private man. It was noticeable that although Peter Wyngarde was interviewed for the programme commenting on his Jason King role, Phillips was not interviewed.

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    Senior Member Country: UK Wee Sonny MacGregor's Avatar
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    I loved him as Lord Flamborough in "Love on a Branch Line". When I met him not so long ago he was utterly charming, a nice guy. As to his womanising film image, and whether there was an element of real life, when he was asked about this at the NFT he replied "I've had my share".

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    Quote Originally Posted by Wee Sonny MacGregor
    I loved him as Lord Flamborough in "Love on a Branch Line". When I met him not so long ago he was utterly charming, a nice guy. As to his womanising film image, and whether there was an element of real life, when he was asked about this at the NFT he replied "I've had my share".
    The lucky bounder!



    He was bounder to say that.



    Dave.

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    Just a heads up, he releases an autobiography ('Hello') next month.


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    Senior Member Country: UK Wee Sonny MacGregor's Avatar
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    More details below in the thread of 27 September

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    Senior Member Country: UK Freddy's Avatar
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    Just a quickie, Leslie Philips is on 'Loose Women' today. ITV 12.30 lunchtime.

    Not a group of women I normally 'do' lunch with but on this occassion.



    Only noticed this morning, late notice I know but life's a bounder sometimes



    Freddy

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    He is,without doubt,a national treasure.

    Ta Ta

    Marky B

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