Comedy actor who made a name for himself in the Carry On movies

Leslie Phillips, famous for his roles as a suspicious, mischievous, upper-class ladies’ man, was a great comedy actor who yearned to get out of what he called “that rut” and focus on heavier, more more serious.

To some degree he succeeded, but even so, he will always be remembered above all for the outrageous comedic characters he honed in the Carry On films and elsewhere.

But although the Carry On films – he appeared in three of them – were his main claim to fame, Phillips has almost despised them in recent years.

He said: “In the past, Carry On films would have died a natural death after making the rounds in cinemas.

“But then television came along and they were absolutely whipped to death, all over the world. Someone made quite a bit of money out of it, but not those of us who played it.

Phillips was the type of actor who could never be persuaded to retire.

He once told an interviewer, “If you ask when am I going to retire, then the answer is never. I intend to die on the job.

Although famous for his aristocratic and aristocratic tones, Phillips was born and raised in London, speaking what is now known as Estuary English most of the time.

Leslie Phillips

Leslie Phillips meets the Queen at a reception for the British film industry at Windsor Castle (Steve Parsons/PA)

He took elocution lessons to enable him to speak “proper” English, which in his early days was an essential part of any actor’s equipment.

Leslie Samuel Phillips was born in Tottenham, North London on April 20, 1924.

He attended Chingford School and later Italia Conti Stage School.

He then served as a lieutenant in the Durham Light Infantry from 1942 to 1945, when he was discharged.

Phillips said of his experiences: “The beginning of my problems was continuous bombardment and detonations. It was nerve wracking with planes flying overhead and shooting them down.

“I used to have a sort of paralysis on the left side of my body. I guess it was some form of shell. I never really recovered.

In 1945 he went to a north London hospital with “people who had every known kind of problem – it was a big mess of people in pain”.

He continued: “To be honest, I never thought I would survive the war. I always thought, ‘Any minute now, I’m going to be damned killed’, so I was quite surprised to be alive.”

He soon returned to the limelight and began landing leading roles on stage and screen beginning in the early 1950s.

Investiture at Buckingham Palace

Leslie Phillips with her CBE (Jenny Goodhall/PA)

But Phillips began making serious inroads into filmmaking from 1955, and his cunning charm was seen to good use in Brothers In Law, The Smallest Show On Earth and The Man Who Liked Funerals.

In this film, he played the lead role of a man who blackmailed mourners for a good cause.

He became well known for his appearances in the Doctor films, as well as a string of fast-paced comedies that partnered him with Scottish comedian and impressionist Stanley Baxter.

They started with the POW caper Very Important Person and continued with Crooks Anonymous, The Fast Lady and Father Came Too, about a disastrous honeymoon.

Leslie Phillips

Jodie Whittaker and Leslie Phillips at the National Gallery (Joel Ryan/PA)

Within five years, Phillips had made 18 star comedies, but British studio comedy production suddenly became quite small in the 1960s.

After doing Doctor In Clover, Phillips made a disastrous career move starring in Morocco 7, a dismal spy thriller.

But things were looking up for him on television, notably with Our Man At St Mark’s.

He returned to film in the late 1980s in largely comedic character roles.

Like most of his contemporaries, he had a stint in Hollywood, but he preferred Britain.

“I could have stayed,” he once said, “but I’m a Londoner through and through. I want to go everywhere, but I will always want to live in London. So I came back. »

It was in the mid-1980s that he decided to become a serious actor. He joined the Royal Shakespeare Company and played roles such as Falstaff in The Merry Wives Of Windsor.

Cast of Empire of the Sun

Stars of Steven Spielberg’s Empire Of The Sun film from left to right: Leslie Phillips, Christian Bale, 14, Miranda Richardson and Nigel Havers (PA)

But despite being a versatile actor, his huge audience prefers him as a sassy seaside postcard character.

Phillips received the OBE in 1998.

His first marriage, in 1948 to Penelope Bartley, was dissolved in 1965. They had two sons and two daughters.

He said they “got separated” because of his work in the United States, but he considered the failure of this marriage to be the greatest tragedy of his life.

In 1982 he married his second wife Angela Scoular and the couple remained together until his death in April 2011.

Scoular suffered from bowel cancer and depression and committed suicide.

Phillips was too ill to attend the inquest into Scoular’s death three months later.

A long-time Tottenham Hotspur fan, he appeared on the pitch as part of half-time entertainment during the team’s home game against Swansea City in 2012.

Leslie Phillips

Leslie Phillips and his wife Angela Scoular (Michael Stephens/PA)

In December 2013, 89-year-old Phillips married Zara Carr, his third wife.

He suffered a stroke while shopping with his wife in London in August 2014.

A few months later, Phillips was again admitted to hospital after suffering a seizure.

Phillips had a wide variety of interests outside of acting, including cars, racing, gardening, classical music, weaving, chess, and all sports.

In 2014, he also starred in the gothic mystery film Darkheart Manor alongside Harry Potter and Deathly Hallows actor Nick Moran Part One and Part Two.

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