Phillips at the Orange British Academy Film Awards in February 2007
Leslie Samuel Phillips
20 April 1924
|Occupation||Actor, voice-over artist, author|
|Penelope Bartley (m. 1948-1965) (divorced)|
Angela Scoular (m. 1982-2011) (her death)
Zara Carr (m. 2013)
Phillips was born in Tottenham, Middlesex, England, the son of Cecelia Margaret (née Newlove) and Frederick Samuel Phillips, who worked at Glover and Main, manufacturers of cookers in Edmonton; the "filthy, sulphurous" air of the factory gave Frederick a weak heart and edema, leading to his death at the age of 44. In 1931, the family moved to Chingford, Essex, where Phillips attended Larkswood Primary School.
It was his mother who decided that Phillips should be sent to the Italia Conti Academy to receive elocution lessons to lose his cockney accent. At that time a strong regional accent was a major impediment to an aspiring actor. It proved to be an astute move and was a major factor in his subsequent success.
Phillips made his first film appearances as a child in the 1930s. He is the only actor still alive who performed at Pinewood Studios in its first week of opening in 1936. He also worked for Binkie Beaumont and H. M. Tennent in several plays in the West End. During the Second World War shows were frequently interrupted by air-raid sirens and Phillips recalls in his autobiography that "audiences would evaporate and head for cellars or Underground stations".
Called up to the Army in 1942 Phillips rose to the rank of Lance-Bombardier in the Royal Artillery. Due to his acquired upper class accent, Phillips was selected for officer training at Catterick and duly commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Artillery in 1943. In his autobiography he would recall that his anti-aircraft battery destroyed numerous German V1 flying bombs launched against the UK during the period. He was transferred to the Durham Light Infantry in 1944 but was later declared unfit for service just before D-Day after being diagnosed with a neurological condition that caused partial paralysis. He was initially sent to a psychiatric hospital in error but was then sent to the correct facility for treatment.
Demobbed as a lieutenant in December 1944, Phillips' acting career initially took in "the murkiest rat-infested old playhouses and music halls in the North of England". It was during the 1950s that he became known for playing amusing English stereotypes. His first lead role in a television serial was in the 1952 sitcom My Wife Jacqueline. His seductive voice is his trademark as well as his catchphrases, "I say, Ding Dong" (originally the catchphrase of Phillips' character Jack Bell in Carry On Nurse), and "Hello", which were partly, if not wholly, based on those of fellow cad actor Terry Thomas.
His big break in the films was in the Gene Kelly musical Les Girls in 1957. Although the film was a critical success he decided against a move to Hollywood, in part as he considered himself primarily a theatre actor. Soon after he appeared in three of the early Carry On films; Carry On Nurse, Carry On Teacher (both 1959) and Carry On Constable (1960), which cemented his reputation for playing upper class fools and lecherous smoothies. After Constable he told producer Peter Rogers that he did not wish to do any more Carry Ons, though he did return for Carry On Columbus in 1992. In the 1960s he took over from Dirk Bogarde in several of the Doctor film comedies.
After his marriage to Angela Scoular in 1982, Phillips decided to move away from playing the kind of lecherous twits with suave chat-up lines which had characterised much of his previous work. Phillips has remained busy in both stage and television productions, along with character roles in films such as Empire of the Sun (1987) directed by Steven Spielberg and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001). Phillips also provided the voice for the Sorting Hat in the Harry Potter films, appearing in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (2001) and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002), as well as reprising his role in the final film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (2011). He has also appeared in British television sitcoms including Honey for Tea with Felicity Kendal and appeared in guest roles in popular series such as The Bill, Holby City and Midsomer Murders.
In 1962, Phillips started a romantic relationship with actress Caroline Mortimer, daughter of writer Penelope Mortimer and stepdaughter of John Mortimer, who was an understudy in a stage play in which Phillips starred. Phillips and Bartley separated at that point and were divorced in 1965.
After his relationship with Mortimer ended, Phillips embarked on a relationship with actress Vicki Luke, with whom he lived for approximately three years. He moved in with actress Angela Scoular in 1977, at which time she was pregnant by another actor. He raised her son as his own.
While on tour in Australia in 1981 he was notified that Penelope Bartley had died in a fire. Phillips elected to continue in the production and not attend her funeral. He has acknowledged that his family has never forgiven him for not coming back to attend the funeral.
Following the death of his former wife in 1981, he married Scoular in 1982.. They remained together until her death on 11 April 2011. Scoular was suffering from bowel cancer and bipolar disorder and took her own life. Phillips was too ill to attend the inquest into Scoular's death three months later.
On 20 December 2013 Phillips married Zara Carr, his third wife.