The cockney lad who became a Hollywood toff: Leslie Phillips's life

The cockney lad who became a posh Carry On star but whose life was touched by tragedy: Leslie Phillips’ famous catchphrases kept the nation laughing but he faced heartbreak of Bond girl partner’s suicide and death of first wife in a fire

  • Mr Phillips – once one of the county’s biggest comedic stars – has died aged 98 after battling a long illness
  • The Tottenham-born actor was best-known for his roles in the Carry On films and their many catchphrases
  • In very recent interview he recalled he was asked ‘millions of times’ to say them by generations of fans
  • His first wife Penny Bartley, who married in 1948 and divorced in 1965, was killed in a house fire in 1981
  • Leslie’s second wife, Angela Scoular, was suffering from bowel cancer and depression and took her own life 
  • Phillips married for the third time – at the age of 89. He is survived by his third wife Zara, who is in her late 50s

Leslie Phillips was beloved by millions for his rakish charm, the outrageous comic characters he perfected in the Carry On films and his ‘Ding Dong’, ‘Well, Hello’ and ‘I Say’ catchphrases, which he said ‘millions of times’ for fans.

But away from the big screen the star, who died yesterday aged 98, suffered a series of terrible tragedies in his life including the deaths of two of his wives and battling shell shock while fighting in the Second World War.

His first wife Penny Bartley was killed in a house fire in 1981. He had stayed in touch with her even after their 1965 divorce, calling the split one of the great failures of his life. 

And then in 2011 he was rocked by the suicide of his second wife, the former Bond girl Angela Scoular. She was suffering from bowel cancer and depression and took her own life. Phillips was too ill to attend the inquest into her death three months later.

But he found love again with Turkish social worker Zara Carr, then 50, who he married in front of two witnesses in Mayfair in 2013. Afterwards, Phillips, ever the joker, quipped that his new wife shared the same name as the Queen’s granddaughter, Zara Phillips.

His acting career stretched back to 1938 and spanned more than 70 years. He was best known in the UK for his Carry On parts even though he only appeared in three of them. Phillips also enjoyed an international audience after starring in a string of hits including voicing the Sorting Hat in Harry Potter and appearing in hit movies including Empire of the Sun, The Jackal, Out of Africa, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Venus, alongside Peter O’Toole.

His Hollywood stardom – and the riches it brought – was a far cry from his humble roots in Tottenham, north London, where his life was changed by a talent for acting and elocution lessons that helped him win the parts that made him famous.      

Leslie Phillips and his bride Penelope Bartley pictured looking in to each others eyes outside All Soul’s Church following their wedding ceremony, St John’s Wood, London, May 30th 1948

His ex-wife Penny (pictured together with their daughter Caroline after her baptism in 1950). They stayed in touch with even after their divorce. She was killed in a house fire in 1981

Leslie Phillips with actress Angela Scoular, at London’s Savoy Hotel after their wedding in 1982. The couple outside Buckingham Palace after receiving a OBE from Her Majesty the Queen in 1998. She took her own life in 2011

Leslie Phillips with his new wife Zara Carr at their wedding blessing at St Mark’s Church in Maida Vale back in December 2013

Leslie Phillips (left) and Jon Pertwee wearing sailors hats and mugging to the camera, on board the HMS Troubridge to promote their BBC radio show ‘Navy Lark’, at Tower Bridge in 1969

Prince Charles, now King Charles, chats with actor Leslie Philips at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s gala fund raising dinner for their ‘Complete Works Festival’, in London, on May 17, 2006

Leslie won a new audience of fans as the voice of the Sorting Hat in Harry Potter

Leslie Phillips, pictured in 2010, famous for his leery ladies’ man, roguish, upper-class roles, was a great comedy actor who yearned to get out of what he called ‘that rut’ and concentrate on heavier and more serious parts

Mr Phillips, famous for his leery ladies’ man, roguish, upper-class roles, was a great comedy actor who yearned to get out of what he called ‘that rut’ and concentrate on heavier and more serious parts.

To some extent he succeeded, but even so he will always be remembered above all else for the outrageous comic characters he perfected in the Carry On films and elsewhere.

But although the Carry On films – he appeared in three of them – were his major claim to fame, Phillips was almost scornful about them in later years.

He said: ‘In the old days the Carry On films would have died a natural death after doing the rounds at the cinemas.

‘But then television came along and they were absolutely flogged to death, all over the world. Someone’s made quite a lot of money out of them, but not those of us who acted in them.’

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

Once he told an interviewer: ‘If you are asking when will I retire, then the answer is never. I intend to die on the job.’

Although he was famous for his come-hither, aristocratic tones, Phillips was born and brought up in London, speaking much of the time what is now called estuary English.

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.

He was born in Tottenham, north London, on April 20 1924. He attended Chingford School and later the Italia Conti Stage School.

Leslie Phillips and his ex-wife Penny Bartley with their son Roger

Mr Phillips became a huge star in the 1950s and the 1960s, left in 1959’s The Navy Lark and right in 1962’s The Longest Day

Barbara Roscoe and Leslie Phillips in the 1963 film, Father Came Too!

Actor Leslie Phillips with the female cast members of play ‘Not Now Darling’, including June Whitfield

Actor Leslie Phillips and wife, actress Angela Scoular, who died in 2011

Veteren actor Leslie Phillips, aged 79, at the top of his mountain farmhouse – a Finca- in Ibiza. He bought the property in 1970s and has gradualy developed the farm into a modern home with the help of his wife Angela

Katie Price and and Leslie Phillips during the annual British Comedy Awards at London Television Studios in 2003

Leslie Phillips arrives for the BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) awards at The Royal Opera House in 2007

Then he served as a lieutenant in the Durham Light Infantry from 1942 until 1945, when he was invalided out, suffering from shell shock.

Phillips said of his experiences: ‘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 the body. I suppose it was a form of shell-shock. I never really recovered.’

In 1945 he went to a hospital in north London with ‘people who had every known kind of problem – it was a great mess of people who were suffering’.

He went on: ‘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.’

He was soon back in the limelight and began to get leading roles on the stage and screen from the early 1950s.

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

In that film he played the star role of a man who blackmailed the bereaved in a good cause.

He became well known for his appearances in the Doctor films, as well as in a series of fast-moving comedies that teamed him with Scots comedian and impressionist Stanley Baxter.

They began with the prisoner-of-war caper Very Important Person and continued with Crooks Anonymous, The Fast Lady and Father Came Too, about a disastrous honeymoon.

Within the space of five years Phillips had made 18 starring comedies, but the output of comedy from British studios had suddenly become quite restricted during the 1960s.

After making Doctor In Clover, Phillips made a disastrous career switch by starring in Maroc 7, a woeful spy thriller.

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

He returned to films in the late 1980s in largely comedy character roles.

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

‘I could have stayed,’ he said once, ‘but I am 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.

But fine all-round actor though he was, his huge following preferred him as the saucy seaside postcard character.

Phillips was awarded 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 that they ‘drifted apart’ because of his work in the United States but he counted the failure of that marriage as the greatest tragedy of his life.

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

Scoular was suffering from bowel cancer and depression and took her own life.

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

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

In December 2013, Phillips, aged 89, married Zara Carr, his third wife.

He suffered a stroke while on a shopping trip 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 the theatre, including cars, racing, gardening, classical music, weaving, chess and all sport.

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

Carry On star Leslie Phillips best known for his ‘Ding Dong’, ‘Well, Hello’ and ‘I Say’ catchphrases and voicing the Sorting Hat in Harry Potter dies aged 98 peacefully in his sleep as his wife pays tribute to ‘national treasure’

Carry On star Leslie Phillips who brought laughter to front rooms across the nation has died aged 98.

The actor – best known for his ‘Ding Dong’, ‘Well, Hello’ and ‘I Say’ catchphrases – had been battling a long illness.

Younger fans will know his voice from the Harry Potter films where he was the sound of the Sorting Hat.

Phillips, the star of 150 films, suffered a life-threatening stroke in 2015, and was recovering at his home over the past few years.

He would fondly remember how he would be asked to say his catchphrases ‘millions of times’ by fans spanning generations.

Incredibly Phillips originally had a London accent when he was younger, but had elocution lessons to adopt the dulcet tones he became famous for.

But for a figure best-known for comedy, his personal life had been dogged with tragedy. 

His ex-wife Penny Bartley – who he stayed in touch with even after their divorce – was killed in a house fire in 1981.

And then in 2011 he was rocked by the suicide of his second wife, the former Bond girl Angela Scoular. 

Barbara Roscoe and Leslie Phillips get close during a film from earlier in his career that last up until his death aged 98

Leslie Phillips, June Whitfield, Barbara Windsor and Jack Douglas celebrating the Carry on 40th Anniversary in 1998

The then-Prince Charles chats with Leslie Philips at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s gala fund raising dinner for their ‘Complete Works Festival’, in London, on May 17, 2006

Leslie Phillips starring alongside Joan Sims in the Carry On Teaching film 

Leslie Phillips drinking a glass of wine in 1975. He had suffered a huge stroke in his later years but had battled to recovery

Leslie Phillips with his new wife Zara Carr at their wedding blessing at St Mark’s Church in Maida Vale back in December 2013

His ex-wife Penny Bartley – who he stayed in touch with even after their divorce – was killed in a house fire in 1981 in tragedy

But he found love again and married third wife Zara Carr in December 2013.

She gave him mouth to mouth resuscitation when he turned ‘black and blue’ during a seizure in 2015, which had followed a stroke. 

Paying tribute, Zara, now 63, said: ‘I’ve lost a wonderful husband and the public has lost a truly great showman.

‘He was quite simply a national treasure. People loved him. He was mobbed everywhere he went.’

Tottenham-born film legend Leslie was still working before the stroke, voicing the Sorting Hat of the Harry Potter films and acting in several British TV dramas including the Ruth Rendell Mysteries, Revolver and Agatha Christie’s Marple.

He was born on April 20, 1924, into a working class family and made his first film appearances as a child in the 1930s.

He is believed to be the only actor still alive who performed at Pinewood Studios in its first week after opening in 1936.

During the Second World War, he was commissioned in 1943 as a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Artillery, and transferred to the Durham Light Infantry in 1944.

Leslie Phillips with his wife Penelope Bartley and their baby daughter Caroline Elizabeth outside All Souls Church following her christening, St John’s Wood, London, May 4 1950

‘Don’t Just Lie There, Say Something!’ which starred Brian Rix, Joanna Lumley and Leslie Phillips in one of his notable roles

Actor Leslie Phillips looked suave  and relaxed with his many female co-stars at a photocall for TV programme ‘Casanova’

Freddy Fox  – played by Leslie Phillips – and Grunhilde – played by Heidi Erich – together in the Fast Lady’ film from back in 1962

Katie Prince and Leslie Phillips made an usual duo in December 2003 when they teamed up at the Comedy Awards together

Phillip’s life had been touched by tragedy after the 2011 suicide of his second wife, the former Bond girl Angela Scoular

Leslie Phillips in a Chichester production of Love For Love, a theatre play that showed his versatility as he trod the boards

Bob Monkhouse, Shirley Eaton, Irene Handl and Leslie Phillips in A Weekend With Lulu, directed by Carstairs John Paddy

Leslie, seen in In The Doghouse, said he loved being ‘idolised’ by the public who looked ‘beyond the lecherous twit I played’

Veteran actor Leslie Phillips receives the Freedom of the City of London at The Guildhall on November 16, 2010 in London

Leslie Phillips at his beloved home in Maida Vale, London, taken on Oct 19, 2011, but still looking his debonair and suave self

But his death – nearly two years after Barbara Windsor passed away – means only Jim Dale is left from the Carry On films that made him a huge star.

Phillips turned his back on a Hollywood career to join the Carry On cast and to be with wife, Penny Bartley and their four children who were back in England.

His famous ‘I say, Ding Dong’ catchphrase of character Jack Bell in Carry On Nurse meant he would be forever immortalised in comedy.

In total he appeared in four Carry On films, the early Carry On Nurse, Carry On Teacher and Carry On Constable.

He may have feared being typecast and told producer Peter Rogers he was not keen on returning to the franchise.

But in 1992 he starred in Carry On Columbus, thrilling fans of the original series of films.

He later revealed he loved being ‘idolised’ by the public, he wished people would ‘look beyond the lecherous twit I played’.

In one of his last interview with The Chap in 2020 he said his catchphrases had followed him his entire life with people constantly requesting he say them.

He said of the frequency: ‘Millions of times, and as for my other catch phrase, ‘Ding Dong!’, I couldn’t even count.

‘But I have had a marvellous career and I am very fortunate. One thing I have learnt is that I would have liked to spend more time with my children as they grew up.’

He was made an OBE in 1998 and a CBE in 2008 for services to drama. 

He is survived by Zara and his four children. 

What happened to the rest of the Carry On stars?  

Barbara Windsor 

The 4ft 10in star Barbara Windsor first found fame in her role as a buxom blonde in the Carry On films – pictured in Carry On Again Doctor – and later became a household name playing Peggy Mitchell, the Queen Vic’s battle-axe landlady in BBC soap EastEnders 

Dame Barbara Windsor lost her battle with Alzheimer’s at the age of 83 in December 2020. 

Boris Johnson paid tribute saying she ‘cheered the world up with her own British brand of harmless sauciness and innocent scandal’ while David Walliams called her ‘the unofficial Queen of England’ and an ‘icon treasured by the nation’.

Famed for her infectious laugh and baring all in the Carry On films, the east London-born actress universally known as ‘Babs’, boasted a 66-year career in showbiz, first appearing on stage aged 13 before retiring aged 79 as dementia took its toll forcing the 4ft 10ins actress to stop playing fearsome landlady Peggy Mitchell on EastEnders. 

Dame Barbara became one of the most famous faces on British screens for her fun-filled saucy roles in the Carry On comedies of the 1960s and 70s before before becoming the no-nonsense Queen Vic landlady Peggy Mitchell. 

As she bravely fought Alzheimer’s in the final years of her life, she turned her energies to campaigning to protect those with dementia, the vulnerable and the lonely as well her passionate support of the Armed Forces through the Poppy Appeal.

The actress – who was made a Dame by the Queen in 2016 – announced she was suffering from Alzheimer’s in 2018, having been diagnosed four years earlier. She moved to a care home in July 2020, five months before she died.

Fenella Fielding

Former Carry On actress Fenella Fielding died from a stroke aged 90 in August 2018. 

She appeared in two Carry On films – Carry On Regardless (1961) and Carry On Screaming! (1966) – and was awarded an OBE in the 2018 Queen’s Birthday Honours List. 

Fielding was born in London to a Lithuanian father and a Romanian mother. She is the younger sister of Basil Feldman, Baron Feldman, a former Conservative member of the House of Lords.

According to her website, her TV roles include The Avengers, The Prisoner and The Morecambe & Wise Show.

Perhaps her most famous role was as Valeria in Carry On Screaming! alongside Kenneth Williams.

Her 2017 memoir Do You Mind If I Smoke? is named after a line in the film.

In an interview with the Independent in 2008, Fielding said her roles in the Carry On films led to her being typecast.

She told the newspaper: ‘You get set on a path and, if you succeed, you get better parts, but of the same kind. If you don’t take a lot of trouble, you get stuck like that.

‘I’ve managed to get away from that, time and time again. But people still think of me in a certain way because of the Carry On films.’

Kenneth Williams

A series of unseen letters by comic legend Kenneth Williams (pictured) have come to light that showcase his wit and sensitivity

Kenneth Williams was one of the biggest stars of the Carry On franchise. 

He previously served in the Royal Engineers in World War Two, but suffered from depression and struggled to come to terms with his homosexuality.

Other than his Carry On films, he was also a regular on the BBC Radio panel game show Just A Minute.

Williams was given his own TV variety series on BBC two called Meanwhile, which ran for 10 episodes in 1971.  

He died aged 62 in April 1988. The cause of death was an overdose of barbiturates, but an inquest recorded an open verdict as it could not establish whether it was a suicide or an accident. 

He lived in a string of rental flats in London and never found a partner, branding himself ‘asexual and celibate.’ 

Williams was once investigated by Scotland Yard after his father died after drinking carbon tetrachloride. He was never charged over his father’s death but he was denied a US visa when they discovered police had kept a file on him. 

Sid James

South African-born Brit Sid James was one of the most recognisable comedic actors of the 50s and 60s.

Coming to prominence performing lovable rogues in TV and radio series, he found his greatest success in Carry On films.

He appeared in 19 movies in the series, usually portraying wise-cracking, lecherous characters, most of whom had his trademark laugh.

At the age of 54 he had a severe heart attack, something that led him to give up cigarettes, cut back on his meals and limit himself to three alcoholic drinks a night.

Valeria and Sidney James are pictured together at the film premiere of Spring And Port Wine in 1970

In 1976 Sid was on tour in a revival production of The Mating Season, when he had a heart attack on stage at the Sunderland Empire Theatre on April 26.

His co-star Olga Lowe initially though he was messing around when he failing to reply to her dialogue, but sought help when he didn’t respond to her ad-libs.

The curtain was closed and a doctor called, while the audience laughed, thinking it was part of the show. He was pronounced dead at the hospital.

During their time together Sid had a highly public affair with Carry On co-star Barbara Windsor, a relationship which ended 16 months before his death.

Despite his philandering his wife Valeria James stuck by her husband and said she thought Ms Windsor had seduced him, claiming that she was ‘pushy and Sid was frightened of her and of her husband Ronnie Knight’.

Sid was a notorious womaniser, having seen his first marriage with Berthe Sadie Delmont collapse after four years due to his relationships with other women, while Ms Windsor described him as a ‘ladies man’.

Speaking after her life was dramatised for BBC biopic Babs in 2017 and she released her memoir, All Of Me, Ms Windsor described how Sid attempted to seduce her.

Liz Frazer

Former Carry On actress Liz Fraser died aged 88 in September 2018.

The comic actress had a leading role in the British television’s first soap opera, Sixpenny Corner on ITV from 1955 to 1956.

Best known for her recurring role as perennially dizzy blonde in the Carry On franchise, buxom Liz Frazer starred in several Carry On films during the 1960s and 1970s.

The south Londoner was in a number of the early Carry On films: Carry On Regardless (1961), Carry On Cruising (1962), and Carry On Cabby (1963), but was sacked by producer Peter Rogers after casually saying the series could be better marketed.

She re-appeared in the series in Carry On Behind (1975), her salary apparently half of what it had been before.

Fraser defined herself as the bighearted comedy cockney blonde, attracting a string of admirers including Sean Connery (‘we played lots of poker’) and Stanley Baker.

Her first notable film part was I’m All Right Jack (1959), where she played Cynthia, daughter of Fred Kite, the bolshie shop steward and the role which made Peter Sellers a star.

The Boulting brothers were struggling to cast Cynthia, and Fraser was intially rejected by the directors.

She later recalled: ‘He couldn’t be bothered because it was lunchtime,’ she later recalled, ‘but he said: ‘Have make-up do something with her and I’ll see her after lunch. 

‘So they put me in a different bra and a very tight sweater with a tight belt and a long wig and eyelashes so I couldn’t even recognise myself. Then I did the audition for John and I got the part.’  

The film, made in black and white, became the biggest box office hit of the year.


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