Leslie Phillips takes Saga Magazine's Grown-up Test

Caroline Rees

We test veteran comedy actor Leslie Phillips, born April 1924, on how old he is 'in is head'.

Marriage, third time around?

I couldn’t be happier. It’s done me a great deal of good after what happened to my last wife [Angela Scoular, who committed suicide in 2011]. I’ve known Zara for ten years. She was a friend of Angie’s.

Misconception about you?

That I’m a lighthearted, flamboyant fella because I did a lot of comedy. I only made three of the original Carry On films. Then I completely changed my life and went into Shakespeare at Stratford.

Has ‘Ding Dong’ been lucrative?

No. It is just one of those English expressions, but people give me credit for it. I’ve never used it personally. I used it once on film and it stuck. And ‘Hello’ has stuck. I can’t walk down the street without somebody wanting an autograph, but I don’t mind.

Which matters most: the moustache or the voice?

I don’t know where my voice came from because I was born Cockney. But I love the fact that my diction is clear. Directors often wanted me to wear a moustache but I hated the spirit gum used to stick it on – it burns – so I grew one and it became absolutely me.

Turning 90? I’m finding it interesting.

I’d like to write another book and call it Life Begins at 90. I’m not thinking about dying. But you can, especially after tragedies. When Angie died, it was hell and I had a job to recover.

Silliest thing you’ve done?

I’m pretty sensible. I do charity appearances and don’t charge anything. You could call that silly.

Health regime?

I don’t drink or smoke. I have a glass of champagne on occasion. People think you’re bound to have dementia at my age. Well, I don’t forget people and I’ve always been busy. I’ve kept alive that way.

Casanova or gent?

Certainly not Casanova. In films when women had to take off their clothes, I’d give them my coat to cover up.

Twitter?

Twitchit? Twitter! I’ve got a following, but my agent looks after it. I’m amazed how the audience still show interest. It’s lovely – except I have to answer the letters. I feel guilty if I don’t reply.

Cats, cars or Spurs?

Cats were very important, but I’m not having any more because I love feeding the birds. I’ve had lovely cars, but I don’t drive now. I still follow Spurs. But they disappointed me when they didn’t get into Europe and sold Gareth Bale.

What would your 16-year-old self think?

I didn’t realise I would do so well. I gave an excellent education to all my children, and it was daring of me to break the run of comedies and go to Stratford, which opened the door to more interesting work.

Biggest regret?

That work gets less and less. I’m always looking to do something, but the insurance brigade are nervous when you pass 70 and think you’re going to collapse in the middle. But I go to the church round the corner and read pieces from the Bible, which I enjoy.

Town or country?

I’m very much a Londoner. Everybody was urging me to stay in Hollywood when I did the film Les Girls in the Fifties. But I couldn’t wait to get back to London. I’ve been in my house 50 years.

Bus or taxi?

Both. And the tube is quick, but I often go on the bus to wander round London.

Favourite tunes?

I like classical music. I often sleep in and put on Classic FM. I can’t always name the pieces but I can hum along.

What makes you grumpy?

Loneliness. The worst thing I can think of is somebody saying, ‘You ought to go into a home.’

What makes you laugh?

I haven’t roared my head off lately. I tend to laugh at things from the past – the old comedians.

Grandchildren?

Grandchildren and great-grandchildren number in the 30s now. I’ve forgotten their names. The phone rings every few weeks with one saying they’re pregnant.

Childhood nickname?

Blondie. My hair has slightly changed colour but I’ve still got plenty.

Ideal dinner guests?

Anthony Hopkins. I did a film with him and we got on well. And Simon Schama because I’d love to meet him. I got very interested in the programmes he did about Jewish life. When I was young, my best friend was Jewish and we were beaten up outside school.

Hidden talent?

I’m good around the house. I like keeping the place in order.

Current TV favourite?

Strictly Come Dancing. I would like to have been on it at one time. I can still dance but I would find it tricky to keep up.

Most proud of?

I’ve had probably the longest term of work in the country. I was ten when I started as an actor. Who else has been around that long, still able to work? And get married!

Verdict

Lumme, Leslie, what a life! And we’ve loved you throughout, from your comedies, through The Navy Lark to your classic roles. Though we’re going to put you at 77, your age when you appeared in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and began voicing the Sorting Hat in Harry Potter films, when a younger audience had the joy of discovering you.

Read Leslie Phillips' IMBd here



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