Leslie Phillips, Debonair British Actor of ‘Carry On,’ ‘Doctor’ and ‘Harry Potter’ Films, Dies at 98

Leslie Phillips, Debonair British Actor of ‘Carry On,’ ‘Doctor’ and ‘Harry Potter’ Films, Dies at 98

Leslie Phillips, the British actor and Casanova of the Carry On movies who turned to serious supporting roles in Out of Africa and Empire of the Sun before voicing The Sorting Hat in the Harry Potter franchise, has died. He was 98.

Agent Jonathan Lloyd reported to the BBC that

Phillips passed away peacefully in his sleep Monday.

With an eye for the ladies onscreen and off, the sophisticated Phillips appeared in more than 170 roles across screens big and small, portraying policemen, military officials, reverends and judges. But for audiences in the 1950s and ’60s, he was synonymous with the low-budget Carry On and Doctor series (he took over from Dirk Bogarde in the latter).

In the ’80s, he distanced himself from his playboy roles to lend gravitas to Sydney Pollack’s Oscar best picture winner Out of Africa (1985) and to Steven Spielberg‘s Empire of the Sun (1987).

He also appeared opposite Peter O’Toole in King Ralph (1991), then received late-career praise and his lone career BAFTA nomination for his turn as Ian, a longtime friend of O’Toole’s character, in Venus (2006).

His film resume also included Anthony Hopkins’ directorial debut, August (1996), the Bruce Willis-starring The Jackal (1997), Saving Grace (2000), Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) and Color Me Kubrick (2005).

Most Harry Potter fans don’t know his name, but they will recognize his voice as The Sorting Hat. This magical Hogwarts headwear determines which school the new students will attend.

The hat appeared in the first two installments, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001) and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002), and in the last one, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2 (2011).

The Carry On franchise was a huge success in Britain, full of double entendres, innuendo and farce spanning 31 films. Phillips and his pencil-thin mustache appeared in four of them: Carry on Nurse (1959), Carry on Teacher (1959), Carry on Constable (1960) and Carry on Columbus (1992).

His “Ding Dong” catchphrase first appeared in Carry On Nurse ,. Jack Bell, his patient, was looking at a beautiful nurse (Shirley Eaton).

In his 2012 autobiography, Hello, Phillips wrote that “the first time I’d uttered those two words I would never have believed that I would become so inescapably linked with them in the minds of the public for the next 50 years and still counting. I still get Ding-Donged walking through London streets every day.

His memoir title was derived from his other catchphrase, a long, seductive “Helloooo”, with which he welcomed women. He revealed that the key to its delivery was to “breathe it out .”


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From right: Leslie Phillips, Gene Kelly and Jacques Bergerac in 1957’s ‘Les Girls.’

Courtesy Everett Collection

Phillips’ break into his short-lived Hollywood career came fortuitously after he appeared opposite husband and wife Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna in The Smallest Show on Earth (1957).

Travers had been signed to appear in the MGM drama The Seventh Sin, and during a lunch break in the studio canteen with McKenna, he overhead British actress Kay Kendall and famed director George Cukor discussing their production of the musical Les Girls (1957).

“She said, “Who is that funny British actor with blonde hair?” ‘” McKenna recalled in the 2013 documentary Hello — A Portrait of Leslie Phillips. “And I’m afraid, I shouted across, “Leslie Phillips!” ‘”

Phillips was cast as Sir Gerald Wren in the Gene Kelly-starring Les Girls . However, Cukor’s attitude was not appreciated by him and he was called an “absolute bastard .”


Mitzi Gaynor, the female lead, noted that Cukor “a habit of smacking other people if they didn’t like him,” and Phillips approached Cukor after one such incident and said “I say George, must you?” Cukor’s dismissive response only made Phillips more angry.

Spielberg was a more rewarding experience. Phillips described him as “bloody miraculous to me”. In Empire of the Sun ,, he played an obese prisoner of war. The director asked him to be a little thinner to suit the demanding role.

“I went on a very fast diet. I didn’t see him again until about six weeks later. When I walked in, I was more than two stone lighter!” he said on the talk show Wogan in 1990.

Spielberg’s initial response was “Leslie, where did your go ?”


Leslie Samuel Phillips was born on April 20, 1924, in Tottenham, England. His poor upbringing was stark contrast to his upper-class screen persona.

His father, Frederick, manufactured cookers in Edmonton, London but died when Leslie was 10. The family sold their small home and moved into rented flats.

“We were quickly in financial trouble, so we all found work,” he told The Guardian in 2009. “Because of my school plays, my mother Cecelia answered an advertisement to me for the Italia Conti stage school. By the age of 14, I was earning more than the lot of them.”

Cecelia was always there to see him perform, always with a paid ticket. When she died in 1983 at age 92, shortly after being mugged at a bus stop by teenagers, Phillips discovered that she had secretly scrapbooked newspaper clippings and photos of his career.

As a child, Phillips doffed his cap at a passing parade in Zoltan Korda’s The Four Feathers (1939) — the first of his 38 gigs in Pinewood Studios — then was a street urchin in Michael Powell’s The Thief of Bagdad (1940) and an audience member in Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s masterful The Red Shoes (1948).

The raffish Phillips also showed up in bit part as a controller in David Lean’s The Sound Barrier (1952), as a sailor in Basil Dearden’s film noir Pool of London (1951), as a major in John Guillermin’s I Was Monty’s Double (1958) and as an officer in The Longest Day (1962).

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Leslie Phillips (left) and Peter O’Toole in 2006’s ‘Venus’

Miramax/courtesy Everett Collection

The Doctor franchise, developed from a series of comic novels written by surgeon Richard Gordon and spanning seven films, brought him further recognition, with Phillips appearing in Doctor in Love (1960), Doctor in Clover (1966) and Doctor in Trouble (1970).

In 1948, he married actress Penelope Bartley. They had four children but divorced in 1965 after he started an affair with actress Caroline Mortimer.

He began a relationship with James Bond actress Angela Scoular, whom he had first met on the set of Doctor in Trouble, in 1977. (Scoular shared a bath with David Niven in 1967’s Casino Royale, then wrote her room number in lipstick on George Lazenby’s thigh in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service).

After Bartley suffered a stroke in 1981, Phillips and Scoular helped take care of his ex-wife, but she died in a house fire that year while Phillips was performing in Australia. He decided to continue his tour, which he regretted deeply.

The following year, he married Scoular — 21 years his junior — and raised her son, Daniel, from a previous marriage. She battled depression, anorexia nervosa and colorectal cancer before dying in 2011 at age 65 after ingesting drain cleaner.

In December 2013, at age 89, Phillips married his third wife, Zara Carr, then 50, a Turkish social worker.

His television appearances included work in The Adventures of Robin Hood (starring Richard Greene) in the 1950s, Our Man at St. Mark’s in the ’60s and, as womanizer Henry Newhouse, Casanova ’73 in the ’70s.

On radio for the national broadcaster, he was one of the three leads in the long-running serial The Navy Lark, set onboard a British Royal frigate; he appeared in the 1959 film adaptation as well.

Phillips performed for the Royal Shakespeare Company as Falstaff in The Merry Wives of Windsor in 1996. Five decades earlier, he served as the stagehand for a 1942 revival of George Bernard Shaw’s Doctor’s Dilemma, starring Vivien Leigh.

” “She was unquestionably the most extraordinary actress I have ever worked with,” he wrote in his autobiography about the actress.

“She was often compared to a piece Dresden porcelain. A comparison she didn’t like, I gather. But there was something about her that was inexplicably delicate and, as it was, stunningly beautiful, but also breakable .”

He remembered Laurence Olivier, her handsome husband, sitting in his Fleet Air Arm officer uniform and watching her from the air.

Phillips was a Lance-Bombardier in the Royal Artillery during World War II. He remembered that “the Blitz went all the time and I was a Firewatcher in Charing Cross Road after I left the theater because we did more matinees while the bombing was on .”

He was transferred as a second lieutenant into the Durham Light Infantry, but shortly before the 1944 D-Day landing, he was declared unfit for service, diagnosed with a nerve illness that could cause paralysis.

“What I learned during the war was that people got used to even the bombs,” he said in 2020, “and it was unbelievable how people just got on with each other and there was a great sense of togetherness.”

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