Carry On star Leslie Phillips dies aged 98 peacefully in his sleep

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 voice of the Sorting Hat.

Phillips, the star of 150 films, suffered a life-threatening stroke in 2015 and has spent the last few years recovering at home.

He remembered being asked to say his catchphrases “millions of times” by fans spanning generations.

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

However, for a comedian, his personal life had been marred by tragedy.

His ex-wife Penny Bartley, with whom he maintained contact even after their divorce, was killed in a house fire in 1981.

The suicide of his second wife, former Bond girl Angela Scoular, rocked him in 2011.

But he found love again and married his 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.’

Before his stroke, Tottenham-born film legend Leslie was still working, voicing the Sorting Hat in the Harry Potter films and appearing in several British TV dramas such as the Ruth Rendell Mysteries, Revolver, and Agatha Christie’s Marple.

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

He is thought to be the only actor still alive who worked at Pinewood Studios during its first week of operation in 1936.

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

However, his death, nearly two years after Barbara Windsor’s, leaves only Jim Dale from the Carry On films that catapulted him to stardom.

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

His famous ‘I say, Ding Dong’ catchphrase as character Jack Bell in Carry On Nurse ensured his place in comedy history.

He appeared in four Carry On films, including the original Carry On Nurse, Carry On Teacher, and Carry On Constable.

He may have feared typecasting and informed producer Peter Rogers that he was hesitant to return to the franchise.

However, he starred in Carry On Columbus in 1992, thrilling fans of the original film series.

Later, he revealed that he enjoyed being “idolize[d]” by the public, though he wished that people would “look beyond the lecherous buffoon I portrayed.”

In one of his final interviews with The Chap in 2020, he revealed that his catchphrases had followed him throughout his entire life, with people constantly requesting him to utter them.

Regarding the frequency, he stated, “Millions of times, and I couldn’t even count my other catchphrase, “Ding Dong!”

“However, I have had a remarkable career and am very fortunate.” A lesson I have learned is that I wish I had spent more time with my children as they were growing up.

He was awarded the OBE in 1998 and the CBE in 2008 for his contributions to drama.

His surviving family members are Zara and his four children.