Phillips has been part of films since playing uncredited roles in the 1930s. He is known for the catchphrases “Ding-Dong” and “He-llo.” On top of his work in movies, he was also known to radio listeners and theatregoers. Phillips was born in Tottenham, London. His father worked at Glover and Main and the family moved to Chingford in 1931. Phillips’ father died at the age of 44 in 1935 as his weak heart couldn’t take the conditions of his factory work.
After the death of his father, Phillips’ mother sent Leslie to the Italia Conti Academy where he studied drama and managed to lose his cockney accent. He left school in 1938 at the age of 14. Around this time, Phillips made his stage debut in a 1937 production of Peter Pan starring Anna Neagle at the London Palladium. Phillips also started making uncredited appearances on-screen in such films as The Citadel (1938), Climbing High (1938), The Mikado (1939), The Four Feathers (1939), The Proud Valley (1940), and The Thief of Bagdad (1940).
At the start of WWII, Phillips worked in the West End for Theatre Royal Haymarket. He was then called up for service in the British Army in 1942. Phillips managed to rise to the rank of lance-bombardier in the Royal Artillery. He was then commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Royal Artillery in 1943. Towards the end of the war, Phillips was diagnosed with a neurological condition which caused partial paralysis and had to be sent to a facility for treatment.
After WWII, Phillips returned to theatre work and began doing television as well. He was still making uncredited and extra film work in such movies as The Magic Bow (1946), Anna Karenina (1948), and The Red Shoes (1948). While his roles were still minor and occasionally uncredited, they did start getting bigger. He has a small but notable role in the classic film noir Pool of London (1951) where he plays Renée Anderson’s insensitive boyfriend and fellow sailor of Bonar Colleano and Earl Cameron.
His film work continued with small roles in Value for Money (1955), The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1957), Brothers in Law (1957), and The Smallest Show on Earth (1957). He started getting more noticed with his role as Kay Kendall’s mate in Les Girls (1957). Despite the possibility of going to Hollywood, Phillips decided to remain in England in order to mainly work in the theatre and not become “the poor man’s David Niven.”
Phillips then starred in his first movie in the Carry On film series with Carry on Nurse (1959). He followed this up with Carry on Teacher (1959) and Carry on Constable (1960). Afterwards, Phillips requested no more Carry On movies. Around this time, Phillips was also known for his radio work in the BBC’s radio sitcom The Navy Lark. He managed to star in the 1959 film version of the show and was the only radio cast member to do so.
Phillips’ film work continued with Very Important Person (1961), In the Doghouse (1961), Crooks Anonymous (1962), The Longest Day (1962), The Fast Lady (1962), and Father Came Too! (1964). Phillips was now playing leading roles and being frequently paired on-screen with James Robertson Justice and Stanley Baxter as co-stars. Phillips then stuck to work in the theatre and television as he wanted to move away from being typecast as most of his film roles had him playing upper-class snobs.
Phillips comfortably moved into character roles with such big productions as Out of Africa (1985) and Empire of the Sun (1987). Among his later work was even being the British voice of Gex the Gecko in the video game Gex: Enter the Gecko (1998). Voice work became one of Phillips’ main acting credits which included becoming the voice of the Sorting Hat in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001), Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002), and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011).
Towards the end of his film career, Phillips played himself in Millions (2004) and was great as Peter O’Toole’s friend who he constantly fights with in Venus (2006). Phillips was also a guest-star on many British TV shows towards the end of his life. During his later years, he also penned his autobiography Hello in 2006 and produced TV’s Living the Life (2011-2013).
In Phillips’ personal life, he was married three times with his last marriage lasting from 2013 until his death. He was previously married to Penelope Bartley from 1948 until 1965 (divorced) and then actress Angela Scoular from 1982 until 2011 (her death). Phillips was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 1998 Birthday Honours and was promoted to Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2008 New Year Honours. Healthwise, Phillips suffered two strokes two months apart at the age of 90 and passed away at the age of 98 after a long illness on November 7, 2022.