Leslie Phillips: master of raffish comedy and immortal catchphrases
He punched Gene Kelly in Hollywood and played Falstaff at the RSC, but he will be best remembered as a posh, blazer-wearing cad in films and on TV – and for an innuendo-laden greeting
Leslie Phillips once said that his memoirs might be called From Bed to Worse, in honour of his raffish characters getting into scrapes because of their philandering ways. Or possibly From Leer to Lear, because of his transition to national treasure and Shakespearean character actor in the 1980s and 90s. (In fact, he played Falstaff for the Royal Shakespeare Company.) But, in the end, there was no dispute about what it should be called: Hello. That was his outrageously lascivious catchphrase pronounced almost as “herl–air–oh”, part of the ladies’ man image in the Doctor movies and two or three of the Carry On films that made his name in the world of British light comedy in the 60s. The image became a bit older and seedier in the TV sitcom Casanova ’73, when he was the womaniser with slightly longer hair and a more dishevelled manner.
“Hello” is what he would say on being introduced to a pretty nurse, or any demure young woman who would, by and large, be wryly amused rather than outraged by his flirtiness. Or possibly, “Hello, hello.” The word would sometimes be accessorised by the rather more obviously lecherous, and yet almost innocently ridiculous phrase: “Ding, dong!” And sometimes, as if stupefied by sexual opportunity, he would use the now almost impossibly quaint expression: “Lumme!”