leonard rossiter biog.




British Actor
(1926-84)




rossiter




Date of Birth
21 October 1926, Liverpool, England, UK

Date of Death
5 October 1984, London, England, UK (heart attack)



Biography:

  • Billy Liar | King John | Rising Damp Movie
  • Rising Damp - The Complete Series Plus The Movie
  • Trivia | Galton and Simpson Playhouse
  • British Dvd War Films | Search Site
  • Smartphone Page Added with Scans of Leonard Rossiter Bio. Book


    Has there been anyone funnier on British TV than Leonard Rossiter? I'm finding it hard to think of anyone. His iconic status is imprinted on the British mindset mainly because of two roles: Rigsby in Rising Damp (1974-8) and, to a lesser extent, as Reginald Perrin in the Rise and Fall of ... (1976-9). But it is Rigsby that really makes you laugh out loud no matter how your feeling. The sleazy, tight landlord, the moth eaten cardigan, the unrequited lust for Miss Jones ... we know every nuance of the definative slum landlord, thanks mainly to ITV constantly repeating the series over its various channels.

    The two roles that made him a household name came late in his career. He started acting professionally rather late, at 27, and was pushing 50 by the time Rigsby came his way. A perfectionist, he gave everything to the role and expected the best of everyone around him. Perhaps he worked too hard for though a keen sportman who kept himself fit, he wouldn't see his 58th birthday, dying of a heart attack in his dressing room during a performance of Joe Orton's play Looti.

    His legacy is laughter. Full on laugh-til-you-cry laughter.

    How many of us will leave such wealth?

    ~ Paul Page, Lenin

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    rossiter

    Despite being linked in perpetuity to the two comic creations mentioned above, Rossiter himself disliked being pigeon-holed as a 'comic actor'. But it is difficult now to see him in a drama or a film and not chuckle at the though of Rigsby. Such is the way when you leave ITV with their greatest creation!

    On leaving school and unable to afford to go to university he took a job in an insurance company. At 27 he started gaining stage experience in repertory with companies in Preston and Wolverhampton, before moving onto the Bristol Old Vic. He made his small screen debut in the television play Story Conference for the BBC in 1956. He was 32.

    Between that and a short-lived regular role in the BBC's Z Cars were a few small roles in now long-forgotten dramas. The same year saw his first leading television role as a Yorkshire miner suffering a mental breakdown in The Buried Man.

    But whatever he felt, his almost rubber like features were made for comedy. Appearing in a couple of Steptoe and Son episodes as well as some satirical sketches among others were really the starting point for the comic path that lay ahead. He also had small parts in several important films: A Kind of Loving (1962), Billy Liar (1963), and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).

    He had TV lead roles in Semi-Detached (1966), Death is a Good Living (1966), Drums Along the Avon (1967), Thick as Thieves (1972), and If There Weren't Any Blacks You'd Have to Invent Them (1974).

    All that had gone before was but a preperation for what came next: writer Eric Chappell's Rising Damp (1974-8). Hitherto, Rossiter had an aversion to long-running series and had avoided them like the plague. The part of Rigsby proved irresistible however, and he stayed for four years. Made for ITV, to this day it is by far the most successful and enduring of the company's comedies (ITV comedy is more noted for producing more turkeys than a Bernard Matthews's farm than successful comedies - hence the reason they constantly repeat it 30 years later). Though Rossiter was the most important component, the supporting cast headed by the late Richard Beckinsale (who Rossiter admired and had alot of time for), the writing, the music, the directing, all added to its success. Whenever you watch it you end up scratching the fleas you swear you got from Rigsby's cat Vienna - that's how much you believe you've been in company with the ultimate slum landlord. Incidentally, how many versions of Vienna have you spotted? I've spotted two entirely different tuxedo cats masking as the Austrian capital but I digress.

    Then came The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin (BBC, 1976-79) was a middle-aged executive's mid-life crisis so painfully funny because it was so painfully real. Rossiter's Perrin ensued his place up with the Comedy Gods of Tony Hancock and Morecambe & Wise. He was so much Perrin that it is impossible now to think just who else could have played that part.

    Both Rising Damp and Rise and Fall ... were instantly popular with the public and on the back of them he made 10 lucractive and still funny Cinzano commercials with Joan Collins. He continued sporadically to appear in films. As well as the movie version of Rising Damp (not that funny as invariably when a sitcom is taken from its 30 minute time slot and stretched to 90 minutes it loses it's identity and raison d'etre) he appeared in Barry Lyndon (1975), Britannia Hospital (1982) and the lead role in the Galton/Simpson scripted short film Le Petomane (1979).

    His popularity was at its zenith by the late 1970s. The parts that came from there on in were not quite as good (how could they be?). He made some decent straight plays for TV and two further comedy series, ITV's The Losers (ITV, 1978), with Rossiter as a wrestling promoter (so-so), and Tripper's Day (again ITV, 1984), about a supermarket manger (ok). Both were nowhere as successful of his earlier sitcom work.

    On 5 October 1984, he died from a massive heart attack. Two plays were transmitted posthumously - Shakespeare's The Life and Death of King John (1984) as part of the BBC's project of televising all of the Bard's plays (1978-85 and I highly recommend it if only for Rossiter's magnificent performance) and The Moon Over Soho (BBC, 1985), in which he played the editor of a sleazy film magazine.

    Both served to reinforce just how great an actor he was.

    ~ Paul Page, Lenin


  • Biog. | Galton and Simpson Playhouse
  • Billy Liar | King John | Rising Damp Movie
  • Rising Damp - The Complete Series Plus The Movie
  • British Dvd War Films | Search Site
  • Smartphone Page Added with Scans of Leonard Rossiter Bio. Book
  • Top of Page



    rossiter


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    Trivia:

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    Height 5' 9"

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    Married twice. Both actresses, First Josephine Tewson (1959 - 1961) ; second Gillian Raine (1964 - his death), 1 child

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    Known as a difficult actor to work with by some. In other words he was a perfectionist who didn't suffer fools gladly

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    Left-handed

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    Played squash, tennis and football

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  • Biog. | Trivia
  • Billy Liar | King John | Rising Damp Movie
  • Rising Damp - The Complete Series Plus The Movie
  • Galton and Simpson Playhouse
  • British Dvd War Films | Search Site
  • Smartphone Page Added with Scans of Leonard Rossiter Bio. Book
  • Top of Page


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