English character actor 1926 - 1984
"With live comedy there's an adrenalin rush, and Len used to go into overdrive..." - Tim Preece
Leonard Rossiter was one of those people who could make you laugh just by standing there. His talents went beyond mere acting and mere comedy, he was a powerhouse of wit and ingenuity, whether on the stage, radio or screen. His characters are known and loved by millions: Rigsby in Rising Damp, Reggie Perrin in The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, the delightful Monsieur Pujot for Le Petomane fame, and many others beside.
Born on 21st October 1926 in Liverpool, he began to demonstrate his versatility at an early age, becoming both an excellent linguist and great sportsman, captaining both the football and cricket teams. He was also a member of the school drama society. Following his father's death in 1942, Leonard joined up, was assigned to the Education Corps, and promoted to Sergeant almost immediately.
Demobbed in 1948, he was offered a place at Liverpool University to read languages, but decided instead to support his mother. He obtained a post as a clerk in Commercial Union assurance company, a job he hated for 6½ years.
He actually got back to acting after seeing his girlfriend rehearsing with her drama group. After his criticism of them all, he was challenged to do better. He joined a group who rehearsed in nearby Penny Lane, but found this was not enough, and at one time was a member of five drama societies. His first public performance (in Rattigan's play Flare Path) received good reviews, and he was set.
Between 1949 and 1954 he appeared in around forty plays, worked to lose his Scouse accent and finally quit his day job to join the Preston Repertory Company in 1954. he loved the theatre, and was never short of work. Then, in 1956, television called, and he landed his first bit part in a television play called Story Conference, and in no time at all, he was in the same position he had been in earlier, forced to make a decision to change career. Soon, he was a known face on both television and cinema screens, including some truly great films: A Kind of Loving, Billy Liar, King Rat and 2001: A Space Odyssey.
It was television which provided him with two of his greatest roles, in the magnificent and timeless comedy series Rising Damp (as the barely-functional Rigsby), and as the life-changing tragi-comic hero of The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin. On the silver screen, I certainly remember him best as the flatulent artiste Monsieur Pujot in Le Petomane. Despite being a short film, it is truly a comic classic. His long-time friend, the Perrin co-actor John Barron said of this film "It is hard to imagine anyone other than [Leonard] playing the role".
In 1980 he also began writing, and although he was no comic Hemingway, wrote many funny and thoughtful books. His Devil's Bedside Book - A Cynic's Survival Guide is a modern-day Devil's Dictionary, with cynical definitions for everyday terms and phrases, and not a few original maxims of his own.
His death came as a shock to many. He died on 5th October 1984, in his theatre dressing room, of a massive heart attack. He is now known to have suffered from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscles.
He was, and is, sadly missed. Millions remember his dedication, his quick-fire, straight-faced delivery, his versatility in both straight and comic roles, and his devotion to charity work for the Malcolm Sargent Cancer Fund For Children.
Water (1985) playing Sir Malcom Leveridge
The Trail of the Pink Panther (1982) playing Inspector Quinlan
Britannia Hospital (1982) playing Vincent Potter
Rising Damp (1980) playing Rigsby
Le Petomane (1979) playing Monsieur Joseph Pujol
Waterloo Bridge Handicap (1978) playing Charles Barker
Voyage of the Damned (1976) playing Commander Udo von Bonin
The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976) playing Inspector Quinlan
Barry Lyndon (1975) playing Captain Quin
Luther (1973) playing Brother Weinand
Otley (1969) playing Johnson
Diamonds for Breakfast (1968) playing Inspector Dudley
Oliver! (1968) playing Mr. Sowerberry
Deadfall (1968) playing Fillmore
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) playing Smyslov
Deadlier Than the Male (1966) playing Bridgenorth
The Whisperers (1966) playing National Assistance Officer
The Wrong Box (1966) playing Vyvyan Alistair Montague
The Witches (1966) playing Dr. Wallis
Hotel Paradiso (1966) playing Inspector
King Rat (1965) playing Major McCoy
A Jolly Bad Fellow (1964) playing Dr. Fisher
Billy Liar (1963) playing Shadrack
This Sporting Life (1963) playing Phillips
A Kind of Loving (1962) playing Whymper
The Life and Death of King John (1984) playing King John
Tripper's Day (1984) TV Series playing Norman Tripper
The Losers (1978) TV Series playing Sydney Foskett
Machinegunner (1976) playing Cyril Dugdale
The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin (1976) TV Series playing Reginald Iolanthe Perrin
Rising Damp (1974) TV Series playing Rupert Rigsby
Mutzen Ab! (1974) playing Lewis
The Magistrate (1972) playing Colonel Lukyn
The Year of the Sex Olympics (1968) playing Co-ordinator Ugo Priest
The Fanatics (1968) playing Voltaire
Taste (1967) playing Mike Schofield
The Devil's Eggshell (1966) playing Prime Minister
Doctor Knock (1966) playing Dr. Knock
BBC 3 (1965) TV Series
Justin Thyme (1964) playing Daudet
Steptoe and Son (1962)
The Avengers (1961)
Z Cars (1962)