Hello by Leslie Phillips

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Hello by Leslie Phillips

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Category: Autobiography
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: The long-awaited autobiography of one of the theatre's most enduring stars makes an enjoyable, relaxing and enlightening read. If you've any interest in stage, screen, radio or television after the Second World War you'll find it an enjoyable read.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 344 Date: August 2006
Publisher: Orion
ISBN: 0752868896

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I did wonder if I was going to like this book. I'm never that keen on autobiographies as they inevitably put the best possible spin on a life and rarely tell the whole truth. I discovered too that Leslie Phillips was 'helped' in the writing of the book by Peter Burden who assisted John Francome and Jenny Pitman with their novels. That filled me with less than enthusiasm. Then, as I started reading, I realised that there was quite an emphasis on sex and I didn't particularly want to wade through a recounting of someone's sexual exploits.

What kept me reading was a memory from the nineteen-sixties and early seventies - a particularly dark time in my life - when one of the radio programmes which lightened my weekend was The Navy Lark, in which Leslie Phillips starred. I read on and discovered a quite delightful book.

Born in 1924, Leslie Phillips has been in radio, theatre, television and cinema for seven decades, since his mother rather shyly took him to The Italia Conti Stage School. He was just settling into theatre work when war broke out and he became a Lieutenant in the Durham Light Infantry. Invalided out because of partial paralysis it was his intention to get a 'proper' job rather than return to acting, but jobs were in short supply and he found himself back in the theatre.

The name Leslie Phillips will be familiar to any fan of the Carry On films or the Doctor in... series, but this book is far more than just a story of a life in comedy. Phillips was born into poverty which was made worse when his father died when Leslie was only ten years old. Taking the young Leslie to the Italia Conti School seems an extraordinary step for his mother to have taken in the circumstances. The parts which Phillips has played would lead you to think that he came from a moneyed and privileged background: the truth pays tribute to his acting skills. It was a lingering memory of his childhood which led Phillips to accept most work that came his way - he's appeared in more than 110 films, in addition to his other work.

The book is based around people rather than the parts Phillips has played and over the years he's known, worked and played with most of the greats of the acting world. Back in 1937 he worked with Dame Anna Neagle and in 2006 he appeared with Peter O'Toole. In between he's starred with Laurence Olivier and Angelina Jolie. There is the occasional scurrilous story but for the most part he seems to be the sort of man who finds something good to say about most people. If anything is said to someone's discredit then it's backed up with facts. This might sound rather dull, but the reverse is true: it's actually very relaxing to read someone who tries to look on the best side of life.

The book takes a broadly chronological order and is very easy to follow, despite not being over-burdened with dates. There are few references to events outside the theatre or Phillips' own life. Whilst reading I had the feeling of being in a bubble which cocooned me from the outside world. Not everything is pleasant, naturally. At the age of 82 Phillips has seen many friends die. The loss of Denholm Elliott saddened him deeply and he was obviously shocked by the sudden death of Leonard Rossiter. What is clear, though, is that whatever the situation, the show must go on. Theatrical commitments prevented his attending the funeral of his first wife (from whom he was divorced) and mother of his four children.

I think the part which I found most fascinating was when most actors would have seen their careers winding down, but Phillips completely changed tack. He was no longer the comedy actor known best for his catch phrases 'Hel- lo" and "Ding dong", but a serious actor undertaking classical parts. What came through to me was how hard-working he is and always has been.

If you've any interest in the world of theatre, television and radio in the period after the Second World War then I think that you'll find this book fascinating. It's well-written and very easy reading. As for the sexual content, I did find it a little much. It's not that I'm a prude, but I did think that there were details there which a gentleman wouldn't repeat and it was probably the only thing which disappointed me about the book.

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Buy Hello by Leslie Phillips at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Hello by Leslie Phillips at Amazon.com.


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Jill said:

Blinkety heck, you're an evil woman! What details?! Gorsh. I'm dying to know now.

Sue replied:

It's all in the book!

Poppies123 said:

A thoroughly enjoyable read. Once I started reading it I coudn't put it down. I found the whole book highly entertaining and it gave a great insight to his life. I enjoy reading biographies and some are quite disappointing i.e.( Mae West, It Ain't No Sin) Quite a few laugh out loud moments. I would highly recommend it.

s.evans176 said:

Being a founder member of The Navy Lark Appreciation Society I have waited a long time for Leslie to produce a book on his exploits I have Jon Pertwees and Ronnie Barkers biographies and Pertwees does touch on the Navy Lark, reading Leslies book he has had a full and eventful life from his humble back ground in London very sad in places and lucky to be alive in others but I did hope that he would have written less about his sexual events and holiday home and more about life in the Navy Lark, thirteen years it ran two hundred and fifty episodes and only a few lines in the book I even went out and bought the CD version in case I had missed some thing but there is even less in that --- PLEASE don\'t get me wrong I have always liked Leslie as the loveable silly arse from the early 1950\'s when I used to record the Navy Lark while we sat having Sunday dinner and I have read, listened to or seen what ever I can find on the cast of the Navy Lark he surely should have been nominated for best supporting actor at the Oscars, the book was interesting but to me disappointing but this will not stop me admiring Sub Lieutenant L Phillis RN retired sorry not retired at eighty three a workaholic still going strong.