Leonard Rossiter

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Leonard Rossiter (21 October 1926 – 5 October 1984) was an English actor with careers in film, television and theatre. He is known for his roles as Rupert Rigsby, in the British comedy television series Rising Damp (1974–78), and Reginald Iolanthe Perrin, in The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin (1976–79), as well as a series of Cinzano commercials (1978–1983), with Joan Collins.


Early life and stage work

Rossiter was born in Liverpool, the son of Elizabeth (née Howell) and John Rossiter.[1] He lived over the barber shop which had been owned by his father. He was educated at Liverpool Collegiate Grammar School (1939–1946)[2] and it was his ambition to go to university to read modern languages and become a teacher. Tragically his father, a voluntary ambulanceman during the Second World War, was killed in an air-raid in 1942 and so, having his mother to support, Rossiter was unable to afford to take up the place he had been offered by Liverpool University.[3] Having been demobbed (he served as a sergeant in the Army Education Corps and spent much of his National Service in Germany writing letters home for soldiers), he went to work as an insurance clerk in the claims and accidents department of the Commercial Union Insurance Company for six years. He began acting when he picked up a girlfriend from her amateur dramatics class and was challenged to do better when he criticised her and her fellow performers. He joined the Wavertree Community Centre Drama Group and made his first appearance with the Adastra Players in Terence Rattigan's Flare Path. The local critic said he "was particularly outstanding, his one fault being a tendency to speak too fast on one or two occasions." It was a fault that Rossiter was wisely never to correct.[4] He gave up his job in insurance to enrol in Preston repertory theatre and turned professional as an actor at the comparatively late age of 27. He made his stage debut in Joseph Colton's The Gay Dog in Preston, 6 September 1954, later becoming assistant stage manager. He went on to Wolverhampton and Salisbury Repertory Companies.

In his first nineteen months in the business he played some 75 roles. He said later: "There was no time to discuss the finer points of interpretation. You studied the part, you did it and then you studied the next part. I developed a frightening capacity for learning lines. The plays became like elastoplast, which you just stuck on and then tore off. It was the perfect preparation for rehearsing situation comedy on television at the rate of one episode a week." Those who worked with Rossiter agree that he was a perfectionist, an actor of great energy and enthusiasm and hard work, who expected 100% dedication to the job in hand not only from himself, but from others. Annette Crosbie, who appeared with him in Hooray Daisy! at the Theatre Royal, Bristol in 1959 recalled; " I find it hard to think of Len ever being young and daft. He had no patience with any frivolity when I knew him. All his energy, concentration and passion went into his work and he could be a frightening actor to work with because of this. You felt it as a kind of pressure on you all the time. And yet I remember us both playing hide-and-seek with a kitten backstage... and finding Len at any vast charity gala was like finding a lifebelt."[5]

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