Rossiter as Reggie Perrin
21 October 1926|
Wavertree, Liverpool, England, UK
|Died||5 October 1984
Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London
|Spouse(s)||Josephine Tewson (1959–61; divorced)
Gillian Raine (1964–84; his death); 1 child
Leonard Rossiter (21 October 1926 – 5 October 1984) was an English actor, best known for his roles as Rupert Rigsby, in the British comedy television series and film Rising Damp (1974–80), and Reginald Perrin, in The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin (1976–79). These roles followed a long and distinguished career in the theatre.
Early life and stage work 
Rossiter was born in Liverpool, the son of Elizabeth (née Howell) and John Rossiter. He lived over the barber shop which had been owned by his father. He was educated at Liverpool Collegiate Grammar School (1939–46) and it was his ambition to go to university to read modern languages and become a teacher. His father, a voluntary ambulanceman during the Second World War, was killed in an air raid in 1942. Rossiter had to support his mother, and so could not take up the place he had been offered at Liverpool University. He was a sergeant, initially in the Intelligence Corps, then in the Army Education Corps and spent much of his national service in Germany writing letters home for soldiers. After being demobbed he worked for six years as an insurance clerk in the claims and accident departments of Commercial Union Insurance Company.
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". He gave up his insurance job to enrol in Preston repertory theatre and turned professional as an actor at the comparatively late age of 27. He made his professional stage debut in Joseph Colton's The Gay Dog in Preston on 6 September 1954, and later became assistant stage manager. He went on to Wolverhampton and Salisbury repertory companies. In his first 19 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."
In 1957–58 he played in the musical Free as Air and then toured in Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh. He joined the Bristol Old Vic and was there for two years from 1959 to 1961, a time he described as "the bedrock of his career", followed by much other stage work: as Bertolt Brecht's Arturo Ui, The Strange Case of Martin Richter, Disabled, The Heretic, The Caretaker and Semi-Detached (in New York). His performance in the premiere of Michael Blakemore's stage production of Brecht's The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui in 1969 met with critical acclaim: the part of the petty tyrant was perfectly suited to Rossiter.
Film and television career 
He broke into film roles with Billy Liar in which he plays the title character's boss. This brief role fixed him with audiences as an often flawed and inflexible authority figure – apparently similar to his real-life personality. He established himself as a respected actor in theatre and film, and began to make his presence felt on television, with an intermittent role as Detective Inspector Bamber in the police series Z-Cars, as well as guest roles in series as diverse as Steptoe and Son ("The Lead Man Cometh", 1964; "The Desperate Hours", 1972) and The Avengers episode "Dressed to Kill" (1963).
In 1968 he played Mr Sowerberry in the film version of Lionel Bart's musical Oliver! and he landed one of the few speaking supporting roles in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey as the Russian scientist Smyslov. He worked with Kubrick again in Barry Lyndon seven years later. In the same year as 2001, he appeared in the prescient BBC TV play The Year of the Sex Olympics by Nigel Kneale.
In Rising Damp, on ITV, he played Rigsby, the lecherous landlord of a house converted into seedy bedsits, reprising the role from its successful stage version, entitled The Banana Box. While on Rising Damp, he also took the eponymous lead in The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, adapted by David Nobbs from his own Reginald Perrin comic novels and aired on the BBC. His performances as Rigsby and Perrin earned him acclaim. He was given a surprise tribute on This Is Your Life in 1975. In 1979 he appeared in the Galton and Simpson scripted short film Le Pétomane.
From 1979 and into the early 1980s he took roles in commercials, making an advert dressed as a traffic warden for Parker Pens, and notably starring with Joan Collins as her boorish companion in a series of successful and endearing Cinzano commercials. In these adverts the drink was always somehow spilt down Melissa (Joan Collins)'s cleavage. In the 2000 Channel 4 programme The 100 Greatest TV Ads, Terry Lovelock, the director of several of these commercials, revealed that he found Rossiter difficult to work with, and that Rossiter used to refer jokingly to Collins as "The Prop".
In the animated adaptation of The Perishers he provided the voice for Boot the dog. He reprised Rigsby for a film version of Rising Damp in 1980—so he had now played the role on stage, TV and film. His last TV role was as the supermarket manager in the eponymous Tripper's Day, an ITV sitcom. He continued to make a steady stream of cinema appearances, including a role in Lindsay Anderson's dark parable Britannia Hospital (1982).
He displayed his acid wit in two books: The Devil's Bedside Book (1980), a collection of cynical dictionary definitions in the style of Ambrose Bierce's The Devil's Dictionary, and The Lowest Form of Wit (1981), a collection of biting bons mots, stinging retorts, and insults divided into six main sections, illustrated with cartoons by Honeysett and including a definitive guide and a history of sarcasm.
Personal life 
His first marriage was to the actress Josephine Tewson, with whom he had worked many times in repertory in the 1950s; the marriage ended in divorce in 1961. His second wife was actress Gillian Raine, with whom he had a daughter, Camilla, and to whom he was still married at the time of his death.
Rossiter had met Raine when he played the lead role of Fred Midway in a play called Semi-Detached, directed by Tony Richardson. She was his co-star, playing Hilda Midway. The play opened on 8 June 1962 at the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry and ran for a week. During the play's second run at the Belgrade in September 1963, Leonard and Raine fell in love and moved in together, but they did not marry until 1972.
After his death it was revealed that during the early 1980s he had had an affair with broadcaster Sue MacGregor. His wife had not been aware of the affair, describing their marriage as "up and down". She received a letter from MacGregor breaking the news that her memoirs, which were about to be published, would include an account of the affair.
Rossiter died from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy in 1984 while waiting to go onstage at the Lyric Theatre, London, where he was performing in Joe Orton's play, Loot. His funeral took place at St. Mary's Church, The Boltons, London.
|1962||A Kind of Loving||Whymper|
|1963||This Sporting Life||Phillips, sports writer|
|1963||Billy Liar||Mr Shadrack|
|1964||A Jolly Bad Fellow||Dr. Fisher|
|1967||Deadlier Than the Male||Henry Bridgenorth|
|1968||2001: A Space Odyssey||Andrei Smyslov|
|1974 to 1980||Rising Damp||Rigsby|
|1975||Barry Lyndon||Capt. John Quin|
|1976||The Pink Panther Strikes Again||Superintendent Quinlan|
|1976 to 1979||The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin||Reginald Perrin|
|1978||The Losers||Sydney Foskett|
|1982||Britannia Hospital||Vincent Potter|
|1984||Tripper's Day||Norman Tripper|
|1985||Water||Sir Malcolm Leveridge|
- Rossiter profile at FilmReference.com
- R.Tanitch Leonard Rossiter p149
- Leonard Rossiter by Robert Tanitch; ISBN 0-947728-19-8
- Interview on BBC R4 Desert Island Discs 12 April 1980
- Tanitch, p. 8
- Tanitch, p. 25
- Tanitch, p. 47
- The Cinzano commercials, LeonardRossiter.com. Retrieved 26 August 2012.
- Leonard Rossiter, Devil's Bedside Book, Littlehampton: 1980; ISBN 0-600-20105-8
- "Personal Remembrances, includes many pictures with Raine and his daughter". Retrieved 2 February 2009.
- "Personal Remembrances, includes many pictures with Raine in Semi-Detached". Retrieved 2009-02-02.
- Alleyne, Richard (28 January 2002). "Sue MacGregor had affair with 'Rigsby' – Daily Telegraph 28 January 2002". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 2009-02-02.
- Leonard Rossiter at the Internet Movie Database
- Performances listed in the Theatre Archive University of Bristol
- LeonardRossiter.com: Authorised Web Site