Leonard Rossiter’s depiction of Rupert Rigsby in Rising Damp and Reginald Perrin in The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin were contrasting triumphs of comedy deservedly still appreciated over 40 years on. Whilst they may have been his highest profile roles his thirty year career encompassed an exceptionally wide range of work, gaining success on stage and TV whilst making a number of significant film appearances.
He was born in Liverpool on 21st October 1926, the second son of hairdresser John Rossiter and his wife Elizabeth. The family home as shown on his birth certificate was 19 Cretan Road, Wavertree L15. and many accounts of his life state that they lived in a small flat above John’s barber shop at this address. I have never found this too convincing as 19 Cretan Road, which still stands, is a standard mid-terrace house and it is doubtful if it were ever a shop in any sense. I suspect that the flat referred to was over his hairdresser’s shop at 78 Eversley Street L8, their home when the young Leonard attended Granby Street school. For a period in the 1930s the Rossiters lived at 245 Smithdown Lane L7.
Leonard Rossiter attended the Collegiate Grammar School where he soon showed outstanding abilities in sports and languages. Liverpool Olympic athlete Tom Farrell was at the Collegiate at the same time and he recalled that the school football team defeated rivals The Holt 11-0, with centre-forward Rossiter scoring all the goals. At the start of the war the school was evacuated to Bangor, North Wales where he spent eighteen months. He hoped to be able to study French and German at university but these hopes were dashed when his father, serving as an ARP ambulance driver, was killed in a bombing raid on 3rd May 1941 and helping to support his mother became the over-riding priority. He was a sergeant in the Education Corps in Germany during his national service and after that took up a job as a clerk with the Commercial Union Insurance company. He lived with his mother at 78 Greyhound Farm Road, Speke L24 towards the end of the 1940’s moving with her in the early 1950’s to 49 Guernsey Road L13.
Like many actors his first steps to a stage career came with local amateur groups. He first joined the Adastra Players and then the Centre Players based in Wavertree. For six years he balanced his daytime drudgery with Commercial union and his passion for acting, appearing on over 40 productions. In 1954 he made the decision to try his hand at acting full-time and was accepted for the Preston Repertory Company. Other provincial rep companies followed until in 1959 he joined the Bristol Old Vic, staying two years in what he would describe as the bedrock of his career.
From the start of the 1960’s film and TV roles came his way. His screen debut was in the much-acclaimed A Kind of Loving  followed the next year by This Sporting Life and a prominent role in Billy Liar. He was an early regular in the TV series Z-Cars in which he played Inspector Bamber and appeared in several episodes of Steptoe and Son. His performances as Rigsby and Perrin also brought him a memorable series of TV adverts, directed by Alan Parker, in which he was opposite Joan Collins promoting Cinzano.
Rossiter had one daughter, Camilla, by his second wife Gillian Raine. After his death it was revealed that in the early 1980’s he had had a five year affair with the broadcaster Sue McGregor.
He died aged 57 from a heart attack on 5th October 1984 while waiting to go onstage in Joe Orton’s Loot at the Lyric Theatre, London.
The Rossiter home when Leonard was born in 1926.
Rossiter and his mother lived here in the late 1940's.
Rossiter's home with his mother in the early 1950's.
The Wikipedia entry gives an overview of his career and IMDB a full list of his screen and TV appearances. There are two biographies available, Leonard Rossiter [Robert Tanitch 1985] is a detailed record of his stage, film and TV roles with over 150 photographs. Leonard Rossiter: Character Driven [Guy Adams 2010] is a more recent 'conventional' biography.. There are many video clips available including an interesting interview on YouTube. Rossiter appeared on Desert Island Discs in 1980 and the episode is available on the BBC website.
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