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Liverpool Actor Leonard Rossiter

Leonard Rossiter was born on 21 October 1926 in Wavertree, Liverpool, the second son of Elizabeth (née Howell) and John Rossiter. The family lived over the barber shop Cretan Road, Wavertree, owned by his father, the family later moved to Montrovia Crescent, Fazakerley.

Leonard attended Granby Street county primary school and the Liverpool Collegiate in Shaw Street, Everton and also enjoyed a spell at Deyes Lane School in Maghull during the war when Maghull was considered a safe haven for evacuees.

He and his family were left devastated when his dad, John, was killed in 1942 while taking people to hospital in his role as a volunteer ambulance driver during the war.

Cretan Road 14th September 1970

Following the war, Leonard returned to Liverpool, and began work as an insurance clerk for Commercial Union. It was while working here that he first became interested in the theatre as he recalled in 1970, “During that time I became interested in the amateur theatre in Liverpool through a girlfriend.

“Gradually my interest in insurance which had not exactly been great in the initial stage became less and less and my interest in the theatre became more.”

Gaining stage experience in repertory with companies in Preston and Wolverhampton, and later at the Bristol Old Vic, Rossiter made his small screen debut in the television play Story Conference on the BBC in 1956. After an appearance as an escaped convict in Steptoe and Son, comedy writer Eric Chappell was so impressed by Rossiter’s performance that he cast him in his stage show The Banana Box. Leonard was cast to play a miserly, colour-prejudiced landlord who finds himself putting up a rich African prince.
The show proved such a hit that it transferred to television as Rising Damp. Rossiter’s brilliant portrayal of the seedy, lecherous  Rupert Rigsby propelled him to national stardom.

Up to 18 million people a week laughed at Rigsby’s  desperate attempts to woo lonely spinster tenant Miss Jones (played by Frances De La Tour) and the pranks played on him by left-wing student lodger Alan (Richard Beckinsale) and his suave African roommate Philip (Don Warrington).
With characteristic intensity, Leonard put everything into making his role and the show a success. The success of Rising Damp meant that Rossiter was an actor in great demand. In 1976, the BBC signed him up to play the title role in new comedy series The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, which proved to be another  hit.
In 1972, after 10 years together, he married actress Gillian Raine, with whom he had  a daughter Camilla.
In the autumn of 1984, Rossiter was appearing as Truscott in Joe Orton’s Loot, at the Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue.

On the evening of October 5, He missed his cue to go on stage. An actor rushed to his dressing room but found the door locked. As the curtain was lowered, Rossiter’s door was forced open. He was found slumped in an armchair. He was rushed to hospital in an ambulance but it was all too late. Rossiter died shortly afterwards. He was only 57.
Very rarely ill, shortly before his death he had complained of mild chest pains but after a hospital check-up gave him the all clear he told colleagues he was “fighting fit” and carried on playing squash as usual. Rossiter, the man who sprinted through life, had simply worn himself out.

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