‘Sorting Hat’ Pronounced Dead at 98; Requiescat in Pace, Leslie Phillips

Leslie Phillips, CBE, actor, voice artist, and UK legend, died yesterday, aged 98. Though a star in over 150 movies, mostly bawdy comedies, he is best known to Americans as the voice of the Sorting Hat in the Harry Potter movies, a part he voiced in the film adaptations of Philosopher’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets, and the second Deathly Hallows.

Phillips’ participation in the Potter movies was somehow very fitting. The repertoire company of UK greats that were assembled for the eight Hogwarts blockbusters, after all, was somehow reminiscent of the troupe that made the Carry On film series, 31 movies over forty years, one of the most successful franchises in British history. Only the adaptations of Ian Fleming’s James Bond adventures has gone on longer. Leslie Phillips starred in three of the first Carry On romps — Jim Dale, a voice much more familiar to American Potter-philes, was in eleven of these politically incorrect farces — and his “Ding-Dong!” “Well, hello!” and “I say” catch-phrases helped make the franchise as popular as it became.

At Phillips’ death, Dale is one of the only surviving Carry On stalwarts, Sid James, Barbara Windsor, Kenneth Williams, and Joan Sims having died years ago. Phillips refused to move to Hollywood even though he had had some success in a 1957 Gene Kelly musical because he feared becoming a “poor man’s David Niven.” He wound up instead after a long career in English comedies as the voice of Godric Gryffindor’s headdress, the iconic Sorting Hat at Hogwarts. No doubt his fans in the UK recognized his voice — “Ding Dong!” — and were delighted at his appearance in the Warner Brothers films, a link to the grand tradition of Pinewood Studios.

Read all about him in the Daily Mail obituary or his Wikipedia page and watch a documentary about the Carry On films made on the occasion of the 40th anniversary party for cast and crew in 1998. I couldn’t help but think while watching that of the much slicker productions made for the Harry Potter 20th anniversary reunion last year. If any of you have Leslie Phillips memories to share, please do — especially those who think, as I do, that his voice role in the Potter films was a hat-tip from Leavesden Studios to Pinewood.

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