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    Leslie Phillips, Comic Actor Who Sorted Wizards, Dies at 98

    He made a name for himself in British satires, then late in his career reached a different audience as the voice of the Sorting Hat in the Harry Potter movies.Leslie Phillips, a British actor who in a career that began before World War II played numerous comic roles, then reached new generations of filmgoers when he provided the voice of the Sorting Hat in the Harry Potter films, died on Monday at his home in London. He was 98.His agent, Jonathan Lloyd, confirmed the death.Mr. Phillips began acting as a teenager, supporting his family after his father died in his 40s. His fledgling career was interrupted by military service at the end of World War II, but in the mid-1940s he resumed it, although at first mostly in “the murkiest, rat-infested old playhouses and music halls in the North of England,” as he put it in his autobiography, “Hello” (2006).He eventually began to have success on radio, most notably on the long-running comedy show “The Navy Lark,” and he went from bit roles in films and on television to larger ones. He drew good notices for his performance in the Gene Kelly film “Les Girls” in 1957.Mr. Phillips, right, drew good reviews for his performance in the 1957 movie “Les Girls” with, from left, Jacques Bergerac and Gene Kelly.via Everett CollectionWhen he returned to England from Hollywood after that film, he told The Daily Telegraph in 2010, “I had a whole load of scripts to choose from.”“I went against my agent and said I’d do ‘Carry On Nurse,’” he added — an early entry in what became a series of popular, quickly made film comedies that over the next decades satirized the military, the medical profession, British history and even the soft-core “Emmanuelle” movies.Mr. Phillips also appeared in “Carry On Teacher” (1959) and “Carry On Constable” (1960), but he wasn’t really part of the ensemble of actors who were the core of those movies. Years later, though, in 2010, he was the presenter for “Carry On Forever!,” a BBC Radio 2 look back at the franchise.He turned up in another satirical film series, in “Doctor in Love,” in 1960 and “Doctor in Trouble” in 1970. By 1978, The Evening Post of Reading could say that Mr. Phillips “has been one of Britain’s best known and loved actors for more than 40 years,” and his career was barely half over.He worked regularly in British television after that, including recurring roles on “Chancer,” “The House of Windsor” and other series in the 1990s. He continued to appear in film comedies but also turned up in dramas, including “Out of Africa” (1985) and “The Jackal” (1997).Mr. Phillips worked on the stage as well, and though he was known for comedic catchphrases — his distinctive delivery of “Well, hello!” and “Ding dong!” were famous from the movies — he sometimes felt compelled to point out that he had a wider range.“I’ve done all the classics,” he said in the 2010 interview. “I’ve been to Stratford.”He certainly put serious actorly thought into what may have been the performance experienced by more filmgoers than any of his others: his voice work as the Sorting Hat, the all-knowing headwear that sorted new students at the Hogwarts wizarding school into their houses in the Harry Potter films, which began in 2001 with “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” directed by Chris Columbus.“I worked only with the director and was given a great deal of time to get the voice right,” he told the NewsQuest Media Group in 2002. “It is quite a moment in the movie, it was a very important role to get right.”He reprised the role in several of the sequels.Leslie Samuel Phillips was born on April 20, 1924, in the Tottenham area of London to Fred and Cecilia Phillips.“I grew up surrounded by illness,” he told The Daily Mail of London in 1999, and his father, who worked for the gas board, died when Leslie was young. His mother, hoping the boy could generate some income, sent him to a stage school, and by age 14 he was going on national tours.“Always people in the cast became my uncles and aunts,” he said. “I learned a lot. They encouraged me to read and taught me all the things I hadn’t done at home or school. It was as much an education as a job.”After the war he married Penelope Bartley, an actress, and they had four children before divorcing in 1965. She later died in a fire. His second wife, Angela Scoular, also an actress, died by suicide in 2011. His survivors include his third wife, Zara Carr.In the mid-1980s Mr. Phillips’s 92-year-old mother was left seriously injured in a mugging; he said the attackers had beat her unconscious because she wouldn’t give up her handbag, which contained some family mementos. She died after several months in the hospital.“It was the biggest tragedy of my life,” he told The Daily Mail in 1993. “Horrific. I used to go into hospital to visit her and then go walking round the streets, looking for a boy wearing the yellow sweatshirt she’d described to the police.”If his personal life was full of dark episodes, his career continued to give him satisfaction.“I seem to have a very overall appeal,” he said in 2002, the year after he had been in both the first Harry Potter movie and “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider,” another movie aimed at a youthful audience. “I get the most wonderful letters from elderly people who follow my career, and then I get an enormous amount of letters from young people.” More