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Last Updated: Monday, 28 May 2007, 15:06 GMT 16:06 UK
Hello Leslie... and do Carry On
Leslie Phillips signing books at Hay
Well, hellooo Hay... it could only be the debonair Leslie Phillips
No-one says "hello" quite like actor Leslie Phillips, and it brought the warmest of greetings from his sell-out audience at the Hay Festival.

The 83-year-old star of the Carry On and Doctor films looked back on a long career in the cinema and on stage.

His signature "ding dong" was never far away, and nor did he resist playing up to his characters' lothario reputation.

"I've got so many catchphrases - they've even swept America; so have I," he told his audience in Powys.

The twinkle was never far from the eyes as he gently teased his audience, and got it back, as he delved into his memoirs, called - unsurprisingly - Hello.

"I had a terrible time with this book - I went back 70 years to remember names, when I can't remember yesterday," he said.

But he managed it and filled it with anecdotes, including working as a young stage manager with another ladies' man, actor Rex Harrison.

"He was a shocker," he recalled. "I watched everything he did and I worked with all his ex-girlfriends."

But he maintained that anyone wanting to be a comedy actor had to approach the roles without trying to force any laughs.

Leslie Phillips (L) in the BBC's long-running The Navy Lark
I like women: I'm not like this at all really
Leslie Phillips

"The most serious work is comedy - it's the most difficult thing of all and you have to be really serious to be a good comedian in a film.

"You mustn't muck about and that was the trouble with Carry On - you'd be standing there and Kenny Williams would come along and stick his finger up your bum. You can't be serious when someone is doing that."

Sex equality

Despite the smooth-talking, rakish image of so many of his characters, Phillips himself is a firm believer in sex equality.

"I like women: I'm not like this at all really. What's so wonderful when I look back to when I was 10 or 12, it's wonderful how it's changed.

"Now women are in an equal position as men - it's the best thing to happen to this country. You don't even have to get married any more - thank God!"

  • Irish novelist Edna O'Brien criticised contemporary writing for its lack of "the pulse of narrative".
  • The author of more than 20 books spoke of her sadness about modern writing to a captive audience at the festival, and said there was great emphasis now on writing about a "grand issue".

    But with her hand on heart she said: "The stories we pick to write have to come from inside, and have to have a gestation in here. Even then, it's difficult to make them live," she said, appealing for something behind the "great language".

    Edna O'Brien
    Each time it hurts a little bit deeper because the intensity that's put into writing
    Edna O'Brien on criticism

    She went on to read from her latest work, The Light of Evening, which touches on her relationship with her late mother. This work delves into her mother's migration as a young housemaid from Ireland to New York in the early 20th Century, and she wrote it from a suitcase of letters about which her mother had never told her.

    The book was about "mother, motherhood, exile, the fact that even those we know best we retain the biggest secrets from."

    She said: "My mother hated the written word and would have chosen any other profession for me - in fact, the holier the better.

    O'Brien also spoke of the huge "mental and emotional" burden her own writing could bring as she strove to "reimagine" herself in characters she develops. "I have to go a little mad," she said.

    She spoke of the early influence of Russian writer Chekhov and later fellow Irish writer James Joyce, and revealed a vulnerability amid the inevitable attacks launched on her writing.

    "Each time it hurts a little bit deeper because the intensity that's put into writing, and the fervour... that is obliterated."


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