LEONARD ROSSITER Biography - Other artists & entretainers


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On October 21st 1926, in the bustling port of Liverpool, North West England, a second son was born, at home, to John and Elizabeth Rossiter, and a baby brother for John junior. Leonard was raised in the family home above his father’s barber shop in Cretan Road, Wavertree, a suburb of the city of Liverpool. After primary school in Granby St., Toxteth, he attended the city’s Collegiate Grammar School from 1939 to 1945. He excelled at languages and sport, both of which would come in useful in later life. A cheerful, modest, punctual and scholarly pupil, Leonard was made vice captain of the school, and captains of both the football and cricket teams, where he was ” a slow, left-arm bowler - in true Lancashire style". In one match the school football team beat their opponents 11-0, and it was Leonard who scored all eleven goals. He was also a member of the school’s drama society. Naturally shy, Leonard remembers his adolescence with embarrassment: “I remember all those dances at The Rialto, Liverpool, where I spent every Saturday night between 10.30 and 11. Well, I hated it. The whole evening was geared to that last half-hour. The last waltz, or whatever. Mostly the whatever.” When he started to mix with people from different social classes, he would always hold back if he wasn’t sure how to conduct himself: “I remember getting very hot under the collar at dinner tables… I was always afraid of being laughed at.”
    World War Two began shortly before Leonard’s thirteenth birthday, but he still had hopes of studying a French and German degree course at university. His father was now a volunteer ambulance man, helping to ferry the wounded to Liverpool’s hospitals. Tragically, in 1942, John Rossiter was killed performing this duty during an air raid. Leonard now had to re-think his future, especially with regards to supporting his mother. Before then, however, he would reach conscription age, and have to ‘do his bit’ for the war effort. He joined the Education Corps. based in Germany. By now the Germans had surrendered but the Japanese were still fighting. To give him an authority as instructor, he was instantly made a sergeant. Leonard would spend his time there teaching soldiers their ABC, and often had to write their letters home. Many men were less than keen to learn: “Lots of chaps resented it", Leonard recalls. “Most of them were totally hardened to the idea of never needing to read or write and didn’t see why they should start.”


    Sergeant Rossiter was demobbed in 1948 and, despite being offered his dream place at Liverpool University to study languages, turned it down to become the breadwinner for the Rossiter household. Through a school friend he got himself a job with Commercial Union, one of the country’s largest insurance companies. He was a clerk in the claims and accidents department, earning 210 per year. Although frustrated at being tied to a desk all day, he stayed with the firm for six and a half years. Many years later he would joke about his time at the CU: “It really is amazing how many entertainers started life in insurance", he quipped, “and most of them will still try to sell you some, given half a chance.” One of his colleagues in the same office was the late actor Michael Williams, husband of Dame Judi Dench. Michael remembers: “Len was the most competitive man ever. We used to play football for the office team. Once, he passed me the ball by an open goal. I missed it. Len wouldn’t speak to me for a week. And we sat at opposite desks!”