Leonard Rossiter.com
Three official web sites in one
His Life & Career - Reginald Perrin - Rising Damp

The Life & Career of Leonard Rossiter

Personal Remembrances

On Leonard's early life:
"Len was a hero at school. He was certainly my hero... He was a born sportsman, moving about the pitch with all-conquering, loping ease." - Tom Farrell, school friend.

"He talked very little about his past. He once mentioned that he started in the insurance business, behind a desk - which he hated, sort of dead-end." - Bruce Bould, co-star Reginald Perrin.

"I can understand how frustrated he got with the insurance business, of working in an office from 9 to 5 - I just can't imagine it, and then suddenly... he switched." - John Barron, co-star Reginald Perrin and personal friend.

"I first met Len in 1975. By then he'd already done Rising Damp, which is something I'd watched religiously. Years ago he was in things like 'Z Cars' and one-off plays for the telly, always playing seedy guys wearing a mac."
- Bruce Bould, co-star Reginald Perrin.

"He was a great fast-bowler, and an even better football player. He would run around the pitch effortlessly. He had this long, rangy stride - a prolific goal scorer. It was rumoured Everton had his eye on him - even though in those days grammar school boys didn't sign football contracts - he was that good." - Tom Farrell, schoolfriend.

"I think one sensed when one first saw him, that he was exceptional and different, in that he had a sort of manic, farcical talent."
- Gillian Raine, widow.

"He was a quiet, unassuming person with a wry sense of humour and a dry wit; but although easy-going and popular, Len was a very private person not given to showing his emotions or confiding in others. We got on well together and spent most of our spare time acting, producing or stage-managing. It was apparent then that he was talented, with a feeling for comedy and an aptitude for inventing comic business. On stage his nervous energy drenched him in perspiration at every performance. We spent many holidays together, boating on the Broads, hitch-hiking to the Riviera and once visiting Butlin's. Scripts were usually part of our luggage and while at Butlin's we couldn't resist taking part in the Variety Show, performing black-out sketches and a mime act... I am glad to have shared with him the ups and downs of life, to have known his family and friends, to have watched his performances and to have been his friend." - John Roden, actor and friend.

"The odd Sunday when we weren't rehearsing or playing we used to visit the Continentale Cinema in the Wirral and see some classic French and Italian films and I got the feeling - maybe rightly or wrongly - that he was greatly influenced by the style of acting we saw in those films." - Keith Smith, co-star and friend.

On Leonard's colleagues:
"He always seemed to get on well with directors, certainly the better-known directors whose talents he appreciated and respected. I've heard him say things I couldn't repeat about directors he didn't like!" - John Barron, director and friend.

"I know he has the reputation of being perhaps, not of being difficult, but of knowing his own mind. But I think that's wonderful - because invariably he was right." - Sue Nicholls, co-star Reginald Perrin.

"Leonard only got irritated with people who he felt were not pulling their full weight. I don't think he ever felt that with Frances [de la Tour]." - Gillian Raine, widow.

"He didn't suffer fools gladly. He didn't really suffer fools at all. If he didn't think you were up to the job, he would tell you."
- Bruce Bould, co-star Reginald Perrin.

"He was a wonderful teacher for me, because it was my first job. He'd take me aside and say "if you do it like this, it's funny. If you do it the way you're doing it, it's not". And he was right on every occasion. You couldn't help but be dumbfounded by his technical virtuosity." - Don Warrington, co-star Rising Damp.

"He absolutely loved Richard Beckinsale. I think everybody did. He really loved him, and they got on tremendously well."
- Gillian Raine, widow.

On Leonard's professionalism:
" I like the way he was courageous and went with his convictions - and more often than not he was right. I like that and I learned a lot from that." - Sue Nicholls, co-star Reginald Perrin.

"He was not a comedy actor, but was a great actor of comedy... very much a character  actor." - Bruce Bould, co-star Reginald Perrin.

"Leonard did teeter on the edge of over-acting, and that was what was glorious about him. He didn't play safe, he took the risks, he really went for it. But he just, always, allowed the truth to win, and never allowed the scene to become unreal." - David Nobbs, author, Reginald Perrin novels.

"He wasn't a cuddly fellow. If you worked with Leonard and he was playing the lead in a play, and you turned up at rehearsal, you'd be expecting the great star to come rolling in saying 'Hello darlings, how are you all?' and so on... With Leonard, you'd look round and, in the corner, there'd be a little chap in the corner doing the crossword puzzle. That would be Leonard. And he wouldn't move from there until he was required." - James Grout, producer.

"He was very down-to-earth. He thought he was a good actor, who had worked hard to get where he was, and had a unique talent - that manic energy he had - which set him apart from other actors because he that quality, which was unusual. But I don't think he considered himself a 'star' or a 'celebrity'. Not at all." - Camilla Rossiter, daughter.

"I just think he was superb... He was lovely to work with. He knew his job, which I always love in people. I learned from him, in fact many times all I had to do was speak to him and time my lovely lines right - Leonard did the rest."
- Sue Nicholls, co-star Reginald Perrin.

"He was a great perfectionist. He wouldn't tolerate inefficiency of any kind, either in technical matters, or in shortcomings of his fellow actors. He was a tough chap to act with. You had to be 'on the ball' all the time."
- John Barron, co-star Reginald Perrin and personal friend.

"With live comedy there's an adrenalin rush, and Len used to go into overdrive..." - Tim Preece, co-star Reginald Perrin.

"I think he understood that comedy works out of truths - the more you believe it, the funnier it is."
- Bruce Bould, co-star Reginald Perrin.

"He loved the theatre, and he needed space. If he was in a theatre with a lot of space, my God, he would be magnetic." - James Grout, producer.

"By that time [1977], Len's name on television was so enormous that when people went to see him in theatre, they were convinced they were going to see either Rigsby or Perrin and not the character that he was interpreting. So I think there were a lot of disappointed people who didn't see what they expected to see." - Vernon Lawrence, producer Rising Damp, Series Four.

"He had an enormous sense of what was ridiculous, and he would latch onto it and turn it into reality. In other words, he made something ridiculous absolutely truthful." - John Barron, co-star Reginald Perrin and personal friend.

"In a farce, as the farce becomes more absurd, the actor's belief in it has got to grow and grow, and Len understood that, and grew with it, so that a kind of manic intensity came out of it - which was Len's trademark in a way."
- Bruce Bould, co-star Reginald Perrin.

"When you gave notes, and you discussed [the dialogue] with him, the voice that came over was in character. He'd be saying 'We've got to make them laugh out there. Everybody's got to. We've got to fire on all cylinders. We've only got five days.' Once we broke for coffee and he said 'We're not having coffee are we? We haven't got time! We've got to polish it. Well, two minutes then, but don't make it hot or it will last for ever.'" - Anthony Parker, director.

"He had nothing to commend him as an actor, really. He had a face like a delinquent lizard, a voice like a corncrake and a body like a broken pen-knife." - James Grout, producer and friend.

"Occasionally he would come to me while I was writing a scene he wasn't in, and he would say something to me like 'Why can't they get it right?! What's their bloody problem? And I would have to say 'Well, not everyone can get it right first time like you can'. He'd say 'Tell them to do it like this.' And I'd say 'Look, do you want to direct it?' And he'd say no, and I asked him why not and he said 'Because I tried directing once, and it was a disaster. I upset everybody, because I couldn't understand why they couldn't do it!'. " - Jonathon Lynn, director Loot.

"What all of us [writers] liked was that he would come along with something added, something extra which we hadn't realised was in the part. And he put on what you could call 'the old Leonard Rossiter magic'." - James Grout, producer.

"I have never known such energy and such pace. He could speak quicker than most people, and he could think about three different things at the same time... He'd be remembering his lines, watching the set and the actors, and watching where the cameras were. He was really in control." - Eric Chappell, writer Rising Damp.

"I suppose, looking back, he was a most serious actor. He was terribly serious, I'm sure, about his career. He never bored us with it. Ever. He never said what a marvellous actor he was - which so many of us do from time to time."
- John Barron, co-star Reginald Perrin and personal friend.

"He was fantastic to work with. He was very professional, could be tough but I found him a joy. We laughed a lot together." - Don Warrington, Rising Damp.

"I'm sure people will say he was difficult to work with - he has possibly that reputation. But I think he was only difficult if he thought people weren't pulling their weight." - Camilla Rossiter, daughter.

"I think his great strength and success as an actor was that he could adapt to practically anything. He was always doing twenty-five hours in every twenty-four, and we occasionally got a bit worried." - John Barron, co-star Reginald Perrin and personal friend.

"He worked hard because he knew he had to work hard - because it's such a difficult profession anyway, but also he wasn't very good looking, he was never going to be a 'matinee idol'. It was just single-mindedness." - Gillian Raine, widow.

"Most comedians, as well as being funny, want to be loved by the public - I don't think Len cared! He was one of very few people who was able to be funny while playing someone deeply unsympathetic. And you could still, as a member of the audience, root for him." - Jonathan Lynn, director Loot.

"He found his way, gradually, to his metiere which was comedy. He was able to polish himself and get ready for the big break, and when it came, he grabbed it with both hands." - Anthony Parker, director.

"He worked very hard, so consequently everybody else worked very hard. The effort that he put into those shows was phenomenal. At the end of it sometimes the man was absolutely exhausted. The passion that was there was frightening. He would be so wound up. It would be like a spring. You thought the top of his head was going to blow off. . It was fantastic, but that was the way he was, and we were like the people holding him to the ground." - Don Warrington, co-star Rising Damp.

"He was a graduate of the traditional English repertory theatre system where, every week, you were rehearsing one play, doing another at night, and probably rehearsing another... tremendous discipline. And you really did have to know how to act. He really could play anything. And did play anything."- Patrick Garland, director.

"I think it would be fair to say he was an eccentric. I think that was his great strength in Rising Damp and Reginald Perrin. Although very different characters, they both had an eccentric urgency about them. He was always a wonderful leading man and when we came to Reginald Perrin the success of that story, apart from the writing, was that we were led by a genius."
 - John Barron, co-star Reginald Perrin and personal friend.

"...He had the most miraculous memory. I often talked to him about this and he agreed what a Heaven-sent gift it was. 'You've got to be word perfect, but then let the stuff come out of your mouth as if you are only just thinking of it.'" - Bernard Miles, actor.

"Unpredictability was the keynote in Leonard. You could almost feel in his acting that thing where you feel you know where he is going, and he starts to draw you in until you're on the edge of hysteria... and then he would go the opposite way. Or he would satisfy you, flattering you by going the way you thought he was going." - William Franklyn, avtor and friend.

"On stage he combined incredible speed with absolute physical and verbal precision. I once asked him to slow down during rehearsals so we could concentrate on certain details. But he said that he was only able to think comedically at high speed."
- Peter Barnes, director The Frontiers Of Farce.

"Leonard had an interesting face. Peter Sellers once said to me about Leonard Rossiter that he thought all great comic actors have a 'European face', "Like my face, and although Leonard had a distinctive face, he could be anybody. He could transcend himself and become the character he was playing." " - Joe McGrath, director Rising damp movie.

"He had this quirkiness about him, a lot of comics were. Tony Hancock was quirky. Spike Milligan was quirky. You need it as a comedian. But if you have it as an actor, it's a terrific asset." - Ray Cooney, playwright.

"He didn't ask for a laugh. Never conspired with his audience. The laughs came, thick and fast, because he was totally inside the character, and the character, driven by his enormous energy, usually wanted something bigger and better than mere laughs. He was a great comic actor." - John Phillips, co-star The Frontiers Of Farce.

"He understood the art of comedy the way Rex Harrison understood it, although you'd think they were two very different kinds of performaers. I remember Harrison said: "You have to show very little, but inside the head it's all going on, it's all working.' " - Patrick Garland, director.

"He wasn't trying to be anything he wasn't. There was tremendous honesty in whatever he did. He wasn't putting on a performance... A lot of us have different moods for different people, but Leonard was Leonard. That's what you got." - William Franklyn, actor, friend.

"For nine people out of ten, Leonard was Rigsby. He would often get people coming up to him, saying 'Please can I have your autograph Rigsby?' And he'd say 'I'm not Rigsby. Who am I?' " - Joe McGrath, director Rising Damp movie.

"He had those gifts of talent coupled with consummate craft skills that enable an artist to seize and hold the rapt attention of an audience. He was immensely theatrical without being stagey, and he had a sense of character that gave to everything I ever saw him do a reality that was entirely believable, no matter how bizarre or fantastical the material he was asked to work with... He could also play knockabout farce as well if not better than any comic I have ever worked with or seen. He had a unique, quite extraordinary vocal and physical presence; his body language was really outstanding." - Johnny Speight, writer "If There Weren't Any Blacks..."

"One of the differences between farce and comedy is that, in comedy, you have unreal people in real situations and, in farce, what I try to create is real people in situations that become a little far-fetched. What you want in farce, and this is what Leonard had, is fine actors. You don't want people trying to be funny. You want the audience to say 'This is real. He's got himself into a right predicament'." - Ray Cooney, playwright.

"The dedication he brought to his acting is well known as is the enormous energy with which his creations came to life. Less familiar was the apparent ease by which he could convey calm, stillness and quieter moments with which he is perhaps not so closely associated." - Peter Ansorge, author Moon Over Soho.

On Leonard's private life:
"Len was a very private man. What he wanted was for the world to see what he did, not who he was."
- Don Warrington, co-star Rising Damp.

"He always gave 150%. When we played squash he had to win, and by a huge margin. When he played charity cricket matches, he had to get the century, he had to get the ten wickets. If he'd stayed in insurance, he'd have had to become the top insurance salesman in Liverpool." - Camilla Rossiter, daughter.

"He was very competitive. He did not like losing; did not like losing at squash and we used to play, regrettably, tennis together. I wasn't a bad tennis player but it used to lead to nasty scenes, because if I did a good shot, he was not best pleased. If I did a bad shot he was equally not best pleased." - Gillian Raine, widow.

"He had a tremendous intelligence, which worked like lightning. You couldn't beat him at that, so you either just got out of the way, or you 'popped the ball back over the net' as fast as you could. There was never such a thing as a 'friendly game' with Leonard." - James Grout, producer.

"We played squash together. I was 21, Len was mid-40s. He said "Well, I'll do my best, I'm getting on now." I was really looking forward to beating him. He made such a fool of me on the court. He didn't even work up a sweat."
- Don Warrington, co-star Rising Damp.

"Leonard at his most relaxed would be at his home. At a dinner party with good wine. He would decant it carefully, label it and put it on the table. Although, I did notice, if he had dinner guest who didn't appreciate wine, he would slip them different decanters without telling them! So perhaps he wasn't totally relaxed!" - Joe McGrath, director Rising Damp movie.

"I remember once on holiday, he tried windsurfing. As with everything, he had to do it perfectly or not at all. He soon decided it wasn't working, and stomped off the beach." - Camilla Rossiter, daughter.

"He hated flying. One year, we went to Portugal and he said he'd go by train. It took him three days..." - William Franklyn, actor & friend.
"An evening with Len was exhilarating. It was funny, it was argumentative, it was loud. It was a real social workout."
- Jonathan Lynn, director Loot.

"People used to say "Is your dad funny at home? Does he tell loads of jokes?" And I would say no, he's just like a normal father. I wouldn't say he was difficult to live with. He certainly wasn't an autocratic father." - Camilla Rossiter, daughter.

"Len was always suspicious of the media. He was 'door-stepped' quite often." - Joe McGrath, director Rising Damp movie.

"I think there was a line between his professional life and private life. The idea now of doing Hello! magazine - he'd have loathed the very idea, because he'd think "Well, why should anyone be interested?" - Camilla Rossiter, daughter.

"Leonard loved to debate anything. Whenever my wife and I invited Leonard and Gillian over for dinner, we always made sure we invited other argumentative people as well! My wife bought a whistle and would give everyone two minutes speaking time!" - Jonathan Lynn, director Loot.

"He loved to play squash when he was on holiday. Both our regular partners were our milkman. He once took him and his wife on holiday with him, just so he would have someone to play squash with. I think that's what you call 'mild eccentricity'!" - William Franklyn, actor & friend.

"He didn't think he had 'the equipment' that the press could play with, whatever that is. He didn't get the recognition he felt he deserved..." - Don Warrington, co-star Rising Damp.

"He was a familiar and much-liked figure in the saleroom and we soon learned that he really knew his subject. He was a shrewd buyer." - Michael Broadbent, director of Christie's wine department.

"Some years later when we had all moved to London, another friend of Len's, Derek Benfield, and I took Len - in plimsolls and with a borrowed racquet - on to a cold squash court at the Grampians Squash Court in Shepherd's Bush and taught him the rudiments of the game. Within an hour he had mastered the rules, within a week he was playing and within a year he was far too good for Derek and myself - and subsequently he made himself one of the top players in our business." - Frederick Jaeger, co-star and friend.

"Who made Dad laugh? Well, when I was quite little there was a season of Marx Brothers films on television, quite late at night. And I was allowed to stay up and we all watched these films, whether it be 'Monkey Business' or 'Duck Soup'. He loved all of that. He loved the anarchy and the manic performance of Groucho." - Camilla Rossiter, daughter.

"We both took to playing squash rather late in life for such an energetic pastime and at first we were fairly evenly matched, but in no time at all Len's boundless enthusiasm - and effort - and hard work - and determination - made the gap between us wider and wider, and when finally I found it impossible to win one point off him I felt it was time to stand aside and turn to more sedentary measures."
- Derek Benfield, actor and friend.

"We met quite often in the Fulham Road over the years since we both live in the area. The memory is of Leonard swapping foul abuse and v-signs with passing lorry drivers who would lean out of their cabs and offer some choice insult - kindly meant - on the subject of Rising Damp, or more likely Joan Collins! As they accelerated away from the lights he would pursue them, still gesticulating, grimacing and shouting abuse. It was the irreverence of the man which appealed to me." - Jeremy Kemp, actor.

"[On friendship with Eric Morecambe] They'd get into this business of 'knowledge of films', such as who played this role, who made this speech and so on. And it got to the point, when we were having dinner, that neither of them wanted to sit away from the door because, if they were pretending to be a certain actor, they's go out the door and come in again. So they used to fight over who'd sit by the door!"  - Joe McGrath, director, Rising damp movie.
"...On one occasion, at a party at his house, he took a few of us aside for an informal tasting of some of his better wines... All the time, Len was explaining very simply and clearly what to look for in the wines. It was a fascinating experience..."
- Bruce Bould, co-star Reginald Perrin.

"He converted an entire room in his house into a wine cellar. But it wasn't underneath, because he didn't have a cellar - it was upstairs! It was a controlled-temperature, sealed room, full of these great wines he'd bought from Sotheby's. Once he'd got into that, he had to win - he had to know more than anyone else about wines. He did study them a lot, and he bought some very expensive stuff - which was super to drink!" - James Grout, producer.

"We became close friends and saw a lot of each other... I had given fifteen years of close attention to wine and Leonard soon became addicted. He tasted many of my fine clarets and burgundies and was soon building a superb collection himself. I had installed a temperature-controlled cellar in part of my basement floor. Leonard was not to be left behind. He was adding an attic floor to his house and the refrigeration engineer, arriving to make a survey, was puzzled to be directed upstairs. Only a man who could so closely catch Reggie would put his cellar in the attic."
"I rang him up and I said 'There's a collection of burgundy at Tesco' and he said, 'Oh that won't be any good will it?', and I said 'Well, you never know'. And I told him what it was, and he asked how much. 'A pound a bottle' I said. 'Get round there at once! I'll leave Chelsea now, and I'll be with you in a quarter of an hour.' He parked on a double yellow line - it was like a bank robbery - and we went in and bought three dozen bottles." - John Barron, co-star Reginald Perrin and personal friend.

"...Being a sports fanatic, I had a great deal in common with Leonard. Test match listening was a must and throughout rehearsals he insisted on constant updates on England's dismal showing against the West Indies." - Paul Clarkson, co-star Tripper's Day.

"He was one of those actors who would pop up in everything and anything. And you didn't always know his name." - Sue Nicholls, co-star, Reginald Perrin.

"The thing about Leonard, when you got to know him, was that he was a really kind, well-intentioned person. And it's such a paradox because he spent most of his life - in public - trying to pretend that he wasn't."  - Jonathan Lynn, director Loot.

"...In short breaks... it was generally the habit to set up an impromptu cricket game with a wastepaper basket as a wicket, a tennis ball and an old cricket bat... When he went into bat, he played as though he was trying to reach the long boundary at Lord's and struck the ball with the necessary vigour. Elderly actresses dropped their knitting and hid behind the furniture, others, more active, bolted for the doors as the ball whistled around their ears. Leonard, of course, was totally oblivious to all this. A 'cricket ball' was there to be hit as hard as possible, and Leonard did so." - Michael Mills, director Tripper's Day.

On Leonard's death:
"I was there at the theatre, quite by chance, on the night he died. I was going to go backstage at the end of the show to congratulate him - instead I went backstage after only twenty minutes into the show - to see him die." - Frances de la Tour, co-star Rising Damp.

"I don't know why his impact on me was so great, but once Leonard was your friend, he was your friend with the same intensity that he brought to everything else. I grew to love him. When he died, I was more distraught than about any death that I can recall in the whole of my lifetime." - Jonathan Lynn, director Loot.

"Gillian asked me to speak the eulogy at his memorial service, which was a very difficult thing to do, because I couldn't pretend that he was this easy-going, lovable guy. I couldn't make that kind of speech because the church was going to be full of a thousand people who knew him. So I said that he was a perfectionist and that I hoped God knew what he was in for, and that the Pearly Gates had better open on cue and the Heavenly Choir had better sing in tune, and it made everyone in the church rock with laughter because they all recognised the truth." - Jonathan Lynn, director Loot.

"...Some actors have been described as an ornament to their profession. Leonard was never an ornament. But he was a beacon - a light to guide the profession, a shining example of sheer professionalism and expertise. In Leonard's case, his art was to conceal the art. Leonard made comedy look easy. For him, letting the audience see the wheels turning was the mark of an amateur - which was virtually the worst thing he could think of to say about anybody..." - Jonathan Lynn, from his speech for Leonard's memorial service.

"You see bits of him in his characters. It's not like having him there but I suppose it's the next best thing."
- Camilla Rossiter, daughter.

 "Squash was his passion - three times a day. Extraordinary. But that wasn't what killed him... He had this heart condition which wolud have killed him whether he played squash or not."  Gillian Raine, widow, co-star.

Tributes (from The Sun newspaper the day after his death)

"It is a terrible loss. He was a great performer and so funny." - Chris Ishermann, theatre manager, Lyric Theatre.

"It's terrible news. Camilla's tucked up in bed asleep. She doesn't know yet her daddy is dead. She will be heartbroken." - The Rossiter's babysitter.

"I'm stunned. He was a very fit man and regularly turned out for my charity XI cricket team. We are due to play a match next moth in aid of disabled drivers. Leonard has been so busy working this year that this would have been his first match. When he agreed to play he always turned up in plenty of time. He never let us down. My heart goes out to his wife Gillian and daughterCamilla. Our families are very close." - William Franklyn, actor and close friend.

"I can't believe it is true. I just pray that it is not true, that there is some mistake. Leonard was just such a wonderful man." - Joan Collins, co-star.

"First Tommy Cooper, then Eric Morecambe, and now Leonard. It's happening so often now it's frightening. We have lost a very fine comedian." - Ernie Wise, actor and comedian.

"His death is another tragic loss in what has been a tragic year. Leonard was a gifted comedy character actor who could make bad material good, and good material unforgettable." - Philip Jones, head of Thames TV.

"His death is a sad loss - he was a marvellous actor." - John Barron, co-star and close friend.

On Leonard's legacy:
"It is very hard to tell you how much we miss him because, I think, it was the enthusiasm and also the unexpected intensity of intelligence because, people go on about comics being 'thick', but he understood absolutely everything and he was there long before the director and long before the writer." - John Wells, writer The Immortal Haydon.

"A lot of people talk about doing important plays and important movies. They think about comedy as, somehow, inferior. I think being able to make somebody laugh is one of the best things you can do, and Leonard was one of the funniest people I've ever met. That in itself made him a hero to me." - Jonathan Lynn, director Loot.

"He was a great actor, with lots of great parts in him - which we never saw." - Bruce Bould, co-star Reginald Perrin.

"Gosh, I wish he was alive now. What he could be doing now... it's such a waste to know that he's not here. He could be amazing everybody." - James Grout, producer.

"Watching him now, one of the great things about him is when he's not saying anything. It was that face. It goes back to the seriousness of the actor. He thought always that you can see on his face the thoughts in his head - and its very difficult, that. And it's a great gift." - Tim Preece, co-star Reginald Perrin.

"You feel the loss of an actor, really dependant on finding somebody else who can play the same parts. There is, and was, nobody else who could play parts the way Len used to. He was genuinely unique." - Jonathan Lynn, director Loot.

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