Elisabeth Sladen: 10 Years On

At the time of writing (19 April 2021) it’s the tenth anniversary of the death of the actor Elisabeth Sladen.

She had a good solid career combining theatre, including a spell working for Alan Ayckbourn at his Scarborough theatre, and TV, where she appeared in such well-regarded shows as Z Cars, Coronation Street, and Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em.

However, she will always be remembered as Sarah Jane Smith in Doctor Who. Having originally appeared from 1973 to 1976, the character was brought back to the revived programme in 2006 by Russell T Davies. Elisabeth also stepped up to make Sarah Jane the lead in two spin-off shows K9 and Company (which wasn’t very successful) and The Sarah Jane Adventures (which sidelined the tin dog and was hugely successful).

The announcement of Elisabeth’s death caught Doctor Who fans completely unaware, and the deluge of love and grief was unprecedented in the history of a long-running show which had already lost many stars, including the first three Doctors. This wasn’t just somebody being canonised after death; both Sarah Jane as a character, and Lis as a person were already adored. The apparently effortless way that Lis resurrected the character after a gap of 30 years meant that she was a hero to two different generations.

A decade after the loss of Lis, the world of Doctor Who still feels a great sadness over it. She was just 65. But the initial anguish has eased, and the body of work that she left behind is cherished.

As any good actor will tell you, tragedy is often a close neighbour of comedy. This is why I attach this shot by Paul Griggs of Elisabeth Sladen and me. She looks timelessly elegant and stylish. Providing the ha-has, I look like East 17’s stunt double.

It was, as you have surely guessed from my terrible outfit, the 90s. To be precise, it was 30 July 1994, and the picture was taken at the Sefton Hotel in Douglas, Isle of Man. I was just about to interview Lis onstage as part of An Evening With Elisabeth Sladen.
Lis was the first person I had ever interviewed onstage, and as a nervous young interviewer I couldn’t have asked for a kinder or more gracious interviewee.

I may try to forget those weirdly voluminous trousers, but like the rest of her countless fans, I will never forget Elisabeth Sladen.

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