There have been few people in the public eye whose death has actually moved me to real, sorrowful tears. The passing of Elisabeth Sladen, who played Doctor Who’s Sarah Jane Smith was one such event. She had been a childhood heroine not just to me but my daughter, who’s a keen Doctor Who and Sarah Jane Adventures fan.
In her memory, there are three things I want to share with you.
First, the tribute to her I wrote last year.
So after a hard day’s envelope writing last night, we headed back to my sister’s where my niece Laura was cooking her risotto – which, I have to say, is one of the most delicious, punchy, garlicky, creamy, pretty things I’ve ever eaten. In the olden days families used to gather round the piano for a sing song, or the ladies of the house would play the instrument in genteel and cultured fashion while everyone listened or danced. The modern day equivalent is singing along to songs on You Tube. Songs from musicals and Disney to be exact. “How do I know that he loves me?” from Enchanted is sure to become a modern classic, and my sister’s and my rendition of For Good from Wicked is quite simply beyond compare.
Having such fun in the real world limited my options for dipping into Twitter, although I did share a little of our revelry with the world in passing, not checking at all what was happening to anyone else. I am very grateful to MiMi (@meemalee), though, for making sure that I couldn’t ignore what everyone was talking about – their shock at the news that Elisabeth Sladen, who played Sarah Jane Smith in Doctor Who had died from a cancer she’d kept very private.
Sarah Jane Smith was the feisty journalist accompanying the Doctor when I first started watching in 1974. I absolutely loved her. She was clever, fearless, kind and pretty. I was literally heartbroken when she left in 1976 and to this day I’ve wanted a pair of those stripy dungarees she wore in her final episode.
Lis Sladen was wickedly funny, approachable and lovely in real life. In the late 90s we used to go to a Cult Tv holiday weekend in November each year in Norfolk and she came along for a couple of years. She brought along her husband and daughter, too and made a family weekend of it. I’ve mentioned before on here that somehow it seemed wrong that Sarah Jane Smith should be smoking, but it was often in smokers’ corner that I came across her and she was always friendly. It’s her husband Brian Miller, and daughter Sadie, now a woman in her mid twenties I thought of first last night. They will be devastated but I hope the genuine love people had for Lis, of which we’ve seen loads in the last few hours, will at some point in the future make them smile through their tears.
The character of Sarah Jane had a renaissance in 2006 after Russell T Davies brought her back and reunited her with David Tennant’s Doctor and then gave her her own spin off series which is briliiant. Action roles for women beyond their thirties are few and far between, but here was a middle aged single parent middle class woman with an alien supercomputer in her attic, a son cloned by aliens and a group of teenagers who helped her save the world again and again. The last series where she worked with Matt Smith’s Doctor for the first time, and played alongside another former companion, Jo Grant, seems poignant now. As does the last storyline where apparently an ill Sarah Jane left – although she hadn’t really, she’d been kidnapped by a sadistic alien and was kept in a basement till the kids rescued her.
It is not a coincidence that my daughter has Elisabeth as a middle name – as a tribute to her paternal grandmother Betty and to a talented actress who was the perfect female role model for several generations. She loves Sarah Jane and is sad today.
I really want to get the DVDs out and spend the day reading what folk have written about this lovely woman on the internet. I shall have to delay that indulgence until I get home at the weekend.
Andrea Gill @msNoeticat on Twitter, summed it up best this morning when she said:“To those who don’t get the fuss about Lis Sladen, all you need to know is generations grew up in love with her, or wanting to be her or both. “ I’m grateful that both I and my daughter had the good fortune to be influenced by her and her character’s warmth, wisdom, compassion and curiosity.
Secondly, the wonderfully appropriate tribute to Lis made by CBBC available here on You Tube.
Finally, the lovely and poignant interview with Lis’s daughter Sadie, whom I last saw as a 12 year old at a Cult TV Convention when Lis’s autobiography was published.