Lis Sladen

1948 – 2011

Sarah Jane dead? No, impossible! Impossible. Only last week I agreed to do six new audio adventures with her for Big Finish Productions.

She can’t be dead. But she is: she died yesterday morning. Cancer. I had no idea she was ill; she was so private, never wanted any fuss, and now, gone. A terrible blow to her friends and a shattering blow for all those fans of the programme whose lives were touched every Saturday evening by her lovely heroic character, Sarah-Jane Smith.

James Clevett took this picture when Doctor Who was filmed in Littlehampton.

James Clevett took this picture when Doctor Who was filmed in Littlehampton.

Lis Sladen was very important to me, you know. When I joined the little world of Doctor Who, Lis was already a star. She had an enormous success with Jon Pertwee. She was good pals with the Brigadier, our beloved Nicholas Courtney; she knew all the regular directors. She was adored by Barry Letts, the producer who cast her in the role. She always said she was Barry’s girl. It was for that reason she decided to leave the show. But it was not necessary at all. The fans adored her, Philip Hinchcliffe, our new and glamorous producer, adored her, so did David Maloney, her favourite director.

Terry Walsh, the regular stunt man adored her. Once in deep, dark Wooky Hole caves Lis was almost swept away in a small boat, fifty feet from a terrifying black hole that looked like the entrance to hell. In a flash Terry Walsh dived in and caught the boat and all was well, thanks to the devotion of Terry. Lis was safe and and the show could go on.

Lis and Tom on Bessie right at the beginning of my time on Doctor Who.  Picture courtesy of the BBC

Lis and Tom on Bessie right at the beginning of my time on Doctor Who.
Picture courtesy of the BBC

So when I replaced Jon Pertwee, it must have been an anxious time for Lis; it was a very anxious time for me. Following in the big footsteps of Jon was daunting. Tom Baker? Never heard of him. And so we started on the first story under Barry Letts as director. We did the location stuff first and I just obeyed orders; running about, with the Brigadier and that silly car Bessie Trotwood, I think it was called: too small for me, but also in its own way a “character”. Jon loved cars.

But back in the rehearsal room things were quieter and there was time to put in little details, time for Lis and me to get acquainted, time for me to try and make a little mark, so to speak. And Lis laughed at my silly antics; yes, she did, she laughed me to success. We both came from Liverpool, that small detail helped. We both loved old movies. And quite suddenly Lis and Ian Marter and Tom Baker were a trio. It is so consoling when one is sad and bereft to remember the good times, the laughter, the glamour; yes, the glamour: we three switched on the lights at Blackpool! A very great honour. We performed a little melodrama directed by (guess who?) yes, David Maloney! And now Lis was adored by Ian Marter and Tom Baker too.

Tom switches on the Blackpool Illuminations in 1975. Picture © Blackpool Council

Switching on the Blackpool Illuminations in 1975. Picture © Blackpool Council

And it never ceased. And in the evenings Lis, would simply disappear back to wherever we were staying and the rest of us would often be raucous! And too soon she decided to leave; no fuss at all, all was calm. And Philip Hinchcliffe gave her lovely farewell party at the Hilton. Those sweet memories of happy days with Lis Sladen, the lovely, witty, kind and so talented Lis Sladen. I am consoled by the memories. I was there, I knew her, she was good to me and I shall always be grateful, and I shall miss her.


I was thrilled when Lis came on my This Is Your Life in 2000. Here we are with John Leeson. Picture copyright Fremantle Media and Ralf Edwards Productions

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