Tuesday, April 19, 2011

RIP Elisabeth Sladen (or Goodbye Sarah Jane Smith)

I was really upset to hear this evening's announcement that the actress Elisabeth Sladen has died at the age of 63, after a long (and well hidden) struggle with cancer. I suspect that a lot of people of my age, who were children in the 1970s, will mourn the death of 'Sarah Jane'.

It's strange how we can let so many tragic news stories wash over us, but feel genuine grief when a much-loved television presenter or actor from our childhood dies. I suppose it's not just because we feel an affection for them, but also because they were part of that secure wall that protects us from the uncomfortable reality of our own mortality. Every time a well-known figure from the older generation dies, the wall weakens and the world becomes slightly less familiar.

The following clip shows Elisabeth Sladen's final scene in Doctor Who (until she revived the character of Sarah Jane Smith 30 years later). It's particularly moving now and also shows what a great actress she was, portraying a character that was both ballsy and vulnerable at the same time:

But it won't just be people of my generation who'll be upset. Elisabeth Sladen's career underwent a spectacular renaissance four years ago with the 'Sarah Jane Adventures'.

What am I going to tell my sons?


The Poet Laura-eate said...

Sad indeed.

I am just re-watching that 1980s sitcom 'Dear John' featuring the late great Ralph Bates as a newly-divorced man joining the 1-2-1 club of ghastly misfits - another fine actor we lost far too soon.

Steerforth said...

Yes, 'Dear John' was a good series and Ralph Bates was great in it, but his finest hour has to be as George Warleggan in 'Poldark' - what a cad!

JRSM said...

Very sad--with Sarah Jane and the Brigadier having both died so far this year, 2011 is looking crappy.

Judith said...

Yes, I saw this and I was quite upset. You've nailed it - the wall protecting us from reality takes another hit. Ralph Bates too - he was splendid as Warleggan. Thanks for the reminder!

Kari said...

I came late to Doctor Who and hadn't seen many Sarah Jane episodes before she appeared with the Tenth Doctor. Yet somehow her death leaves me unreasonably sad, tearful even.

Thank you for posting the farewell clip.

Roger said...

" Every time a well-known figure from the older generation dies, the wall weakens and the world becomes slightly less familiar."

It's an even greater shock- yet in store for you I think- when you notice that every obituary in a paper is of someone younge;r than you


Children seem to have a very matter-of-fact approach to the death of people they don't 'know'. I remember seeing my mum upset once (which was very rare). I was about 10, and when I discovered the lady who'd died was in her fifties, I just thought 'that's old'.
Some deaths do hit you harder than others, be it celebrities, people you know, even complete strangers. I was particularly saddened when Kirsty MacColl died. The circumstances, and the fact I knew I'd be seeing videos of her with Shane Mc Gowan, who's still breathing just seemed wrong.

Jim Murdoch said...

I think the point is that we let these actors in in a way we don’t always let real people in. It’s like the comment I made on your other post about Eric Morecambe. When Morecambe and Wise were on my guard was down. I would sit a roar with laughter. And it was much the same with actors like Elisabeth Sladen. She got to me. I’m sitting here just now with an ache in my chest. Part of my past has died and I’m suddenly reduced and, as you say, acutely aware of my own mortality.

David Donohue said...

I think a piece of our childhood just died :(

Mrs Trefusis... said...

Trefusis Minor came in to our room this morning and announced very solemnly that 'Sarah Jane was over forever'. And you're bang on, of course, about the reasons these kinds of deaths touch us.

(loved Ralph Bates as George Warleggan - I recently 'liberated' my mother's dvd of series 2 of Poldark - haven't watched it yet but might get stuck in this evening. Wonder if it will stand up to a second viewing?)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the clip Steerforth. Loved the dungarees, and it is so refreshing to see a farewell without all the hugging and blubbing you get today.

Enjoying the blog

Steph Upperlip

christinelaennec said...

We too have been wondering how to break the news to our daughter... Thanks for this thoughtful tribute.

Little Nell said...

Thanks for the memories. I remember the very first Dr Who on black and white TV and the Sarah Jane episodes coincide with my own children's TV watching. The episode with Tom Baker were the very best. It's very sad to think that such a talented actress has died at what is quite a young age these days.

I agree about Ralph Bates and thought he shone in Dear John.

We've just cracked open a boxed set of Robin of Sherwood staring Michael Praed and are having a nostalgia-fest. (I had a thing about Michael and watching again I can see why). However, I'd forgotten how wonderful some of the OTT acting was from the likes of Nicholas Grace as the Sheriff of Nottingham and Robert Addie as the dastardly Guy of Gisburne (who had 'his brains in his arse' according to the Sheriff). Sadly, Robert Addie also died young, eight years ago at the age of 43. Thank goodness we have DVDs and You Tube to remind us.

C.B. James said...

This is the first I've heard of this. While I have enjoyed the show for many years, decades in fact, I'm not as avid a follower as many people are.

This was a very fitting tribute. Thank you. I was always impressed by how fine the acting was in the original series.

Steerforth said...

I'm glad that other people were touched by the untimely death of someone who was, by all accounts, a thoroughly likeable person as well as an underrated actress.

Lucewoman was absolutely right - when I carefully broke the news to my son, he shrugged his shoulders and said 'Oh well, no more adventures for Sarah Jane then.' I wished my son could have assumed the gravitas of Trefusis Minor.

I agree about the death of Kirsty MacColl - that really got to me too.

Jim has hit the nail on the head - we do let these people in and have a relationship with them, albeit a one-sided one. And on a very simplistic level, we identify these people with some of the happiest moments of our past. I'm not looking forward to being in Roger's position and reading obituaries of people younger then me.

I remember Robert Addie from one of the most underrated series of the early 80s - Barriers, which nobody seems to remember.

I'm glad that people enjoyed the clip. As Steph Upperlip said, no histrionics, and all the more moving for it.