I had a blast reading Elisabeth Sladen’s autobiography. I realised as I was reading this book, I know very little about Elisabeth Sladen. And yet after watching her on Doctor Who and then in her own show, The Sarah Jane Adventures, I feel as if I do know her. But of course, in those television shows Elisabeth Sladen is playing a character. I don’t think I have seen many interviews either, with Elisabeth Sladen out of character and talking about herself, except for maybe Doctor Who Confidential (and it has been a long time since I watched those!) So I was very interested in what her autobiography would tell me. The book starts from her childhood and some family history, her start in performing in theatre and the removal of her accent through elocution lessons, as you had to speak the Queen’s English if you wanted to be in the media in those days. Elisabeth Sladen is Liverpudlian, which I couldn’t believe. I was also surprised to read that Everton owner Bill Kenwright was an actor first. Elisabeth Sladen writes about moving to London, meeting her husband Brian and how hungry they were, how you don’t make enough money to afford 3 meals a day when you are an actor. ‘I lost even more weight because I used to skip meals so Brian could grab something, not that he ever knew. I’d say, ‘oh, I don’t fancy this roll – you have it.’ which I thought was sweet. Speaking of food, there was also an experience she and Brian had with blood and a tin of corned beef on stage.
Elisabeth Sladen writes that television was not an avenue she had particularly wanted to go down. Her first television appearances were in shows such as Coronation Street and Z-Cars. Doctor Who takes up a huge chunk of the book and many of the anecdotes I had not heard of. I was fascinated reading about her relationships with Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker, as well as Ian Marter too, who played companion Harry Sullivan. Ian Marter is one of my favourite Who writers and I don’t feel as if I know anything about him, so hearing more about him was great too. ‘Ian was the opposite of Harry in real life but equally chivalrous. When I had to lie down in a dress in one scene I was suddenly aware of the camera’s position. ‘Ian, can you see my knickers?’ ‘’fraid so, old girl! But don’t worry. When we do it for real, I’ll pull your dress down.’ and, bless him, he did.
Learning more about how Doctor Who was made in the seventies was good. As well as how Elisabeth Sladen felt about her character and the writing for her character, as well as her decision to leave the show, the acting she did afterwards and the work she continued to do with Doctor Who, by attending conventions and taking part in a special and spin off. I was sad too to hear that recording her comeback episode, a David Tennant story, called School Reunion was difficult for her because she had an injury. She felt as if it affected her output. Elisabeth Sladen comes across as very humble in the final chapters of the book, when Russell T Davies approached her about making a return to Doctor Who and then getting her own spin off show. Elisabeth Sladen was not feeling very confident at first, would the show be overlooked because it was a ‘kids’ show’? and had doubts it would be successful.
Of course, it was. The Sarah Jane Adventures is an amazing show. Having a Doctor Who spin off means you get double the Who! The quality, performances and consistency of the programme was very high.
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For those who are curious