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I made the Doctor cry on my first day

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Jamie McLoughlin dips into the posthumous memoir of Doctor Who star Elisabeth Sladen

WE know her best as the loyal companion of a TV Time Lord who faced Daleks, Cybermen and Zygons in terrifying teatime tales - but the posthumous memoir of a Liverpool actress reveals how she once hid behind her seat from herself.

Elisabeth Sladen: The Autobiography was completed by her husband of 43 years, the actor Brian Miller, and daughter Sadie after the Mossley Hill-raised actress died of cancer in April.

In it, the humble star of both Doctor Who and CBBC smash The Sarah Jane Adventures reveals the offscreen incidents which shaped her role as sassy journalist Sarah Jane Smith as well as the little-documented tales of her stage and screen career before the TARDIS scooped her up.

One such adventure saw her rub shoulders with a group of Merseybeat legends, although the end result almost cut her career short before it had begun: "When SEC (Shelagh Elliot-Clarke, who ran the Bold Street dance school Elisabeth attended from the age of four) announced that a film crew were seeking extras for a few days," she wrote, "my friends Jackie and Alex and I ran down to sign up.

"The film was Ferry Cross the Mersey starring Gerry and the Pacemakers - I think it was their attempt to do a Beatles-type movie. All I knew was, it was my chance to be seen by an audience of millions.

"In the end, I was so embarrassed by the final result that I've never told anyone about it. You certainly won't find it mentioned on my CV! Our contribution involved going down to the Mersey Ferry and riding it back and forth all day to Bebington, so we were in the background while the main actors wandered around the ship.

"Anyone would have been happy with a pound a day for that. Then the moment came for our close-up. I had on my Mary Quant dress and thought I looked the business. The three of us couldn't wait to see it at the cinema.

"Well, thank God DVDs didn't exist in those days! The finished scene was horrendous - or rather, I was horrendous. At that moment I realised I knew so little about movie acting. My hair was all over the place, my smile fake on film and as for my weight - you really do look two stone heavier onscreen. I remember sitting in the cinema with Alex and Jackie and we cried. I nearly gave up acting there and then."

NEW AUDIENCE: with the Doctor, Smith, in the Adventures Luckily for us, Elisabeth never did give up. Her acting career, the book reveals, really began when she started working at Liverpool Playhouse in 1965. It was here she met her future husband - although not before enjoying a solitary date at the pictures with future Dalziel and Pascoe actor Warren Clarke, a member of the company at the time.

But for the thousands of Who fans who will cherish this memento of an actress they can't quite believe is no longer with us, it is the anecdotes from making the world's longest-running science fiction show which the bulk of its audience will inevitably flick to first.

And one of Elisabeth"s most revealing stories shows the fragile personalities lurking beneath the largest of characters - on her first ever day on location as the new assistant - at Peckforton Castle in Tarporley, Cheshire, in 1973.

Elisabeth played by Matt Sarah Jane It was the moment she stepped into the shoes of her predecessor Katy Manning, an actress of whom her first Doctor, Jon Pertwee, was extraordinarily fond: "We arrived late afternoon and made our way to the hotel," she wrote "a charming old coaching inn. It was quite a period piece, all slanted floors and low beams, but my bed was comfortable and there was hot water for a bath. That was more of a luxury than I realised.

"Soon it was time to go downstairs. The crew and cast were assembling in the hotel bar. This was it, my big entrance into the world - the universe - of Doctor Who. I'd been in enough shows with enough companies not to be anxious about joining another one, but something about this particular programme made me feel nervous. Like Coronation Street (Elisabeth appeared in six episodes in 1970), everyone was so established in their roles. Would I fit in? "Only one way to find out... "The bar area was already full, although I didn't recognise a soul. Then I spotted Jon Pertwee at the bar. A quick double take and he recognised me.

"'Lissie!' "His booming voice carried across the room and two-dozen heads swivelled my way. Well, if they didn't know me already, they did now. It was embarrassing at the time but actually it got all the introductions out of the way early on. Kevin (Lindsay, an Australian actor playing the alien Sontaran in Elisabeth's first story) and Jim Acheson (future Oscar-winning costume designer) appeared out of the throng and showed me off around the room. It was such a blur but everyone was friendly.

"Finally, I found my way to the bar where Jon was waiting. He gave me a great big hug, which was his seal of approval to the rest of the cast, I think, like a Roman emperor giving the thumbs-up sign.

"Relaxed, he said, 'Now, what would you like to drink, Katy?' "Katy? "I didn't say anything - I didn't need to. A second later Jon realised his error.

"And burst into tears. "Oh Christ, I thought, what on earth have I signed up to here?"? Elisabeth Sladen: The Autobiography is out now, published by Aurum Press, priced pounds 20 (hardback) NEW AUDIENCE: Elisabeth with the Doctor, played by Matt Smith, in the Sarah Jane Adventures WHO'S THAT GIRL? Elisabeth Sladen with her first Doctor, Jon Pertwee

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  • APA 6th ed.: McLoughlin, Jamie (2011-11-09). I made the Doctor cry on my first day. Liverpool Echo p. 10.
  • MLA 7th ed.: McLoughlin, Jamie. "I made the Doctor cry on my first day." Liverpool Echo [add city] 2011-11-09, 10. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: McLoughlin, Jamie. "I made the Doctor cry on my first day." Liverpool Echo, edition, sec., 2011-11-09
  • Turabian: McLoughlin, Jamie. "I made the Doctor cry on my first day." Liverpool Echo, 2011-11-09, section, 10 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=I made the Doctor cry on my first day | url= | work=Liverpool Echo | pages=10 | date=2011-11-09 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=25 July 2024 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=I made the Doctor cry on my first day | url= | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=25 July 2024}}</ref>