Wednesday 21 August 2019

Obituary: Sandy Ratcliff

Actor who touched the hearts of millions when she appeared in 'EastEnders'

REBELLIOUS STREAK: When she was 23, Ratcliff’s modelling career began to take off, before eventually moving into film
REBELLIOUS STREAK: When she was 23, Ratcliff’s modelling career began to take off, before eventually moving into film

Sandy Ratcliff, who has died aged 70, was one of the original cast of the popular BBC soap opera EastEnders, playing Sue Osman, the highly strung but long-suffering wife of Turkish Cypriot cafe owner Ali (Nejdet Salih) from 1985 to 1989.

A former model who had been spotted as one of the up-and-coming "faces" of the 1970s by Lord Snowdon, Sandy Ratcliff found herself at the centre of an unusually bleak storyline when her baby died from cot death syndrome in June 1985.

Her character also endured a breast cancer scare and when she and her gambling addict husband finally had another child, their marriage broke up. Sue had a breakdown and was carted off to a psychiatric ward in May 1989.

Sandy Ratcliff's private life, meanwhile, was as troubled as an Albert Square plotline. During her time with EastEnders, she and her co-stars, Gillian Taylforth, Anita Dobson, Letitia Dean and Susan Tully, earned a reputation as the programme's keen party-goers and were frequently snapped by the paparazzi at London night-spots.

In 1987, however, it was revealed that Sandy Ratcliff had previously been jailed for selling cannabis, and after leaving the show she slipped into an addiction to heroin that would soon end her television and film career. Her last television appearance in 1992 was in a one-off episode of Maigret.

In the meantime, she had attracted much negative publicity in 1991 when she gave evidence at the Old Bailey trial of Michael Shorey, a 34-year-old accounts clerk charged with the murders of his then girlfriend and her flatmate in July 1990.

Sandy Ratcliff had become his lover and gave him an alibi, claiming that they were making love at the time he was accused of the murders. But the jury found him guilty and he was given two life sentences.

Under cross-examination, Sandy Ratcliff, often close to tears, agreed that she had a cannabis conviction, had taken heroin and cocaine, had shared a cannabis joint with her teenage son and had contemplated taking her own life with a mixture of sleeping tablets and brandy.

She also admitted that she had given police wrong information about the timings of her meetings with Shorey.

In 2005, as EastEnders celebrated its 20th birthday, Sandy Ratcliff was reported in the Daily Mirror to be surviving on a £70-a-week disability allowance and living alone in Finsbury Park, north London, in a flat in a converted Victorian house.

"With the Queen Vic a distant memory," the paper went on, "she can now be found at the Brownswood Park Tavern - a short walk from her home and where not too long ago she worked as a barmaid."

The daughter of an insurance salesman, she was born Alexandra Ratcliff in Islington, north London, on October 2, 1948, and was something of a handful from a young age. Expelled from her grammar school aged 12, within two years she was smoking cannabis.

She drifted in and out of jobs before marrying Peter Wright, a photographer, in 1968. The marriage soon ended, however, and by 1973 she had given birth to a son from a relationship with the theatre director Terence Palmer.

When she was 23 her modelling career began to take off, her work helping her to move into film.

In 1971 she won glowing reviews for her convincing film debut in Ken Loach's Bafta-nominated Family Life as Janice, the daughter of lower-middle-class parents in suburban London whose repression and ideas of "standards" are no help when a forced abortion sends her over the edge and, ultimately, to a psychiatric clinic. (The plot had strong parallels to Sue Osman's story in EastEnders.)

She was given the role in Family Life after approaching Loach's collaborator Tony Garnett to help her get a job as a continuity girl; Loach asked her to improvise a critical scene and, three months later, she got the part.

On the strength of her touching performance, the following year Lord Snowdon included Sandy Ratcliff in a gallery of "Faces for the Seventies" in The Sunday Times Magazine, alongside other up-and-coming stars including Fiona Fullerton and Kiri Te Kanawa.

Sandy Ratcliff appeared in several other films, including Hussy (1980) with Helen Mirren and Chris Petit's road movie Radio On (1979), and in television series such as Minder, The Sweeney, and Shelley.

After retiring from acting she trained as a counsellor.

In an interview with The Sun in 2010, Sandy Ratcliff indicated that she might welcome a return to acting: "If anyone needs someone to play a bag lady, I could do that!"

Over the last few years Sandy Ratcliff suffered three strokes and had been diagnosed with cancer.

At the time of her death she was a resident in assisted accommodation in Stamford Hill, north London.

Sandy Ratcliff, who died on April 7, is survived by her son.

© Telegraph

Editors Choice

Also in Entertainment

Back to top