|Many Grange Hill actors are relative unknowns when they come
into the series. But in 1997 Grange Hill pulled off a major coup when
it signed up a talented 15-year old to play the demanding role of
Judi Jeffreys. That actress was Laura Sadler, who already had a movie
with Julie Walters and a couple of TV roles to her name. Being in
Grange Hill led to Laura being in demand, and before long Laura would
establish another popular role in the medical drama Holby City. Sadly
her career and young life were cut tragically short when Laura died
after falling 40ft from a second floor balcony in June 2003. She was
just 22. GH Online remembers her career.
DESTINED TO ACT
Born in Ascot, Berkshire, Laura grew up in London and knew she always
wanted to act. Her inspiration was Marilyn Monroe and in 2002 Laura
said of her: "I think Marilyn's the epitome of a woman, she was fantastic
and I don't think there'll be anyone like her ever again." So began
her career at the tender age of six. She attended the Jackie Palmer
stage school and at 12 she won a scholarship to the renowned Sylvia
Young Theatre School in London. Sylvia Young has provided many of
Grange Hill's actors and also takes the credit for other celebs such
as Nicole and Natalie Appleton, John and Nick Pickard, Samantha Janus
and Emma Bunton. Many youngsters try and fail to win a place at Sylvia
Young's each year, so it was clear that Laura had the exceptional
talent needed to gain a place.
Her first big break in 1989 was as Sebina in "Inspector Morse",
a non-speaking role involving an elephant ride! The first time I
saw Laura on TV was in 1995, when she appeared as Gabby Goggle in
Goggle Vision, a series about a TV-mad family marking 40
years of Children's ITV. Sadly the only clip of Laura I have from
that series is the background shot below, from a CITV continuity
Laura left Goggle Vision and in 1996 moved onto the big screen,
in the movie Intimate Relations starring Rupert Graves and
Julie Walters. She played Walters' teenage daughter who has an illicit
relationship with her mum's handsome lodger, and carried off the role
beautifully. Back in TV land, Goggle Vision continued with
Gabby now played by Melanie Martinez, who has not been heard of since.
JUDI MOVES GRANGE HILL AUDIENCES
Laura's second series of GRANGE HILL, shown in 1998, was one which
tested her acting ability as Judi's face was mistakenly slashed
by knife-wielding Sean Pearce. Judi was left with a permanent
scar, and Laura movingly showed Judi's pain as she attempted to come
to terms with her disfigurement. Sean (Iain Robertson) struck up a
friendship with Judi and, trusting as ever, she couldn't see he was
trying to cover his tracks. Eventually Judi twigged and was stunned
to find the knife in Sean's coat pocket, but through the ordeal she
became closer to boyfriend Wayne. In real life, Laura was dating Iain
Then came the role we're bonkers about. In 1996, while taking her
GCSEs, Laura Sadler won the role of Judi Jeffreys in Series 20 of
Grange Hill. It was a role Laura was to make her own and she played
the part with great skill and emotion. Judi was a caring but put-upon
Year 9 pupil who struggled to combine normal teenage life with looking
after her mum who suffered from MS. She also had to look after
her little brothers. Judi worried constantly that social services
would find out about her home life and take them into care. Inevitably
social services did find out, but Judi needn't have worried - they
merely provided a home help. There were some powerful scenes in
that series, especially when a rift developed between Judi and best
mate Sarah-Jane, and I would think many people cheered when Judi
told Mrs Holmes where to get off!
Just when you thought Judi's fortunes had turned the corner, viewers
were proved horrifically wrong in the 1999 series. Alec, excluded
from Grange Hill and living on the streets, was desperate to talk
to Judi and sneaked into school. He cornered Judi in a store-room,
and they were locked in. Alec's smoking and some spilt white spirit
started a fire, and while he managed to jump clear from the window
the terrified Judi fell to her death in a jaw-dropping scene.
CASTING HER SPELL FURTHER
Finally, her biggest
role and one that made Laura a household name. She played Sandy Harper
in the hugely popular Casualty spin-off, Holby City. For Laura it
meant a return to Elstree where Grange Hill was filmed. Quickly she
became a popular member of the cast as the unlucky-in-love staff nurse.
Laura was contracted to Holby until next March. Mal Young, the BBC's
Controller of Drama Series, led tributes to the young actress. "Everyone
at Holby City, and indeed, across the BBC, are devastated by this
news," he said. "Laura was a much loved, talented and respected actress.
She brought so much to the role with her infectious enthusiasm, dedication
and 100% professionalism. "Television has lost a talent who had so
much more to give."
That may have been the last we saw of Laura in Grange Hill, but
in October 1999 Laura played the part of Skirty Marm in a new BBC1
children's comedy, Belfry Witches. Skirty Marm was a teenage
witch banished to earth from Witch Island with her pal Old Noshie
(Lucy Davis of "The Office" fame). The pair settled in
a sleepy village where they caused mayhem!
On stage Laura captured the imagination on Hollywood icon Dustin
Hoffman who was so taken with her
performance in Six Characters In Search Of An Author at the National
Theatre, he asked to meet her backstage. She received plaudits for
her part in Roy Williams' council estate drama Lift Off at London's
Royal Court, and Toby Whithouse's Jump Mr Malinoff, Jump, at the
Soho Theatre, among others.
||"Laura was not a typical actress at all. She was not
at all showbizzy and loud. She was such a lovely, humble girl,
very sweet and an excellent friend.
||"Laura was the most, kind, warm, generous and decent
person I've had the pleasure of working with. Thinking back
I can't remember a time when she wasn't smiling. It's a loss
not only to the acting world, but to the rest of the world as
well. I speak for all the current cast and crew that knew Laura
when I say, we will all miss her terribly and hope she is happy
wherever she is."
||"She was lovely."
to read your tributes to Laura
Despite her talents Laura found fame difficult to cope with. If
fans recognised her in the street she would deny she was Judi,
and that "she just looked like her". On the subject of
autographs, she added "I get really nervous and embarrassed and
sweaty. "When people ask if they can have my autograph I always
look at them as if they're a bit mad and wonder why they would want
my autograph. That's one bit I hate about my job." Nonetheless she
lived for acting. "Who could ask for a better job, we just go around
playing doctors and nurses. It's never the same, every day is different."
Her mum Sonya had kept a constant vigil at her daughter's bedside.
Laura's agent, Michelle Milburn, said: "She had a unique talent, and
I am certain was only at the start of what would have been a brilliant
career. "However, her greatest gift, was her ability to bring out
the best in all who were lucky enough to know her." Lorraine Heggessey,
Controller of BBC1, described Sadler as a "sweet, modest, hard working
girl". "I'm devastated that we have lost such a talented young actress.
When I first met Laura on Grange Hill it was clear she had enormous
Co-stars Kate Bell (Kelly) and Peter Morton (Wayne)
were at Laura's bedside. Peter's mum Kathleen told the Daily Mail:
"They have known each other for years and I don't know how
Peter will cope without her. She was alovely, sweet girl. I don't
know what happened, but this doesn't sound like the Laura I knew."
Laura lived close to Peter in High Wycombe. Fiona Wade, who
played Joanna Day, said: "Laura was not a typical actress at
all. She was not at all showbizzy and loud. She was such a lovely,
humble girl, very sweet and an excellent friend." John
Joseph, who joined Grange Hill as Ian while Judi was central
to the storyline, said: "Laura was the most, kind, warm,
generous and decent person I've had the pleasure of working
with. I can't remember a time when she wasn't smiling. It's a loss
not only to the acting world, but to the rest of the world as well."
Laura Sadler died on 19 June 2003. Many believed she would have become
a huge star. One thing's for certain - Laura touched the lives of
everyone who knew her or saw her on TV, and she'll never be forgotten.
Rest in peace Laura, wherever you are.