ACTRESS Elisabeth Sladen – a familiar face to children and adults across the country and more specifically here in Penarth, where she filmed much of the Sarah Jane Adventures – died last week.

Penarth-born TV producer Ed Stradling is currently working on documentary features for the Classic Doctor Who DVD range, and his latest work was released in the shops last Monday, on the DVD of the 1974 serial "Planet of the Spiders" in which Sladen starred alongside Jon Pertwee in his final adventure as Dr Who.

Here he remembers the talented actress, whom he interviewed on several occasions...

ELISABETH Sladen, who died last week of cancer at the age of 65, lit up the lives of two generations of children, and had lit up the streets of Penarth for the last five years.

Born in Liverpool in 1946, Sladen studied at the Elliot-Clarke drama school. She quickly found work as actor/stage manager at the Liverpool Playhouse, and further repertory theatre work followed in Manchester and Scarborough.

She made her break into television in the early 1970s, with roles including Coronation Street, Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em and Z Cars, and in 1973 she won the role that would define her career when Doctor Who producer Barry Letts cast her to star alongside Jon Pertwee as the spirited journalist, Sarah Jane Smith.

In those days, TV drama allowed little scope for character development for the Doctor Who assistant. Sladen spent much of the next three years running down BBC corridors, and despite starring during the most successful period of the show's original BBC run, much of her dialogue was limited to asking plot-related questions of first Pertwee and later Tom Baker.

Whole scenes couldn't be devoted to how Sarah Jane was feeling - a limitation Sladen would bemoan later in her career. But like many of her predecessors, Sarah Jane was standing in the shoes of the young viewers in an era when television stories had to be told primarily with words, rather than with the filmic imagery that is possible today.

But her ability rose above these limitations. She won the hearts of millions of young viewers, in a way no Doctor Who girl had done before, because she was quite simply better than all the rest.

She remained in the role for three years, treating it with absolute seriousness and ardour throughout, before bidding the Doctor a delightfully understated farewell in 1976.

Sladen returned to the life of a jobbing actress, appearing in occasional TV dramas and sitcoms for the next ten years, but never achieved the success that she'd enjoyed with Sarah Jane, a role she reprised in two Doctor Who specials in the early 1980s.

From the mid 1980s, acting work took second place to motherhood. Her only notable role in the 1990s was in four episodes of Peak Practice for Carlton, although she continued to appear for devoted but now ageing fans at Doctor Who conventions and in spin-off videos.

Her career was standing still, until something quite extraordinary happened.

In 2005, Doctor Who returned to BBC1 under writer Russell T Davies. Now filmed in Wales, the first series was a smash hit. Davies, a huge fan of the original show, brought Sarah Jane back to appear in an episode alongside David Tennant and Billie Piper the following year. Such was her impact, Children's BBC immediately commissioned The Sarah Jane Adventures - and Clinton Road would never be the same again.

At the age of 60, Sladen's career was reborn, only to be cut short as it reached its second peak. At the time of her death, the fifth series of Sarah Jane Adventures was in production, with the completed episodes likely to be screened later this year.

Sladen leaves a husband Brian Miller, himself a fine actor. They married in 1968, and have one daughter, Sadie.