Leah Bracknell’s 16-year spell as vet Zoe Tate in ITV’s long-running Emmerdale saw her create television history as the first regular, openly gay character in a British soap opera.
The role tasked Bracknell with more than her fair share of melodramatic storylines, including alcoholism, mental health problems, trials for murder and attempted murder, sexual assault and the birth of a daughter after a one-night stand.
All of which paled beside her British Soap Awards-winning departure from the series in 2005, when she ruptured and detonated a gas pipe to destroy her former home in retaliation for having been blackmailed into selling it.
Born in London, the daughter of the Chinese-Malaysian actor Li-Er Hwang and assistant film director David Bracknell, she decided to follow her mother into acting as a child and was first seen in The Chiffy Kids, a family comedy serial directed by her father for the Children’s Film Foundation (1976-78).
After graduating from the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art in 1987, early stage appearances included spells with small-scale regional and touring companies, before success in Emmerdale curtailed her theatre career.
She resumed it in touring productions of Patrick Hamilton’s Gaslight (2005) and alongside Anita Harris and Colin Baker in Craig Warner’s adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train (2006).
Pantomime also became an annual fixture until 2013, while the year before Bracknell was seen as Lady Capulet in Romeo and Juliet for Stafford Festival Shakespeare.
Later television included an extended spell in the 2008 hospital serial The Royal Today, three appearances in daytime medical soap Doctors and, her television swansong, an episode of crime drama DCI Banks, in 2011.
A British School of Yoga-qualified teacher, she produced three instructional DVDs. She also created her own line of jewellery.
In 2016, when Bracknell was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, a crowdfunding appeal raised £50,000 for experimental treatment in Germany. One month before she died, she announced that she was participating in an immunotherapy clinical trial.
Leah Bracknell was born Alison Rosalind Bracknell on July 12, 1964, and died in September, aged 55. Her family withheld the exact date and announced her death on October 16. She is survived by her second husband and two children from her first marriage.