Although Sandy Ratcliff’s most prominent role was as the trauma-afflicted cafe owner Sue Osman in the early, defining years of the BBC’s flagship soap opera EastEnders, her eventful personal life made her fictional Walford woes pale into insignificance.
Born in London on October 2, 1948, she was a bright but rebellious pupil who was expelled from school aged 14 for smoking cannabis. In her late teens she was a bass guitarist in two rock bands, a radio DJ and a model admired by celebrity photographer Tony Snowdon.
In the early 1980s, Ratcliff became addicted to heroin and spent eight months in prison in 1983 for supplying cannabis. A feeding frenzy duly ensued in the tabloid press when Ratcliff joined EastEnders for its launch in 1985. This was later refuelled by her involvement as a key witness in a murder trial after she left the soap in 1989.
Ratcliff’s initial brush with fame had come in Family Life, Ken Loach’s 1971 feature film version of David Mercer’s In Two Minds, in which she played a young woman struggling with schizophrenia in what The Stage described as “a memorable performance”.
Minor roles followed in Crossroads (1974), Couples (1976), Caryl Churchill’s The After-Dinner Joke (1978) and Tom Kempinski’s The Workshop. The latter, an adaptation of Jean-Claude Grumberg’s play, was seen on tour and at Hampstead Theatre, directed by Nicolas Kent, in 1981: Ratcliff was lauded for her portrayal of Mimi, a seamstress in a post-war Paris sweatshop.
Rose-Marie Mason’s Sunbeams (Soho Poly, 1976), Churchill’s Cloud Nine (Liverpool Everyman, 1980) and Hrant Alianak’s ill-received Lucky Strike (ICA, 1981) aside, Ratcliff played few other theatre roles.
After departing EastEnders, television opportunities were also scarce: her final screen appearance was in Rona Munro’s 1994 one-off drama Men of the Month.
In later years, Ratcliff trained as a counsellor, having struggled with her own mental and physical health issues.
Surviving three strokes, she had recently been diagnosed with cancer and died in her sleep on April 7, aged 70.
She is survived by a son from her relationship with theatre director Terence Palmer.