Sandy Ratcliff has died at the age of 70. She was best known for her role as café owner Sue Osman in EastEnders between 1985-1989.

Sandy, pictured in the early 1970s.

Ratcliff had spent the last couple of years of her life in a care home in Stamford Hill, North London. She died in her sleep and was found on Sunday morning.

A source told The Sun that the one-time model and actress had been forced to give up her flat in the area after suffering a series of health setbacks including a number of strokes.

“We sent two single responders in cars and an ambulance crew. Sadly, a person was found dead at the scene.” – Ambulance spokesperson

At the age of 23 Ratcliff made a big impression as a model and was cast as ‘The face of the ’70s’ by Royal photographer Lord Snowdon. This success saw her venture into acting with a film appearance as a schizophrenic teenage girl in Ken Loach’s Bafta-nominated Family Life (1971).

Further film appearances followed including The Final Programme (1973), Yesterday’s Hero (1979) and Hussy (1980) with Helen Mirren. She also worked in television during the 1970s and early 1980s with Minder, Play for Today, The Sweeney and Shoestring amongst her credits.

Sandy appears in 1970s BBC crime-solving drama Shoestring, the series was repeated in the 1990s on BBC Two.
First soap role, as Barbara Wells, later Barbara Parker, in ATV’s Crossroads. The series aired on ITV. Pictured with son-in-law Vince (Peter Brookes)

In 1984, Ratcliff took on perhaps her most famous role when she joined the cast of a new ‘bi-weekly drama’ which was soon to be hitting BBC One screens. The BBC launched EastEnders – its rival to Coronation Street – in February 1985 with Sandy portraying café manageress Sue Osman. Sue was married to Turkish Cypriot Ali – played by Nejdet Salih – and the pair were the first on screen proprietors of Albert Square’s local greasy spoon.

Sue is described by author Hilary Kingsley in a tie-in book as ‘argumentative, insecure and tragic’. The character didn’t mince her words and was often seen at loggerheads with her female neighbours after accusing them of trying to get into Ali’s pants. Sue and Ali were also in regular conflict over his gambling habit.

A few months into the series the Osmans found themselves at the centre of the soap’s first hard-hitting storyline after they lost their one-year-old son Hassan to cot death. The tragedy had a profound effect on Sue and led to her behaving out of sorts including having a phantom pregnancy and offering to adopt neighbour Michelle Fowler’s baby daughter Vicky whom Michelle had given no indication she planned to give up.

Michael Riddal and Sandy Ratcliff in the 1971 movie Famiy Life. (Image: ATV Archive/EMI Films Publicity Release)

Other movie roles include parts in The Final Programme, Yesterday’s Hero and Hussy.

Sue later got a much yearned for second shot at motherhood when she gave birth to a second son, Ali, but her troubles were sadly far from over. She was overprotective of her second-born to the detriment of her marriage. Ali tired of Sue’s neuroticism and slept with trouble-making Donna Ludlow who wasted no time in letting Sue know about the encounter. Sue kissed her brother-in-law Mehmet in retaliation and then fled the Square with baby Ali.

Ali later found Sue at Hassan’s grave and took back his son. This led to Sue’s already poor mental health worsening and she was last seen following her admittance to a secure mental health unit. Off-screen, Ratcliff’s boozy antics had on more than one occasion made newspaper headlines but it was the revelation that she was addicted to heroin that saw her leave soap stardom behind.

“It’s very sad. I remember the first time I auditioned for the show, we had this instant chemistry and banter. I was a young actor and she helped me develop so much. We had a lot of fun on the show and had some really good storylines.

 

“Obviously the cot death storyline was massive and really important. We wanted to do the best job we could. I remember going to her flat to rehearse lines and her son William and boyfriend Tony would be there. She was a great mum. There was nothing she wouldn’t do for William.  She would try to take younger actors under her wing and had a great sense of humour. At the end of the show I think she had had enough, there was a lot of pressure on us back then. I think she just wanted to go.” – Nejdet Salih

Sandy pictured at the London Palladium in October 1974 for the opening night of Larry Grayson stage show Grayson’s Scandals along with the rest of the Crossroads cast.
Most famous role; as Sue Osman in BBC One twice-weekly serial EastEnders with Nejdet Salih as husband Ali Osman and son Hassan Osman, played by Michael Evangelou.

In October 1974 Sandy joined four-times-a-week soap opera Crossroads as Barbara Wells, in her first soap role. She played the girlfriend of George Parker, played by Harry Beety. The storyline saw the thirty years younger Barbara marry George, much to the disgust of his son Vince Parker, portrayed by Peter Brookes. However, with Vince and step-mother Barbara being of a similar age it wasn’t long before an attraction grew leaving an already strained relationship with his father left in tatters.

While part of the Crossroads cast Sandy, along with the rest of the regulars, were part of the opening night of Larry Grayson’s London Palladium show Grayson’s Scandals. The debút performance, however, left the actress along with other Crossroads stars such as Johnny Briggs (who went on to become Mike Baldwin in Coronation Street) and Gretchen Franklin (who would join Sandy once more eleven years later in EastEnders as Ethel Skinner) soaking wet when a fire alarm left the entire staff, crew, cast and audience of the Palladium standing out in the rain. Sandy departed Crossroads after the storyline concluded in spring of 1975.

Following her stint with the Beeb’s Walford set saga Sandy made a couple more appearances on television with roles in 1990 produced drama A Box of Swan for BBC Two, Granada Television’s Maigret period saga alongside Michael Gambon, for ITV, and Men of the Month in 1994 for BBC Two. She gave up acting to concentrate on a career in councelling, before retiring. She struggled for years with a number of personal problems including failed relationships, a partner sentenced to imprisonment for murder and reported drug addictions.

She has been recently seen in Classic EastEnders repeats on UKTV channel Drama, a happier time in her life.

“Sandy had suffered three strokes in the space of about five years, and she had been diagnosed with cancer. She would just get on with it really. She would just say that everything was going to be fine even though she was getting worse. In the earlier days some of the old cast kept in touch with her, but June [Brown] was the one who had seen her most recently. I met Sandy after she had got clean from the drugs and I just knew her as a really lovely, down-to-earth woman who loved baking and cooking.” – a friend of Sandy speaking to The Sun newspaper

Alexandra ‘Sandy’ Ratcliff 1948 – 2019

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