April Walker (1941) is a British actress, primarily for the BBC, best known for her regular appearances on the hit variety show The Two Ronnies, episodic guest roles on numerous other shows, such as Fawlty Towers and Dial M for Murder, and also for having been the first woman cast in the seminal role of Sarah Jane Smith for the series Doctor Who.
Walker got her start on television at the age of 23, with a role on the BBC show No Hiding Place in 1964. Eventually began to secure regular episodic work, appearing most often on dramas and comedies, including Father Brown, The Prince and the Pauper, Anna Karenina, Yes Minister, and Wyatt's Watchdogs. Her most steady work was on the show The Two Ronnies, a popular BBC variety show, where she appeared in 15 episodes, from 1973–1984.
Doctor Who's Sarah Jane Smith
In 1973, the long-running television series Doctor Who was looking for a new companion for the star character. After auditioning many women, producer Barry Letts selected April Walker for the role of Sarah Jane Smith. Unfortunately, the actor playing the Doctor, Jon Pertwee, disliked the selection, in part because he was not comfortable with a female co-star who was that tall. Already contractually protected, Walker was paid for the entire season but not actually used, the role being re-cast to Elisabeth Sladen. Sladen and a handful of others kept the secret of whom she had replaced, taking it literally to their graves. But when David Brunt was compiling a Doctor Who DVD, he came across a BBC memo that revealed Walker as the mysterious first Sarah Jane Smith.
When Walker gave her first interview regarding her casting in Doctor Who, she also revealed that at more-or-less the same time, she was cast as Jutta Baumgarten, Terry Collier's estranged wife in Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?: the intention being that she would be a regular character in the show's second series. After filming her first scene, which would have closed the final episode of the first series, the producers changed their minds about including the character, dropped the scene and released Walker from the role. Walker appears on the credits for the episode, despite not appearing.
Doctor Who producer Letts eventually went on to use Walker in his production of The Prince and the Pauper.
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