My Brave Son Sandy

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Millions of Crossroads fans are still missing Sandy Richardson, one of the best-loved characters at the television motel.  Tragically, actor Roger Tonge, who played Sandy, died last month after a long fight against cancer.  He was 35 and had been in Crossroads since the first episode in 1964.  His screen mum was Noele Gordon, who plays the motel's owner, Meg Mortimer.

But his real mother, who mourns for Roger, has always stayed in the background.  Lily Tonge is 72, a comfortable, motherly figure.  She and her husband Percy, 80, live in a cosy family house in a quiet Birmingham suburb.  It was the home Roger, their only son loved so much that he refused to give it up for the glossy life of a television star.

Lily says:  "He bought himself a lovely flat in Birmingham but he never lived in it.  He always wanted to come back here.  He loved his home and my cooking.  And we had such a lot of laughs."

Lily still watches Crossroads every time it is on.  And a photograph of Roger smiles down from the font room mantelpiece.  He was an only child, born late in his parents' life, and they are still stunned by his death.  "I still don't believe it," says Lily.  "He used to go to London regularly so I was used to him being away for a day or two."  Now Lily is struggling to cope with the shock and bitterness left behind by her son's sudden death.

She says:  "He had everything to live for.  He had such a happy nature that everyone loved him.  Being on television never altered him at all."

One comfort for Lily and Percy has been the hundreds of letters and flowers sent since Roger died.  "It is good to know so many people cared about him, even those who never met him," says Lily proudly.  "Even the people working on Coronation Street sent flowers.  I thought that was lovely."

When Roger found that he had Hodgkin's disease, a type of cancer which attacks the lymph glands, he had to travel regularly to the Royal Marsden Hospital in London.  The vital journeys meant that he had to take a break from the hectic pace of rehearsals and recording sessions.

"They were marvellous about it," says Lily.  "They arranged everything round Roger's treatment so that he could go to the hospital whenever he had to."  Then he caught chicken pox and was admitted to the Royal Marsden.  Lily says:  "His illness meant that his resistance to infections was low.  I always rang him three or four times a day just for a chat.  One night I rang about 11.30 to say goodnight.  He seemed very cheerful and happy.  Early next morning we had a phone call from Sonia Fox, his girlfriend, to say he had died.  We were not there when it happened.  That hurts us very much."

Sonia an attractive, dark-haired actress who once worked on Crossroads had been Roger's friend and companion for nine years.  Lily and Percy are upset at reports describing her as his secret girlfriend and claiming that Roger died in her arms.

"Lily says:  "There was nothing secret about their friendship.  In London they went out together quite openly.  She was at the hospital when he died but not in the room.  I don't know whether they would have married.  Perhaps Roger held back because of his illness."

Sandy is to be written out of the Crossroads script next month.  How it will be done is a closely-guarded secret.  But for the cast and millions of Crossroads fans the series will never be quite the same again.

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