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Anthony Roger Tonge
30 January 1946
|Died||26 February 1981 (aged 35)|
Roger Tonge (30 January 1946 – 26 February 1981) was a British actor.
He was born Anthony Roger Tonge in Birmingham where he attended Lordswood Technical Grammar School. He was working as an £8-a-week post office clerk and performing in amateur dramatics in the evenings when he landed the role of Sandy Richardson, the motel owner's son in the ATV soap opera, Crossroads, a role he would play for 17 years. He played the disabled son of Meg Richardson, played by the actress Noele Gordon.
In 1964, when Tonge dropped in at ATV during his lunch break to enquire about acting parts, a cleaner, presuming he had an audition for Crossroads, sent him to a production meeting. He arrived just as Production Manager Margaret French was leaving. She handed him a script and invited him to return for an audition. Reg Watson, the Producer, had already interviewed hundreds of young hopefuls for the part of Sandy, but without finding what the show was looking for. Eventually when Tonge and another hopeful were shortlisted for the part, both interviewees were asked to act out their reaction to their pet dog being run over. Tonge produced the best woeful response and the part became his.
The show was criticised heavily by TV critics and Tonge along with many other members of the cast were part of their target. He was reported as having laughed off their jibes, by saying "I'm allergic to criticism".
But it was the actor's fight against Hodgkins Disease that resulted in his departure from the programme before the programme was cancelled. During Tonge's tenure in the series, Tonge's ill health left him increasingly immobile. To accommodate his disability and in order not to lose the character from the series, a plotline was developed where Sandy became paralysed and a wheel chair user through an accident. Prior to the 'accident' storyline, Tonge had for many months only been seen in seated scenes, standing rigid or lying in bed. Tonge thus became the first disabled actor in a soap; however, it was something he always played down and his illness was never talked about. In an on screen interview with Angela Rippon as part of a show looking at TV Soap Operas in 1981, Tonge claimed that viewers were often astonished to encounter him off-screen and discover he did not use a wheelchair or crutches; this despite him having been a wheelchair user for many years. The claim was not challenged on air.
Although he was a regular in the soap opera, Tonge found time to appear on other television programmes, including Z-Cars, Nearest and Dearest and 'Detective'. He was also in the film Catch Me Going Back.
In 1981, after a long fight with Hodgkin's lymphoma, Tonge died age 35. He had caught chicken pox and died of heart failure, his system unable to cope with the infection. The character of Sandy had disappeared from the series long before Tonge's death, as his disability had made it increasingly impossible for him to perform. His absence and death were never mentioned in the series until the final episode featuring his mother Meg, played by Noele Gordon, in November 1981, when she revealed that Sandy had died some time earlier.
- Who's Who on Television. Independent Television Publications Ltd 1970
- The Death of Roger Tonge The death of Roger Tonge