Many of you will have seen the heart wrenching Channel 4 show, It’s a Sin, written by the wonderful Russell T Davies, but what many of you won’t know is the tragically sad true story behind the character Ritchie Tozer and his links to the Isle of Man.
Ritchie, who in the show is from the Isle of Wight, is based on Dursley McLinden, an actor, singer, and dancer. He was born in Douglas, May 1965 and went to what was then Douglas High School before moving to London to study acting at the age of 16. He appeared on the West End (including in an acclaimed production of Gigi) and in the company of The Phantom of the Opera. He also appeared in Mr Bean, Freddie and Max, and as RAF sergeant Mike Smith in the 1988 Doctor Who episode Remembrance of the Daleks.
But, like in the TV show, Dursley’s life was tragically cut short by the AIDS epidemic that swept the world in the 1980s and 1990s.
For Russell T Davies, It’s a Sin isn’t merely a piece of work, before the show was aired, he gave an interview telling how he met Dursley at a party of a mutual friend Jill, whom he based Jill, played by Lydia West, in the show.
He said: ‘What a beautiful boy! He was one of Jill’s friends and one of the first people I ever met who’d been in Doctor Who.
‘I went to Jill’s 30th and there he was. He was already very ill, but he was so hilarious and lovely. I was thrilled to meet him. He became very wonderful in his AIDS activism when he was ill, but to me he was that boy from Remembrance of the Daleks.’
When Dursley died in 1995, aged just 30, his obituary was written in the Independent. It said: ‘With his dazzling looks, dashing presence and winning charm, Dursley McLinden was the quintessential English juvenile lead. When he appeared in such musicals as Annie, Robert and Elizabeth, Damn Yankees and Gigi (in which he appeared in John Dexter’s West End production), he showed himself to be a young performer who could not only sing and dance with charm and skill but one whose personality alone was likely to carry him through a whole succession of leading roles in English musical theatre.’
His last performance, only 10 weeks before his death, was in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera on the night of his 30th birthday.
Tragically, like It’s a Sin shows, the AIDS epidemic claimed millions of lives. The World Health Organisation estimates that 38 million people are currently living with HIV, and tens of millions of people have died of AIDS-related causes since the beginning of the epidemic. It said that as many as 690,000 people are believed to have died from HIV-related complications in 2019.
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