Terry Sue Patt was only 13 when he landed a role that made him one of the best-known faces on television in the late 1970s and early 1980s and saw him chased down the street by teenage girls in scenes reminiscent of Beatlemania.
Patt was a member of a children’s drama group in Islington in London. And a combination of acting and football skills led to him being cast as Benny Green, the mischievous little black pupil in the landmark BBC series Grange Hill, which brought a new realism to children’s teatime television drama.
“The response from the general public was overwhelming,” he said in an interview with Grange Hill Gold website a couple of years ago. “I used to get chased up the road by the local girls school. On many occasions I had to wait till the schoolchildren had left about 6pm, then I could make my way home. Strange things like people following you around started to happen. I am quite a private person so it was a little daunting.”
After appearing in four series of Grange Hill, Patt made one-off appearances in various other TV shows. He played a football hooligan in Gary Oldman film The Firm in 1989 and had a recurring role as a nurse in Cardiac Arrest in the mid-1990s.
However, he never found another role to rival that of Benny Green. Latterly he became a graffiti artist and struggled with alcohol and debt problems.
He was found dead in his flat in the Walthamstow area of London. A friend reported that he had not been seen for weeks and police forced entry. It is thought he might have been dead for up to a month. His father, Alston, told the Sunday Mirror Patt “struggled with his celebrity status” and drank heavily, particularly after the death of his younger brother Michael, for which he considered himself to blame. His brother was seemingly racing another car when he lost control. Patt was also in the car.
Patt was born into a large immigrant family in London in 1964. His family were mainly African and Caribbean, although he also had a Chinese grandfather. His surname was Sue-Patt, though he dropped the hyphen when he appeared on Grange Hill.
He showed early promise at football, playing for the Camden schools team, with former Liverpool and Celtic star John Barnes. He had trials with Queens Park Rangers and Chelsea.
His parents enrolled him in a drama group to give him something else to do. “My parents thought it would be a good place to meet people and stay off the streets,” he said.
Five years before Grange Hill he got an early taste of fame when he appeared in a memorably scary, Donald Pleasence-voiced public information film, The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water, about the dangers of playing near ponds. He also appeared in pop videos with Bob Marley and Pink Floyd.
One day he was practising keepie-uppie skills in the park when he noticed a man sitting nearby, watching him. He then went along to his drama group and the man was there again. “The man sat on the bench turned out to be Colin Cant, the original director of Grange Hill,” he said. The show was conceived by Phil Redmond, who also created Brookside and Hollyoaks, and after debuting in 1978 it ran for 30 years.
As the original Grange Hill characters neared the end of their schooldays, the programme-makers discussed possible spin-offs, including one called Tucker and Benny. However, Patt wanted to pursue other opportunities and the BBC decided to focus on Benny’s friend Tucker Jenkins, played by Todd Carty – pictured with Patt – in a series called Tucker’s Luck.
Patt’s acting career had stalled in the second half of the 1990s, though he had a small role as a priest in Amar, Akbar and Tony, a low-budget comedy film that came out a few weeks ago.