Emmerdale pays tribute to former cast member Freddie Jones, who passed away in July 2019 aged 91, as news reaches the village his alter ego Sandy Thomas has died, allowing the soap to give a worthy send-off to both the much-loved character and the legendary actor who played him.
Laurel Thomas (Charlotte Bellamy) receives a call from ex-resident Betty Eagleton confirming the sad loss of her father-in-law, who has spent the last few years living with Betty in Australia. Grief hits the community hard, and fans will also mourn the loss - here's a reminder of Sandy's Emmerdale tenure…
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When did Sandy Thomas first appear in Emmerdale?
The ITV soap scored a casting coup in 2005 by luring Jones to the ensemble, already a huge name having starred in hit films The Elephant Man and Dune, classic TV drama Pennies from Heaven and numerous acclaimed stage roles. Sandy made his debut in November of that year, the father of vicar Ashley Thomas (John Middleton).
Originally introduced for Ashley's wedding to Laurel, Sandy was only meant to stay for three months but the wily, larger-than-life pensioner proved a hit with viewers and he became a permanent fixture. Jones took a break in 2008 and announced his intention to leave, but returned a few months later.
What were his biggest Emmerdale storylines?
Retired sailor Sandy's relationship with his son was strained when he first arrived as backstory informed us years before he had helped his late terminally ill wife Dorothy, Ashley's mum, end her life. The pair were soon reconciled and twinkly-eyed Sandy settled in among the lively older folk of the village, becoming firm friends with the likes of Alan Turner and Betty Eagleton. He was a loyal father, grandfather and friend and all-round avuncular presence among the locals.
One of the darker chapters for Sandy was when Ashley struggled with anger issues following Laurel's affair with Marlon Dingle, and the holy man began to violently lash out at his father. Supportive Sandy refused to report his offspring for abuse, however, realising he was battling some big demons, and he forgave him and helped Ashley through his troubles.
Ashley reunited with Laurel and was diagnosed with vascular dementia in 2015, and Sandy supported the family through his son's terminal decline until his tragic death in April 2017. A few months later, following pal Edna Birch's death and Betty's departure Down Under, Sandy decided he wanted to see more of the world and it was time to move on…
When did he leave Emmerdale?
In February 2018, Sandy received a visit from Betty's friend Maisie who had come on behalf of her mate to tempt him to join her in Australia - which is exactly what he did. Jones' final appearance was a video call from Sandy in Oz bidding a fond farewell to his friends in the Dales.
Speaking of the decision to now address Jones' passing, co-star Bellamy says: "When a cast member dies in real life there has to be a period where the character is not really mentioned.
"But now feels the most correct and respectful time to acknowledge the actor and his character have died, and I feel the show has dealt with it really well."
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