The only child of a family devoid of show-business connections. Despite this, she developed an interest in performing early on and began taking dance lessons at the age of five. This career path reached its zenith when she danced in one production with the Royal Ballet. However, rather than being a prima ballerina, she generally found herself done up in a mouse costume or suchlike. She turned to acting instead.
She finished grammar school, went to drama school for two years, then started work at the Liverpool Playhouse, the oldest repertory company in Britain, as an assistant stage manager. An ASM is the general dogsbody and gofer of the theatrical world with little in the way of performing. Liss first stage appearance was as a dead body, though she ended up being told off for getting the giggles. (A young actor named Brian Miller was playing the doctor and on one occasion whispered "Respiration nil, Aston Villa two" in her ear. She must have forgiven him, because they got married two years later.) Unfortunately for Lis, she was so good as an ASM that she didn't get much in the way of acting roles. She solved this dilemma by the simple expedient of deliberately screwing up on several occasions. This got her told off (again), but at least she started getting more on-stage roles.
She moved into weekly rep after this, traveling around to various locations in England. Eventually, though, she and Brian, now married, moved to Manchester along with the former assistant director from Liverpool. They spent three years there, and she appeared in numerous roles, most notably as Desdemona in her first appearance as a leading lady. She also got the odd part on Leeds radio and Granada television, eventually appearing as a barmaid in six episodes of the long-running soap opera Coronation Street
In 1972, her husband was appearing a play that moved down to London, and they had to move along with it. Arriving in the big city was a bit of a shock, but Lis eventually adapted. Her first television role there was as a girl terrorist in She also appeared in an episode of Michael Crawfords series and made two appearances in the police series The latter led to her being cast in . Producer Barry Letts was growing increasingly desperate in his search for a replacement for Katy Manning when producer Ron Craddock gave Lis an enthusiastic recommendation.
Lis came in for the usual audition, not suspecting that it was for a new companion and amazed at Letts thoroughness. She was introduced to Jon Pertwee, who completely intimidated her at the time. Barry and Jon chatted with her for a while, and each time she turned to look at one of them, the other one would signal a thumbs-up. She was, of course, offered the role of independent journalist Sarah Jane Smith and accepted it enthusiastically. The rest, as they say, is history. She stayed for 3-1/3 seasons, weathering the transition from Jon Pertwee to Tom Baker, and received both popular and critical acclaim throughout her tenure. When she stepped down in 1976, it made front-page news, where previously only the regeneration of the Doctors had received such attention.
Far from retiring, immediately thereafter Lis returned to her old stomping grounds in Liverpool along with her husband to do a series of plays. Notable appearances following that include a two-year stint as a presenter for a children's program called (while wearing a jumper bearing a suspicious resemblance to the notorious Andy Pandy outfit), a role as a stand-up comics spouse in the six-part, and, in 1980, her sole motion picture appearance to date, a small part in as a bank secretary.
The beginning of the new decade also marked another notable occasion, that of her first appearance at a convention, specifically Who 1 in March, along with Ian Marter.
The following year brought two connections. First, Barry Letts cast her as the female lead in a production of . Second, John Nathan-Turner, now the producer of, asked her to return to the program to ease the transition from Tom Baker to Peter Davison. She declined, but he came back with the counter-offer we now know as, and she accepted, appearing as the star in the only spinoff ever produced.
Two years later, she would return again in "The Five Doctors," as a sort of command performance. She was actively attending conventions in the early 80s, as well as doing ads and appearing (along with her husband, once again) in another Letts production, this one in which she played the Dormouse.
Throughout this period she showed up regularly at American conventions, including the big Chicago monstercons and, in 1983, six weeks going from city to city by bus along with Jon Pertwee.
In February 1985, though, Lis gave birth to a daughter, Sadie, and since then she has basically been in semi-retirement, putting her family first and her profession a distant second. She does occasional adverts and television appearances, leaving husband Brian to keep the family hand in, as his cries of EXTERMINATE! echo on the program whenever he is recruited to provide voices for the deadly Daleks. Sadie has shown signs of following in the family footsteps, appearing at the tender age of eight in a TV-movie about the wedding of Charles and Diana. More recently, however, she has become more active. Most notably for fans, she reprised the role of Sarah Jane twice in 1993, first in the radio production "The Paradise of Death and then in the crossover television with EastEnders production for charity, "Dimensions in Time." In addition, the sequel to "Paradise of Death," "The Ghosts of N-Space," is set to air this coming spring. At Visions '93 (her first US convention since 1985), she expressed an interest in returning to work and since then has recorded guest appearances in and We can all hope that this is the beginning of much more.
In the 2000s she appeared in a few doctor who episodes and then having her own spin-off series The Sarah Jane Adventures