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Nicholas Courtney at The Television & Movie Store, Norwich, England, on 19 January 2008
|Born||William Nicholas Stone Courtney
16 December 1929
|Died||22 February 2011
London, England, UK
Cause of death
William Nicholas Stone Courtney (16 December 1929 – 22 February 2011) was an English actor, most famous for playing Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart in the British science fiction television series Doctor Who.
Courtney was born in Cairo, Egypt, the son of a British diplomat, and was educated in France, Kenya and Egypt. On his mother's side Courtney was descended from the New Zealand Politician John Cuff. He did his national service in the British Army, leaving after 18 months as a private, not wanting to pursue a military career. He next joined the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art, and after two years began doing repertory theatre in Northampton. From there he moved to London in 1961.
His first television work was in the 1957 series Escape.
Prior to Doctor Who, Courtney made guest appearances in several cult television series, including The Avengers (1962, 1967), The Champions (1968) and Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) (1969) and as a racing driver in Riviera Police (1965).
Director Douglas Camfield originally considered Courtney for the role of Richard the Lionheart in the Doctor Who serial "The Crusade" (1965), a role that ultimately went to Julian Glover. Though Camfield made sure to keep Courtney in mind for future casting. Courtney would make his first appearance in the series, when Camfield cast him in the 1965 serial "The Daleks' Master Plan", where he played Space Security Agent Bret Vyon opposite William Hartnell as the Doctor.
Camfield liked Courtney's performance, and when the director was assigned the 1968 serial "The Web of Fear", he cast Courtney as Captain Knight. However, when David Langton gave up the role of Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart to work elsewhere, Camfield recast Captain Knight and gave the part to Courtney instead. The Lethbridge-Stewart character returned in the next season in "The Invasion", promoted to the rank of Brigadier and in charge of British contingent of UNIT. The organisation had been charged with protecting the Earth from alien invasion. Years later Ian Marter, who played UNIT medical officer Harry Sullivan alongside Tom Baker, named a Russian military base used in "The Invasion", but unnamed on screen, "Nykortny" in his novelisation of the story.
It was in this recurring role that he would become best known to the viewing audience, appearing semi-regularly in 101 episodes between 1970 to 1975. The character proved popular enough to return in 1983, first in "Mawdryn Undead" and in the official 20th anniversary special The Five Doctors. Courtney made his final appearance in the 1989 serial "Battlefield" (although like many other former cast members, he reprised the role for the charity special Dimensions in Time). He appeared with Jean Marsh in both his first and last regular Doctor Who television appearances. Jean Marsh portrayed the character of Sara Kingdom in Courtney's first appearance, "The Daleks' Master Plan", playing his character's sister. In Courtney's final appearance on the show, Marsh portrayed the villainous Morgaine in the Arthurian-inspired '"Battlefield". Marsh also appeared in the earlier story "The Crusade" for which Courtney had been considered.
Courtney has played Lethbridge-Stewart, either on television or in spin-off audio plays, alongside every subsequent Doctor up to and including Paul McGann, as well as substitute First Doctor Richard Hurndall. He did not appear in the revived series. While he has acted with Tenth Doctor actor David Tennant in the Big Finish audio dramas Sympathy for the Devil and UNIT: The Wasting, Tennant was playing a different character, Colonel Ross Brimmicombe-Wood, on both occasions. In 2000 he got back in uniform to recreate the character of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart for a couple of sketches in the third season of The Harry Hill Show.
The character is referenced in the Series 4 episode "The Poison Sky" and is said to be "stuck in Peru". Fifteen years after Dimensions in Time, Courtney returned as Lethbridge-Stewart (now, Sir Alistair), freshly returned from Peru, in "Enemy of the Bane", a two-part story in the Doctor Who spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures aired in December 2008, starring Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith. The Sarah Jane Adventures production team intended that Courtney would reappear in the following year's "The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith" so that Lethbridge-Stewart would meet the Tenth Doctor, but Courtney was recovering from a stroke and unable to take part.
In a 2008 interview, Courtney expressed his displeasure at the pacing of the new series of Doctor Who, claiming: "It’s all a bit rushed sometimes. It’s a heck of a lot to get in in three quarters of an hour, the whole story. In the old days, it used to be half an hour every Saturday for four Saturdays, or six Saturdays, so it does all seem to be a bit of a rush. In fact, it leaves me rather gasping for breath sometimes." Courtney also commented: "I think people’s attention span is more limited than it used to be."
After Doctor Who
Courtney continued to act extensively in theatre and television after his main Doctor Who appearances, guest-starring in such popular television programmes as Minder (1984), All Creatures Great and Small (1980, episode "Matters Of Life And Death"), Only Fools and Horses (1988) and Yes, Prime Minister (1986). In 1982 he was cast alongside Frankie Howerd in the World War II-set comedy series Then Churchill Said to Me but the series remained untransmitted for over a decade due to the outbreak of the Falklands War. He also had a regular role in the comedy French Fields between 1989 and 1991.
He also appeared in an episode of the long-running BBC TV series The Two Ronnies alongside Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett as the character of 'Captain Dickie Chapman', a fellow prisoner-of-war (POW) in Colditz during World War II, in a sketch based on the original BBC serial, Colditz.
In 1985, Courtney played 'The Narrator' in The Rocky Horror Show. Amanda Redman also starred in the production as Janet. In 1989 he portrayed Temple in the BBC Radio 4 adaption of John Wyndham's Survival.
He also appeared in the Big Finish Productions audio drama Earthsearch Mindwarp, based on a James Follett novel, broadcast on the digital radio station BBC 7. Courtney starred as Inspector Lionheart opposite fellow Doctor Who actor Terry Molloy in the audio series The Scarifyers, from Cosmic Hobo Productions. The first two Scarifyers adventures, The Nazad Conspiracy and The Devil of Denge Marsh, were broadcast on BBC 7 in 2007; the third, entitled For King and Country in 2008, and fourth, The Curse of the Black Comet, in 2010. He also appeared in three episodes of Kaldor City as the newscaster Danl Packard. He regularly made personal appearances at science fiction conventions and in 1997 was made the honorary president of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society. His theatrical agent was former Doctor Who actress Wendy Padbury, with whom he had worked in "The Invasion".
In 1998, Courtney released his autobiography, titled Five Rounds Rapid! (ISBN 978-1852277826) after an infamous line of dialogue the Brigadier had in the 1971 Who serial "The Dæmons". He recorded his memoirs, subtitled A Soldier in Time for release on CD in 2002 by Big Finish. In 2008 he appeared in the film Incendiary, as the Archbishop of Canterbury, alongside Ewan McGregor.
An updated autobiography, Still Getting Away With It (ISBN 978-1871330731), was published in 2005, with co-author Michael McManus. Until his death, he lived in London with his second wife, Karen.
Courtney's death was reported by SFX and The Stage early in the morning of 23 February 2011. The exact cause of death was not given in these early reports. Doctor Who audio play producers Big Finish, with whom Courtney had worked on several releases in his continuing role as the Brigadier, confirmed the date of his death as 22 February 2011. The BBC reported that he had "died in London at the age of 81". According to his official Web site, he died following a long illness. Doctor Who writer Mark Gatiss called him "a childhood hero and the sweetest of gentlemen". Former Doctor Tom Baker also paid tribute, having visited him on the Friday before his death. Baker wrote "We shall miss him terribly" in a newsletter on his Web site, in which he also indicated that Courtney had been battling cancer.
He was survived by his wife Karen and two children, Philip and Bella.
- "Nicholas Courtney RIP". SFX (Future Publishing). 23 February 2011. Retrieved 23 February 2011.
- Scott, Matthewman (23 February 2011). "Doctor Who's Brigadier Nicholas Courtney dies". The Stage. The Stage Newspaper Limited. Retrieved 23 February 2011.
- Clapperton, Guy (2 November 2006). "Regenerating an original Doctor Who". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 December 2010.
- Alumni of the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art: Penelope Keith, Angela Lansbury, Paxton Whitehead, Eva Green, Ross Kemp, Terence Stamp. LLC Books. 2010. ISBN 1-155-69084-2.
- Steve Broster (Producer) (19 June 2006). The UNIT Family (Part 1) (DVD). United Kingdom: BBC Worldwide.
- McManus, Michael (26 February 2011). "Nicholas Courtney: Actor known for his long-running role as the Brigadier in Doctor Who". The Independent. Retrieved 27 February 2011.
- "The Den Of Geek interview: Nicholas Courtney". Den of Geek. Retrieved 21 May 2013.
- He orders one of his subordinates to "Chap with wings - five rounds rapid!"
- Briggs, Nicholas (23 February 2011). "Nicholas Courtney 1929-2011". Big Finish website: News (Big Finish Productions).[dead link]
- "Doctor Who 'Brigadier' Nicholas Courtney dies aged 81". BBC News (BBC). 23 February 2011. Retrieved 23 February 2011.
- Official Web site
- Baker, Tom. "The Brigadier is dead". Tom Baker Ltd. Retrieved 24 April 2011.
- Official website
- Nicholas Courtney at the Internet Movie Database
- "Nicholas Courtney". Find a Grave. Retrieved May 1, 2011.
- Obituary in The Guardian
- Obituary in The Independent
- Obituary in The Telegraph
- Doctor Who 'Brigadier' Nicholas Courtney dies aged 81, BBC News