William Hartnell

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William Hartnell
William Hartnell.jpg
William Hartnell in a publicity photo
Born(1908-01-08)8 January 1908
Died23 April 1975(1975-04-23) (aged 67)
Marden, Kent, England
Years active1925–1973
Heather McIntyre (m. 1929)

William Henry Hartnell (8 January 1908 – 23 April 1975) was an English actor. Hartnell played the first incarnation of the Doctor in Doctor Who, from 1963 to 1966. He was also well known for his role as Sergeant Grimshaw, the title character of the first Carry On film, Carry On Sergeant in 1958, and Company Sergeant Major Percy Bullimore in the sitcom The Army Game from 1957 until 1958, and again in 1960.

Early life[edit]

Hartnell was born in St Pancras, London, England, the only child of Lucy Hartnell, an unmarried mother. He was brought up partly by a foster mother, and also spent many holidays in Devon with his mother's family of farmers, where he learned to ride.[1] He was the second cousin of fashion designer Norman Hartnell.[2]

Hartnell never discovered the identity of his father (whose particulars were left blank on the birth certificate) despite efforts to trace him. Often known as Billy, he left school without prospects and dabbled in petty crime.[3] Through a boys' boxing club, at the age of 14[4] Hartnell met the art collector Hugh Blaker, who later became his unofficial guardian and arranged for him initially to train as a jockey and helped him enter the Italia Conti Academy.[5] Theatre being a passion of Blaker, he paid for Hartnell to receive some "polish" at the Imperial Service College, though Hartnell found the strictures too much, and ran away.[1]


Hartnell entered the theatre in 1925[1] working under Frank Benson as a general stagehand.[3][6] He appeared in numerous Shakespearian plays, including The Merchant of Venice (1926), Julius Caesar (1926), As You Like It (1926), Hamlet (1926), The Tempest (1926) and Macbeth (1926). He also appeared in She Stoops to Conquer (1926), School for Scandal (1926) and Good Morning, Bill (1927), before performing in Miss Elizabeth's Prisoner (1928). This play was written by Robert Neilson Stephens and E. Lyall Swete. It featured the actress Heather McIntyre,[7] whom he married during the following year.[5] His first of more than 60 film appearances was in Say It With Music (1932).

Radio work also featured in his career, with his earliest known performance – in a production of Chinese Moon Party – being broadcast by the BBC on 11 May 1931.[8]

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Hartnell served in the British Army in the Tank Corps, but was invalided out after 18 months as the result of suffering a nervous breakdown, and returned to acting.[5] In 1942, he was cast as Albert Fosdike in Noël Coward's film In Which We Serve but turned up late for his first day of shooting. Coward berated Hartnell in front of cast and crew for his unprofessionalism, made him personally apologise to everyone and then sacked him. Michael Anderson, who was the first assistant director, took over the part and was credited as "Mickey Anderson".[9]

Hartnell continued to play comic characters until he was cast in the robust role of Sergeant Ned Fletcher in The Way Ahead (1944).[6] From then on his career was defined by playing mainly policemen, soldiers, and thugs. This typecasting bothered him, for even when cast in comedies he found he was invariably playing the 'heavy'. In 1958 he played the sergeant in the first Carry On film comedy, Carry On Sergeant, and appeared as a town councillor in the Boulting brothers' film Heavens Above! (1963) with Peter Sellers. He also appeared as Will Buckley – another military character – in the film The Mouse That Roared (1959), again with Sellers.

His first regular role on television was as Sergeant Major Percy Bullimore in The Army Game from 1957 to 1961. Again, although it was a comedy series, he found himself cast in a "tough-guy" role. He appeared in a supporting role in the film version of This Sporting Life (1963), giving a sensitive performance as an ageing rugby league talent scout known as "Dad".[6]

A blue plaque marking Hartnell's work in film and television was unveiled at Ealing Studios by his granddaughter, Jessica Carney, on 14 October 2018.[10]

Doctor Who (1963–66)[edit]

Hartnell's performance in This Sporting Life was noted by Verity Lambert, the producer who was setting up a new science-fiction television series for the BBC entitled Doctor Who; mainly on the strength of that performance, Lambert offered him the title role. Although Hartnell was initially uncertain about accepting a part in what was pitched to him as a children's series, in part due to his success in films,[11] Lambert and director Waris Hussein convinced him to take the part, and it became the character for which he gained the highest profile and is now most remembered. Hartnell later revealed that he took the role because it led him away from the gruff, military parts in which he had become typecast, and, having two grandchildren of his own, he came to relish particularly the attention and affection that playing the character brought him from children. His first episode of Doctor Who aired on 23 November 1963.[12]

Doctor Who earned Hartnell a regular salary of £315 per episode by 1966 (in the era of 48 weeks per year production on the series), equivalent to £5,385 in 2016. By comparison, in 1966 his co-stars Anneke Wills and Michael Craze were earning £68 and £52 per episode at the same time, respectively.[13] Throughout his tenure as the Doctor, William Hartnell wore a wig when playing the part, as the character had long hair.[14]

According to some of his colleagues on Doctor Who, he could be a difficult person to work with. Others, though, such as actors William Russell and Peter Purves, and producer Verity Lambert, spoke glowingly of him after more than 40 years. Carole Ann Ford, who played the Doctor's granddaughter Susan, has said she and Hartnell "got on terribly well", saying "It upsets me when I hear people saying he was difficult to work with, he was very sweet"[15] Hartnell also adored Verity Lambert, and had great respect for Waris Hussein.[1][16] Hartnell also admired singer Paul Robeson. In his Desert Island Discs interview, Hartnell stated that Paul Robeson was his hero and described him as having a voice like crushed velvet.[17]

Hartnell's deteriorating health (he suffered from arteriosclerosis, which began to affect his ability to learn his lines), as well as poor relations with a new production team on the series following the departure of Verity Lambert, ultimately led to his leaving Doctor Who in 1966.[14][18]

When he departed, the producer of the show came up with a unique idea: that since the Doctor is an alien, he can transform himself physically, thereby renewing himself. William Hartnell himself suggested the new Doctor, stating that "There's only one man in England who can take over, and that's Patrick Troughton".[19] In the fourth episode of the serial The Tenth Planet, the First Doctor regenerated into Troughton's Second Doctor.[20]

Many of Hartnell's episodes are currently missing from the BBC archives as a result of the BBC's early-1970s purge.

Portrayals in fiction[edit]

Hartnell appears as a character in the Doctor Who audio drama Pier Pressure, which stars Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor.

For the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who in 2013, the BBC broadcast An Adventure in Space and Time, a dramatisation of the events surrounding the creation of the series. David Bradley portrayed Hartnell.[21][22][23]

Later life and death[edit]

Hartnell reprised the role of the Doctor in Doctor Who during the tenth anniversary story The Three Doctors (1972–73). When Hartnell's wife Heather found out about his planned involvement, she informed the crew of the show that his failing memory and weakening health prevented him from starring in the special. An agreement was made between the crew and Heather that Hartnell would only be required to sit down during the shoot and read his lines from cue cards.[24] His appearance in this story was his final piece of work as an actor. His health had worsened during the early 1970s, and in December 1974 he was admitted to hospital permanently. In early 1975 he suffered a series of strokes brought on by cerebrovascular disease, and died in his sleep of heart failure on 23 April 1975, at the age of 67.[25] He was cremated and his ashes are buried at the Kent and Sussex Crematorium and Cemetery.

A clip of a scene starring Hartnell from the end of the Doctor Who serial The Dalek Invasion of Earth (1964) was used as a pre-credits sequence for the 20th anniversary story The Five Doctors (1983); Richard Hurndall portrayed the First Doctor for the remainder of the story, in Hartnell's absence.[26] Colourised footage of Hartnell in The Aztecs was meshed with new footage of actress Jenna-Louise Coleman, and with body doubles for the First Doctor and Susan, to create a new scene in 2013's "The Name of the Doctor". The following story and the 50th anniversary special of the show, "The Day of the Doctor", featured two new pieces of dialogue for Hartnell's Doctor, recorded by John Guilor, who had previously voiced the actor in a reconstruction of Planet of Giants. Hartnell's Doctor also made a silent cameo appearance in the Series 9 episode "The Witch's Familiar" (2015) again played by a body double. David Bradley, who portrayed Hartnell in the biopic An Adventure in Space and Time, played the First Doctor in the Series 10 episode "The Doctor Falls", and the 2017 Christmas special, "Twice Upon a Time", which also served as Twelfth Doctor actor Peter Capaldi's final story.

Hartnell was married to Heather McIntyre from 9 May 1929 until his death. They had one child, a daughter, Heather Anne,[3] and two grandchildren.[13] His widow, Heather, died in 1984. The only published biography of him is by his granddaughter, Judith "Jessica" Carney, entitled Who's There? The Life and Career of William Hartnell. It was originally published in 1996 by Virgin Publishing. To mark the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, Carney, with Fantom Publishing, revised and republished the book in 2013.[27]

After living at 51 Church Street, Isleworth, next door to Hugh Blaker, the Hartnells lived on Thames Ditton Island. Then in the 1960s they moved to a cottage in Mayfield, Sussex. He lived in later life at Sheephurst Lane in Marden, Kent.


Hartnell acted in numerous British films, as well as having many stage and television appearances, though he is best known for his role in Doctor Who.[3]


Year Title Role Notes
1933 I'm an Explosive Edward Whimperley film debut
Follow the Lady Mike Martindale
The Lure Billy
1934 Swinging the Lead Freddy Fordum
The Perfect Flaw Vickers
Seeing Is Believing Ronald Gibson
1935 Old Faithful Minor role Credited as "Billy Hartnell"
While Parents Sleep George
The Guv'nor Car salesman Uncredited
1936 Nothing Like Publicity Pat Spencer Credited as "Billy Hartnell"
La Vie parisienne/Parisian Life Unknown
The Crimson Circle Minor role
The Shadow of Mike Emerald Unknown Uncredited
Midnight at Madame Tussaud's Stubbs Credited as "Billy Hartnell"
1937 Farewell Again Minor role Uncredited
1938 They Drive by Night Bus Conductor Credited as "Billy Hartnell"
1939 Too Dangerous to Live Minor role
Murder Will Out Dick
1941 Freedom Radio Radio Location Aerial Operator
1942 The Peterville Diamond Joseph Credited as "Bill Hartnell"
Flying Fortress Gaylord Parker Uncredited
They Flew Alone Scotty Credited as "Billy Hartnell"
Suspected Person Saunders
The Goose Steps Out German Officer at Station Uncredited
Sabotage at Sea Jacob Digby
1943 The Bells Go Down Brookes Credited as "Billy Hartnell"
The Dark Tower Jim Towers Credited as "Bill Hartnell"
1944 Headline Dell
The Way Ahead Sgt. Ned Fletcher Credited as "Billy Hartnell"
1945 The Agitator Peter Pettinger
Strawberry Roan Chris Lowe
Murder in Reverse Tom Masterick
1946 Appointment with Crime Leo Martin
1947 Odd Man Out Fencie
Temptation Harbour Jim Brown
1948 Brighton Rock Dallow
Escape Inspector Harris
1949 Now Barabbas Warder Jackson
The Lost People Barnes
1950 Double Confession Charlie Durham
1951 The Dark Man Police Superintendent
1952 The Magic Box Recruiting Sergeant
The Ringer Sam Hackett
The Pickwick Papers Irate Cabman
The Holly and the Ivy The Company Sergeant-Major (C.S.M.)
1953 Will Any Gentleman...? Detective Inspector (D.I.) Martin
1955 Footsteps in the Fog Herbert Moseby
Josephine and Men Detective Sgt.(D.S.) Parsons
1956 Tons of Trouble Bert
Private's Progress Sergeant Sutton
Doublecross Herbert Whiteway
1957 Hell Drivers Cartley
Yangtse Incident: The Story of H.M.S. Amethyst Leading Seaman Frank
The Hypnotist Inspector Ross
Date with Disaster Tracy
1958 Carry On Sergeant Sergeant Grimshawe
On the Run Tom Casey
1959 Strictly Confidential Grimshaw
The Desperate Man Smith
The Night We Dropped a Clanger Sergeant Bright
Shake Hands with the Devil Sergeant Jenkins
The Mouse That Roared Sergeant-at-Arms Will Buckley
1960 Jackpot Superintendent Frawley
And the Same to You Walter "Wally" Burton
Piccadilly Third Stop Colonel
1962 Tomorrow at Ten Freddy
1963 The World Ten Times Over Dad
Heavens Above! Major Fowler
This Sporting Life 'Dad' Johnson final film


Year Title Role Notes
1955 Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Presents Christy Season 3, Episode 28: "The Auction"
London Playhouse Kenyon Season 1, Episode 7: "The Inward Eye"
1956 The Errol Flynn Theatre Himself Season 1, Episode 13: "The Red Geranium"
1957 A Santa For Christmas Unknown TV movie
1957–1961 The Army Game Company Sergeant Major
Percy Bullimore
Series 1 (3 episodes)
Series 2 (2 episodes)
Series 5 (8 episodes)
1958–1959 Dial 999 Joss Crawford
Jeff Richards
Season 1, Episode 1: "The Killing Job"
Season 1, Episode 16: "50,000 Hands"
1959 Probation Officer Unknown Season 1, Episode 28
The Flying Doctor Abe McKeller Season 1, Episode 9: "The Changing Plain"
1960 ITV Television Playhouse Reynolds
Season 5, Episode 41: "Place of My Own"
Season 5, Episode 44: "After the Party"
1961 Kraft Mystery Theater Unknown Season 1, Episode 11: "The Desperate Men"
Ghost Squad Fred Rice Season 1, Episode 4: "High Wire"
1963 The Plane Makers Wally Griggs Season 1, Episode 15: "One of Those Days"
The Edgar Wallace Mystery Theatre Inspector Roberts Season 4, Episode 9: "To Have and to Hold"
Doctor Who First Doctor Season 1 (42 episodes)
Season 2 (39 episodes)
Season 3 (45 episodes)
Season 4 (8 episodes)
Season 10 (4 episodes)
1967 No Hiding Place Impey Season 10, Episode 2: "The Game"
1968 Softly, Softly Henry Swift Season 3, Episode 13: "Cause of Death"
1969 Life With Johnny Dad Season 1, 2 Episodes inc "Johnny Come Home"[28]
1970 Crime of Passion Henri Lindon Season 1, Episode 6: "Alain"


  1. ^ a b c d Carney
  2. ^ Keay, Douglas (26 July 1957). "Off Parade – At the Hartnell Home". TV Times. London.
  3. ^ a b c d Meyrick, Robert (2004) "Hugh Blaker: doing his bit for the moderns" Journal of the History of Collections 16 (2):173–89 ISSN 0954-6650
  4. ^ Retter, Emily (22 November 2013). "William Hartnell: Original Doctor Who transformed himself from a poverty stricken illegitimate child and hard-drinking womaniser to one of television's most iconic characters". The Mirror. Retrieved 14 December 2013.
  5. ^ a b c "Hartnell, William Henry (1908–1975)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. September 2004. Retrieved 2 November 2007. (Subscription required (help)).
  6. ^ a b c "Obituary: Mr William Hartnell – An actor of varied talents", The Times, 25 April 1975.
  7. ^ Craig Cabell Who Were the Doctors (John Blake, 2013)
  8. ^ "BBC Genome Project, 11 May 1931". BBC. Retrieved 5 March 2018.
  9. ^ Hoare, Philip (1995). Noël Coward: A Biography. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-684-80937-3.
  10. ^ "DWAS honours William Hartnell". Doctor Who News. 14 October 2018. Retrieved 14 October 2018.
  11. ^ Mulkern, Patrick (16 October 2013). "Doctor Who's Waris Hussein on William Hartnell, Bette Davis, & Peter Cook loathing David Frost". Radio Times. Retrieved 14 December 2013.
  12. ^ 2-entertain (2006). Doctor Who: Origins. YouTube. Retrieved 28 July 2013.
  13. ^ a b Howe, David J.; Stammers, Mark; Walker, Stephen James (1994). The Handbook: The First Doctor – The William Hartnell Years 1963–1966. London: Virgin Publishing. ISBN 978-0-426-20430-5.
  14. ^ a b Doctor Who. "A Brief History of a Time Lord". British Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 28 July 2013.
  15. ^ Martin, William (2006-02-13). "Carole Ann Ford ('Doctor Who') interview". Cultbox. Retrieved 6 September 2018.
  16. ^ Mulkern, Patrick (16 October 2013). "Doctor Who's Waris Hussein on William Hartnell, Bette Davis, & Peter Cook loathing David Frost". Radio Times. Retrieved 13 November 2013.
  17. ^ "BBC Radio 4 - Desert Island Discs, William Hartnell". BBC.
  18. ^ Haining, p. 39
  19. ^ Howe, Stammers and Walker, p. 68
  20. ^ The Tenth Planet. Doctor Who. 8–29 October 1966. BBC.
  21. ^ Jones, David (29 January 2013). "Doctor Who: Mark Gatiss reveals casting for An Adventure in Space and Time". Radio Times. Retrieved 30 January 2013.
  22. ^ Zemler, Emily (24 July 2013). "'Doctor Who' celebrates 50 years with biopic". CNN. Retrieved 27 July 2013.
  23. ^ Cornet, Ron (22 July 2013). "Comic-Con: Doctor Who's 50th!". IGN. Retrieved 27 July 2013.
  24. ^ Doctor Who (7 February 2012). "Exclusive First Look: Hartnell's perseverance – Doctor Who – The Three Doctors". British Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 28 July 2013.
  25. ^ "BBC – Archive – The Changing Face of Doctor Who – 'Radio Times' Letters Page, 24 November 1966". www.bbc.co.uk.
  26. ^ "The Five Doctors". Doctor Who. 23 November 1983. BBC.
  27. ^ Retter, Emily (22 November 2013). "Story of the first Doctor Who: How illegitimate thief and womaniser William Hartnell became the original Time Lord".
  28. ^ nwhyte (18 April 2015). "William Hartnell as Cliff Richard's father".


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