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Published on February 23rd, 2011 | by Christian Cawley

Nicholas Courtney

As announced by the Doctor Who News site, we have to relate the loss of a true Who legend, Nicholas Courtney, who has died aged 81.

Born in Egypt on 16th December 1929, William Nicholas Stone Courtney completed National Service in 1950 and joined the Webber Douglas School of Singing and Dramatic Art before entering repertory theatre in 1952. Over the coming years he moved to London, where he able to find work on TV and became a familiar face popping up in shows such as Callan, The Saint, and The Avengers.

However it was for Doctor Who that Nicholas Courtney would become best known, and his first appearance came as Space Security Agent Bret Vyon in The Daleks’ Master Plan in 1964, opposite First Doctor actor William Hartnell. This one-off casting unbeknowlingly aided Courtney in becoming the only actor to appear on screen with the first five Doctors; a few years later he was cast as Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart in The Web of Fear where he became a friend of the Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton).

Nick Courtney as Brigade Leader in Inferno (1970)By 1969, a new earth-based format for Doctor Who was envisaged and Courtney was invited back once more to appear in The Invasion. By now UNIT had been formed and Lethbridge-Stewart promoted to Brigadier, and his team’s military expertise was enough to help the Doctor defeat the Cybermen.

One year later, The Invasion deemed a success by outgoing producer Peter Bryant, and a new Doctor cast, the show was reformatted with Jon Pertwee as the Third Doctor, with Liz Shaw as his companion and Nicholas Courtney in a new permanent role as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, the Doctor’s friend and occasional frustration. It was during this period that the actor became an iconic element of Who lore, and over the coming years her would appear in 23 stories (including appearing as an alternative universe version, Brigade Leader Lethbridge-Stewart in Inferno, above), making a final regular appearance in Season 12′s Robot.

As a regular between 1970 and 1974, Courtney formed a close bond with his fellow cast members that was ultimately rocked by the sudden death of fellow regular (Master actor) Roger Delgado in 1973.

Nick Courtney as Brigade Leader in Inferno (1970)With 1975′s Terror of the Zygons his character’s last appearance as a member of UNIT, Nicholas Courtney was regularly in work in the theatre but was able to take part in a couple of Doctor Who 20th anniversary season episodes, namely Mawdryn Undead and The Five Doctors. With a final on-screen appearance with Sylvester McCoy in Battlefield in 1989 Courtney soon found himself a focal point of Doctor Who fandom, appearing at conventions and events around the world.

“The Brigadier” as he was affectionately known would appear in several Big Finish audio plays, but made his final appearance on screen in The Sarah Jane Adventures story Enemy of the Bane in 2008.

While Doctor Who was off-air, Courtney appeared in a couple of official BBC radio adventures with Jon Pertwee and Lis Sladen – The Paradise of Death and The Ghosts of N-Space were traditional adventures which were popular with fans. Following the success of Doctor Who’s revival, Courtney was asked to appear opposite Tom Baker in the audio-only series that would become Hornet’s Nest - while he initially agreed, illness meant that he was unable to appear.

Nicholas Courtney died on 22nd February 2011 and is survived by his wife Karen, his son Philip and daughter Bella.

…And he will be greatly missed.

Press Reports and Obituaries

Further tributes can be found online at:

Additionally, Nicholas Courtney’s official website www.greyhoundleader.com will be providing a space for fans to leave tributes over the coming days.

Nicholas Courtney” is currently the 5th most popular trending topic on Twitter, reports The Independent.

We’ll be updating the page throughout the day and over the next week or so as more tributes to the late Nicholas Courtney are published.

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About the Author

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A long-term Doctor Who fan, Christian grew up watching the show and has early memories of the Graham Williams era. His favourite stories are Inferno, The Seeds of Doom and Human Nature (although The Empty Child, Blink and Utopia all come close). When he’s not bossing around the news team, Christian is a freelance writer specialising in mobile technology and domestic computing, and enjoys classic rock, cooking and spending time in the countryside with his wife and young children. You can find him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.



7 Responses to Nicholas Courtney

  1. avatar Carn says:

    Heard about this last night before I went to sleep. Am really sad about this and loved the actor and his character. On Twitter the words ‘Nicholas Courtney’ and ‘Brigadier’ have been trending topics all night even on the worldwide bit which sorta shows in a way how much he was loved by Who fandom. I’m usually not hugely depressed about someone dying whom I never met, but the Brig was a character I enjoyed watching since I was a kid that it does feel upsetting that he’s really gone. At least he got to take part in the Sarah Jane Adventures if not the parent show’s comeback before he passed away.


  2. I took an early night so knew nothing of this until I got up!

    Very sad news, but Nicholas Courtney was a legend to many, not many of us will be able to say that when the time comes.

  3. avatar EddySc says:

    After I came back from college yesterday (I live in Brazil, so it was still the 22nd when the news of his death appeared on the web) I didn’t think it was something beyond of a normal, quiet night. Boy, was I wrong…

    He will truly be missed. Maybe the newer Doctor Who fans don’t know yet how important he was to the series, but the truth is that he was and will forever be a legend to many.
    Rest in peace, Nick. You’ve done a good job, you deserve it.

  4. avatar Meredith Burdett says:

    One of the very few actors to have appeared in the show from 1965 onwards. Over the years, Courtney provided us with some great performances in Doctor Who, not just on screen but on audio as well. He was one of the most iconic actors to be associated with Doctor Who and will be missed by many.

    Five rounds rapid!

  5. avatar Leosw4 says:

    Gutted.

    Part of my ‘Who’ family in the early 70s when I first started watching the programme as a very young child-I think the Sea Devils.With Jon, Katy and the wicked uncle Roger.

    Extremely sad-DW icon forever.

  6. avatar Starman says:

    I only saw this very sad news this morning. A truly lovely man and a Who legend in the true sense of the word. My condolences to Nick’s family and many friends and colleagues. Rest in Peace, Nick.

  7. avatar Paul Cavanagh says:

    Such a sad loss. Nicholas Courtney somehow managed to make the Brigadier so much more than the boorish, officious old bureaucrat that the scripts portrayed. In Courtney’s hands we’re presented with a charming, witty and very loveable character. No mean feat that!

    May he rest in Cromer.

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