Published on February 23rd, 2011 | by Christian Cawley
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).
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.
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
- The Stage
- BBC News
- The Mirror
- Press Association
- The Stage Obituary
- The Guardian
- The Telegraph Obituary
- The Telegraph report/opinion/BBC jibe
- Daily Express
- BBC Official Doctor Who site
Further tributes can be found online at:
- Big Finish
- Doctor Who Online
- Digital Spy
- Den of Geek
- Doctor Who TV
- Down the Tubes
- Nebula One News
- Shiny Shelf
- Media Spy
- The Register
- Universe Who (Portuguese)
Additionally, Nicholas Courtney’s official website www.greyhoundleader.com will be providing a space for fans to leave tributes over the coming days.