Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Nicholas Courtney 1929-2011



Nicholas Courtney, known to and beloved by Doctor Who fans worldwide as Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart and one of the longest-serving co-stars of the series, has died, aged 81.

Born in Egypt, William Nicholas Stone Courtney spent his childhood and education in a variety of places - his father serving in the diplomatic service - before entering the Webber Douglas School of Singing and Dramatic Art after completing his National Service in 1950. He then entered rep in 1952 - his first job being actor/ASM in Cromer! - before a move to London brought him to the world of television.

His first appearance in this media was as a Warrant Officer in the 1957 series Escape, followed by playing King Charles II in Looking About and Mark Norman in an episode of No Hiding Place. He was then to appear throughout the 1960s in shows like Callan and Sword of Honour, as well as popular fantasy genre titles like The Saint, The Champions, The Avengers, and Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) (alongside Master-to-be, Roger Delgado).

His first brush with Doctor Who was to be as Space Security Agent Bret Vyon in the First Doctor epic The Daleks' Master Plan. For Doctor Who fans, of course, he will always be remembered as UNIT stalwart Lethbridge-Stewart. Originally slated to play Captain Knight in the Second Doctor adventure The Web Of Fear, he was 'promoted' to the role of Colonel by director Douglas Camfield when original actor David Langton pulled out, and returned a year as a newly promoted Brigadier in The Invasion, a role he was to become associated with for over forty years! Appearing as one of the main characters throughout the Third Doctor's incarnation as the UK head of UNIT, he was then to appear with every other classic series Doctor, both during the television show's original run and through the Big Finish audio adventures. Name-checked a number of times in the revived series of Doctor Who, Sir Alistair was to eventually return in the spin-off series The Sarah Jane Adventures in 2008 - the actor being re-united with 70s co-star Elisabeth Sladen.

Work continued after his departure from Doctor Who, appearing in shows such as All Creatures Great And Small and Sink or Swim (both alongside Fifth Doctor Peter Davison), Shelley, Yes, Prime Minister and Only Fools and Horses; he also played Lt. Col. Robert Witherton in 1993's Then Churchill Said to Me. More recently, he appeared in popular shows like The Bill, Doctors, and Casualty. In 2008 he played the Archbishop of Canterbury in Incendiary.

In 1997, he became the Honorary President of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society, a position he was very proud to hold.


There have been two autobiographies on his life, Five Rounds Rapid! in 1998 and Still Getting Away With It in 2005; his memoirs were also released by Big Finish as A Soldier In Time in 2002.

He is survived by his wife Karen, his son Philip and daughter Bella.

William Nicholas Stone Courtney (16th December 1929 - 22nd February 2011)

Special Tributes: Tom Baker, Steven Moffat (via BBC Doctor Who), GreyhoundLeader (Nicholas Courtney's official site).
Media coverage: Sat: The Independent; :Fri: TVlia (Spanish), MyJoyOnline; Thu: Unreality TV, Airlock Alpha, Pure People (French), The A.V. Club, AceShowbiz, The Telegraph (Blog), TNT Magazine, Mirror, MTV, The West Australian, Adelaide Now; Wed: BBC News, BBC Doctor Who, BBC America, RadioTimes, The Guardian, The Telegraph, Daily Mail, Express, Belfast Telegraph, AOL News, CBS News, Digital Journal, The Stage, Big Finish Productions, SFX, io9, The Register, Den of Geek, Digital Spy, The Sun, Metro, The List, Geeks of Doom, Anglotopia, Zap2It, ATV Today, TV.com, MediaSpy, Kansas City Star, AlloCiné (French)
"Very sad to hear about Nick Courtney – I was enormously proud to have interviewed him for DWM, and to have enjoyed his company many times." - Tom Spilsbury, DWM

"Sad news about Nick Courtney, though. Lovely, gentle man. Interviewed him several times. He'll be missed." - Ben Cook, DWM

"So very sad about Nick Courtney. A truly lovely man." - Clayton Hickman, writer

"has no words to decribe the loss of Nicholas Courtney, a true gentleman and much loved icon. RIP, with a heavy heart" - Toby Hadoke, Moths Ate My Doctor Who Scarf

"Very sad news about Nicholas Courtney. A true gentleman, a wonderful actor, a dear friend - splendid chap, all of him." - Barnaby Edwards, Dalek operator

"So sad to hear about Nicholas Courtney. A wonderful actor, a childhood hero, a treasured friend, and the kindest, funniest, gentlest of men." - Nicholas Pegg, Dalek operator

"Aw...Nick Courtney is trending worldwide. Feel the love. RIP" - Murray Gold, composer

"Nick Courtney really meant something to my generation of Who fans. His performance- funny, emotional, restrained, human - heart of the show." - Paul Cornell, series writer

"Desperately sad to hear that Nicholas Courtney has passed away. A childhood hero and the sweetest of gentlemen. Splendid chap. All of him. x" - Mark Gatiss, series writer/actor

"News reached Gary Russell and I of Nick Courtney's passing. A terribly sad end to our #Gally week. Best wishes to his family. A true gent." - Phil Ford, writer

"Very sad news about Nicholas Courtney. Lovely guy who knew how to live life. RIP." - Joe Lidster, writer

"Damn, just saw the Nicholas Courtney news. Such a shame." - James Moran, series writer

"I never properly met Nicholas Courtney when he came to Cardiff for SJA. What a shame I now never will." - Edward Russell, Senior Brand Executive for Doctor Who, Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures

"Very sad news about Nicholas Courtney. A lovely bloke and fab actor who will be sorely missed." - Sam Watts, composer

"When I pitched the FORGOTTEN to IDW, the only tale I knew I wanted to tell at that point was one with the Brig. #NicholasCourtney" - Tony Lee, Graphic novelist


Video by Ed Stradling, via YouTube


On a personal note, it was a shock to hear the news tonight about Nick; having got to know him personally from my DWAS days, I have many fond memories of driving him to various promotions and being regaled by his stories down the local. Off-duty, he was as much the gentleman as he appeared in public, and will be sadly missed by family, friends and fandom alike. Chuck