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TARDIS Index File

Nicholas Courtney

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RealWorld
Nicholas Courtney
Nicholas Courtney DW
Birth date: 16 December 1929
Death date: 22 February 2011 (Aged 81)
In the DWU
Main roles:
Main jobs: Actor
Stories: Doctor Who
Main time period active:
1968-1975 (television)
1998-2009 (audio)
Career highlights
IMDb profile

Nicholas Courtney (born William Nicholas Stone Courtney; 16 December 1929 - 22 February 2011) played first Colonel and then Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, beginning in The Web of Fear and finally in Battlefield. He reprised the role in the fan video Downtime (later adapted into one of the Virgin Missing Adventures), the spin-off program The Sarah Jane Adventures and audio dramas for the BBC and Big Finish Productions.

Courtney was born in Cairo, Egypt, the son of a British diplomat and educated in France, Kenya and Egypt. He served his National Service in the British Army. He left after eighteen months as a private, not wanting to pursue a military career. He next joined the Webber Douglas drama school, and after two years began doing repertory theatre in Northampton, and from there moved to London.

Courtney's first appearance in Doctor Who was in The Daleks' Master Plan, where he played Space Security Agent Bret Vyon opposite William Hartnell as the Doctor. The director, Douglas Camfield, liked Courtney's performance. When Camfield was assigned the 1968 serial The Web of Fear, he cast Courtney as Captain Knight.

However, David Langton, who was to play Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart, gave up the role to accept another offer of work. Camfield recast Ralph Watson in the role of Captain Knight and gave the Colonel's part to Courtney.

Lethbridge-Stewart reappeared later that year in The Invasion, now promoted to Brigadier and in charge of the British contingent of UNIT, an organisation that protected the Earth from alien invasion. It was in that recurring role that he became famous, appearing semi-regularly from 1970 to 1975. Courtney returned to the series in 1983 and his last Doctor Who television appearance was in 1989 (in the serial Battlefield).

Courtney played Lethbridge-Stewart on television or in audio dramas, alongside every subsequent Doctor up to and including Paul McGann. Unfortunately, he never got the opportunity to appear with Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor nor David Tennant as the Tenth. While he acted with David Tennant in the Doctor Who Unbound audio play Sympathy for the Devil, this was not only set outside of the Doctor Who universe, but Tennant was also playing a different character, and was recorded prior to his portrayal of the Tenth Doctor. Courtney additionally provided the voice of Wolsey in the 1998 Big Finish Bernice Summerfield audio story, Oh No It Isn't! Courtney has also appeared in some fan-made productions, providing the voice of the Brigadier for the 1995 updating of 1987's Wartime and appearing as a BBC official in the Reeltime Pictures spoof The Corridor Sketch. He also hosted – partly in character as the Brigadier – the More than Thirty Years in the TARDIS documentary.

Courtney continued to act extensively in theatre and television after he left Doctor Who, guest-starring in such popular television programmes as Minder, The Bill, Only Fools and Horses and Yes, Prime Minister. He also had a regular role in the comedy French Fields between 1989 and 1991.

He regularly made personal appearances at science-fiction conventions and was the Honourary President of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society. His theatrical agent was former Doctor Who actress Wendy Padbury.

Courtney was occasionally seen in other productions, such as the late 1980s comedy film Bullseye! in which he played a small role opposite Michael Caine and Roger Moore.

Courtney's autobiography, published in 1998, was titled Five Rounds Rapid!, (ISBN 1-85227-782-3), after a popular catchphrase of the Brigadier's heard in The Dæmons; the volume was edited by John Nathan-Turner. A second, updated autobiography, entitled Still Getting Away With It, was published in 2005, co-authored by Michael McManus. He lived in London with his second wife Karen until his death.

In 2008, nineteen years after last playing the role on television, Courtney once again played the Brigadier for the spin-off series The Sarah Jane Adventures, appearing in the two-part finale story TV: Enemy of the Bane alongside friend and co-star Elizabeth Sladen. He was cast after initial plans to have Freema Agyeman appear as Martha Jones fell through. This was his final television appearance as the Brigadier in the Doctor Who universe, still serving UNIT as he had done for the last forty-three years.

Courtney reprised the role of the Brigadier one more time for the serial audio drama The Three Companions, which was released chapter-by-chapter as bonuses on Big Finish Doctor Who audio stories in 2009 and 2010.

Courtney died on 22 February 2011, aged 81[1] in a North London hospital. His wife, Karen, was with him.[2] A number of people paid tribute to him, including Tom Baker,[3] Mark Gatiss[4] and Jon Culshaw.[5] Toby Hadoke supplied a obituary for British newspaper, The Guardian. Big Finish also paid tribute on their website, with Nicholas Briggs adding a tribute.[6] Steven Moffat also paid tribute.[7] DWM 436 was in tribute to Courtney, with most of it features orientated around him. It was largely comprised of interviews with the cast and crew of Doctor Who and their memories of working with Courtney. It also included interviews with people who had worked with him in other productions, such as Big Finish audios and detective drama, The Scarifyers.

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