NICHOLAS COURTNEY: 16 December 1929 – 22 February 2011

February has been a bit of a bugger. Not only have we lost those wonderful character actors T.P. McKenna and Alfred Burke but this morning the news broke that the much loved Nicholas Courtney has now gone to join that U.N.I.T family in the sky.

Nicholas, who has died at the age of 81, was a firm favourite with Doctor Who fans for his portrayal of Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart. Yes, he of the infamous eye patch anecdote and the "Chap with wings there...five rounds rapid" quote. However, prior to cementing his popularity with Doctor Who fans in the 1970s, he made appearances in many well known television shows of the late 1960s and 1970s, including The Avengers, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), The Champions and The Saint. In the 1980s he could also be spotted in Minder, All Creatures Great and Small, Yes, Prime Minister and Only Fools and Horses and most recently in The Bill and Doctors.

He had the honour of working with all of the classic era Doctors and began his association with the programme, playing Space Security Agent Bret Vyon alongside William Hartnell's Doctor, in 1965's The Daleks' Master Plan. Director Douglas Camfield so enjoyed Nick's performance that he initially cast him as Captain Knight in 1968's classic Patrick Troughton serial The Web of Fear. When David Langton, the original choice for the then introduction of Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart, had to relinquish the role, Nick was offered the part.

In the later serial The Invasion, the Colonel was promoted to Brigadier and the template for the Jon Pertwee era of Earth-based dramas was created. Nick became a regular on the show when it moved into colour and Barry Letts took over as producer in 1970. The U.N.I.T family of the Doctor (now played by Pertwee), the Brigadier, Jo Grant, Benton and Yates and the constant sparring with Roger Delgado's character The Master become the stuff of legend and this period of the show is held dear to the hearts of many older fans.

Nick continued in the role of the Brigadier into the first season of Tom Baker's stories but, by 1975, Philip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes had decided to phase out the Earth bound stories and U.N.I.T, without the complete line-up of Brigadier, Benton and Yates, was featured sporadically until the concept was dropped entirely. He eventually reprised the character in Mawdryn Undead in 1983 and joined the 20th Anniversary story The Five Doctors, appearing alongside Troughton, Pertwee, Davison and Richard Hurndall, who recreated Hartnell's original Doctor. Nick made his final appearance in the series in 1989's Battlefield where McCoy's Doctor adroitly informed the Brigadier he was supposed to die in bed rather than meet his fate at the hands of the Destroyer.

Since then he maintained his links with the series by appearing as Lethbridge-Stewart in the Children in Need special Dimensions in Time, sharing the screen with Sixth Doctor Colin Baker, and the fan-produced Downtime. He also returned to the the role in Big Finish's series of audio plays, working again with Colin Baker and for the first time with the Paul McGann version of the Doctor (who he hadn't appeared on screen with) and performing with the then future Doctor, David Tennant. Alas, he didn't manage to make an appearance as Lethbridge-Stewart in the revival of the series, despite several mentions of the character in passing, but did star as Sir Alistair with Elisabeth Sladen in The Sarah Jane Adventures, returning in the two part 2008 series finale Enemy of the Bane.

Perhaps of greater importance was his enthusiastic support of the fan community, symbolised in his honorary presidency of The Doctor Who Appreciation Society, and he was a regular convention attendee, regaling audiences time and again with his memories of working on the show in the 1960s and 1970s. Always welcoming, always dedicated and a gentleman to boot, Nicholas Courtney will be greatly missed.

"Trap One to Greyhound Leader. Over and out."

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5 Responses to “NICHOLAS COURTNEY: 16 December 1929 – 22 February 2011”
  1. Martin says:

    Very fine tribute, Frank, to the one man who could actually make a Katy Manning commentary track bearable. Nick will be sorely missed to be sure.

  2. Graeme says:

    Small quibble - he didn't work onscreen with Colin Baker - though later did a Big Finish audio

  3. Graeme - I know. That's why it says later in the article that he was 'finally united with Colin Baker and Paul McGann' in the Big Finish audios. He worked with all the classic Doctors either on or off screen as you pint out.

  4. KAOS says:

    A lovely, wonderful man, who brought so much joy and pleasure to the world.

    Your last line had me welling up. Again.

  5. Liberator, thanks! Glad you appreciated that.

    I shall miss Nick very much. That UNIT family of the 1970s was an intrinsic part of my childhood. And having met the man, I found him the epitome of charm itself.

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