Wednesday, 23 February 2011

A Tribute to Nicholas Courtney (1929-2011)

Doctor Who alumni Nicholas Courtney, the actor who portrayed the unflappable Brigadier for 40 years, sadly died yesterday after a long battle with cancer.
He was born William Nicholas Stone Courtney, on December 16th 1929, in Cairo, Egypt. The son of a British diplomat, he was educated in France and Kenya, and could speak French, Arabic, and Latin. After his National Service he decided not to pursue a career in the Army, and he joined the Weber Douglas Academy (where he won the Margaret Rutherford medal). He studied drama for 2 years, then worked in repertory theatre in Northampton, before moving to London. His first TV role came in 1957, and before becoming a regular cast member on Who, he appeared in The Saint, The Avengers, The Champions, and Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased).
Courtney's long association with Who began in 1965 with the part of Space Security agent, Bret Vyon, opposite William Hartnell (director Douglas Camfield had originally considered Courtney for the role of King Richard in The Crusade). Camfield then cast him as Captain Knight in The Web of Fear (1968), but when David Langton gave up his role of Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart, Courtney was given that part instead. Promoted to Brigadier, Lethbridge-Stewart returned in The Invasion (again opposite Patrick Troughton), and now headed the British section of the United Nations (later, Unified) Intelligence Taskforce. UNIT was devised to protect Earth from alien incursions, and it was for this recurring military role in the 'UNIT family' that Courtney is best known.
The Brigadier featured in 16 Jon Pertwee serials, including a dual role for Inferno, and he delivered the immortal "chap with wings, five rounds rapid" line in The Daemons. He returned for appearances opposite TV Doctors, Tom Baker (Robot, Terror of the Zygons); Peter Davison (Mawdryn Undead, The Five Doctors); Colin Baker (Dimensions in Time); and Sylvester McCoy (Battlefield, with Lethbridge-Stewart now married to Doris).
Courtney reprised the Brigadier for Big Finish, now working with Paul McGann in Minuet in Hell (2001); with David Tennant (here a UNIT Colonel) in The Wasting (2005); and with Unbound Doctor David Warner in Sympathy for the Devil, and Masters of War (2008).
Lethbridge-Stewart also featured in video drama Downtime (1995); BBC radio plays The Paradise of Death and The Ghosts of N-Space; Death Comes to Time for BBCi (2001); and more recently in The Sarah Jane Adventures: Enemy of the Bane.
In 1997, Courtney became honorary president of DWAS: the Doctor Who Appreciation Society, and later wrote his autobiography, Five Rounds Rapid and Still Getting Away With It.
Outside Who, Courtney was seen in TV dramas Minder, All Creatures Great and Small, and The Bill; sitcoms Only Fools and Horses, Yes Prime Minister, and French Fields; on stage in The Rocky Horror Show (1995); and in films Bullseye (1990) and Incendiary (2008).
Courtney is survived by his second wife Karen, and his two children from his first marriage.
I had the pleasure of meeting Nicholas Courtney at a Doctor Who convention in Liverpool about 20 years ago, and he was a complete gentleman (his companion, JNT, was a surly sod though). He will be greatly missed by all in fandom.

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