Nicholas Courtney

For the cricketer, see Nicholas Courtney (cricketer).
Nicholas Courtney

Nicholas Courtney at The Television & Movie Store, Norwich, England, on 19 January 2008
Born William Nicholas Stone Courtney
(1929-12-16)16 December 1929
Cairo, Egypt
Died 22 February 2011(2011-02-22) (aged 81)
London, England, UK
Cause of death Cancer
Occupation Actor
Years active 1957–2009
Spouse(s) Karen
Children 2

William Nicholas Stone Courtney (16 December 1929 22 February 2011)[1][2] was a British actor, most famous for playing Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart in the BBC science fiction television series Doctor Who.[3]

Early life

Courtney was born in Cairo, Egypt, the son of a British diplomat, and was educated in France, Kenya and Egypt.[4] On his maternal side, Courtney was descended from the New Zealand politician John Cuff. He did his national service in the British Army, leaving after 18 months as a private, not wanting to pursue a military career. He moved to England to join London's Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art.[5] After two years doing repertory theatre in Northampton, he became resident in London in 1961.

Courtney's first television work was in the 1957 series Escape. He made guest appearances in several cult television series, including The Avengers (1962, 1967), The Champions (1968), Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) (1969) and as a racing driver in Riviera Police (1965), and briefly appeared as a TV panel chairman in the film Take a Girl Like You (1970), hosting a debate between John Bird and John Fortune.

Doctor Who

Director Douglas Camfield originally considered Courtney for the role of Richard the Lionheart in the Doctor Who serial "The Crusade" (1965), a role that ultimately went to Julian Glover. Camfield made sure to keep Courtney in mind for future casting, however. Courtney would make his first appearance in the series, when Camfield cast him in the 1965 serial "The Daleks' Master Plan", where he played Space Security Agent Bret Vyon opposite William Hartnell as the Doctor.[4]

Camfield liked Courtney's performance, and when the director was assigned the 1968 serial "The Web of Fear", he cast Courtney as Captain Knight. However, when David Langton gave up the role of Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart to work elsewhere, Camfield recast Captain Knight and gave the part to Courtney instead.[6] The Lethbridge-Stewart character returned in the next season in "The Invasion", promoted to the rank of brigadier,[7] and in charge of British contingent of UNIT. The organisation had been charged with protecting the Earth from alien invasion. Years later Ian Marter, who played UNIT medical officer Harry Sullivan alongside Tom Baker, named a Russian military base used in "The Invasion", but unnamed on screen, "Nykortny" in his novelisation of the story.[8]

It was in this recurring role that he would become best known to the viewing audience, appearing semi-regularly in 101 episodes between 1970 and 1975. The character proved popular enough to return in 1983, first in "Mawdryn Undead" and in the official 20th anniversary special The Five Doctors. Courtney made his final appearance in the 1989 serial "Battlefield" (although like many other former cast members, he reprised the role for the charity special Dimensions in Time). He appeared with Jean Marsh in both his first and last regular Doctor Who television appearances. Jean Marsh portrayed the character of Sara Kingdom in Courtney's first appearance, "The Daleks' Master Plan", playing his character's sister. In Courtney's final appearance on the show, Marsh portrayed the villainous Morgaine in the Arthurian-inspired '"Battlefield". Marsh also appeared in the earlier story "The Crusade" for which Courtney had been considered.

Courtney has played Lethbridge-Stewart, either on television or in spin-off audio plays, alongside every subsequent Doctor up to and including Paul McGann, as well as substitute First Doctor Richard Hurndall. He did not act in the revived series, although he did so in the spin-off, The Sarah Jane Adventures and appeared in archival footage in Doctor Who proper. While he has acted with Tenth Doctor actor David Tennant in the Big Finish audio dramas Sympathy for the Devil and UNIT: The Wasting, Tennant was playing a different character, Colonel Ross Brimmicombe-Wood, on both occasions.

Fifteen years after Dimensions in Time, Courtney returned as Lethbridge-Stewart (now, Sir Alistair), freshly returned from Peru, in "Enemy of the Bane", a two-part story in the Doctor Who spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures aired in December 2008, starring Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith. The Sarah Jane Adventures production team intended that Courtney would reappear in the following year's "The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith" so that Lethbridge-Stewart would meet the Tenth Doctor, but Courtney was recovering from a stroke and unable to take part.[9]

Following Courtney's 22 February 2011 death, Lethbridge-Stewart was written out as having died roughly concurrently with him.[10] Gone but far from forgotten, the Brigadier cast a long shadow across the series' golden anniversary episode, "The Day of the Doctor", being referred no less than five times[11] and quoted once;[12] and, with a prominent close-up of his archival portrait,[13] Courtney is the only individual to appear in all the Doctor Who anniversary stories prior to "The Day of the Doctor".[14]

In a 2008 interview, Courtney expressed his displeasure at the pacing of the new series of Doctor Who, claiming: "It’s all a bit rushed sometimes. It’s a heck of a lot to get in in three quarters of an hour, the whole story. In the old days, it used to be half an hour every Saturday for four Saturdays, or six Saturdays, so it does all seem to be a bit of a rush. In fact, it leaves me rather gasping for breath sometimes." Courtney also commented: "I think people’s attention span is more limited than it used to be."[15]

After Doctor Who

Courtney continued to act extensively in theatre and television after his main Doctor Who appearances, guest-starring in such popular television programmes as Minder (1984), All Creatures Great and Small (1980, episode "Matters Of Life And Death"), Only Fools and Horses (1988) and Yes, Prime Minister (1986), and the 1984 television movie To Catch a King. In 1982 he was cast alongside Frankie Howerd in the World War II-set comedy series Then Churchill Said to Me but the series remained untransmitted for over a decade due to the outbreak of the Falklands War. He also had a regular role in the comedy French Fields between 1989 and 1991.

He also appeared in an episode of the long-running BBC TV series The Two Ronnies alongside Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett as the character of 'Captain Dickie Chapman', a fellow prisoner-of-war (POW) in Colditz during World War II, in a sketch based on the original BBC serial, Colditz.

In 1985, Courtney played 'The Narrator' in The Rocky Horror Show. Amanda Redman also starred in the production as Janet. In 1989 he portrayed Temple in the BBC Radio 4 adaption of John Wyndham's Survival. He also appeared briefly in the 1990 film Bullseye!, directed by Michael Winner

He also appeared in the Big Finish Productions audio drama Earthsearch Mindwarp, based on a James Follett novel, broadcast on the digital radio station BBC 7. Courtney starred as Inspector Lionheart opposite fellow Doctor Who actor Terry Molloy in the audio series The Scarifyers, from Cosmic Hobo Productions. The first two Scarifyers adventures, The Nazad Conspiracy and The Devil of Denge Marsh, were broadcast on BBC 7 in 2007; the third, entitled For King and Country in 2008, and fourth, The Curse of the Black Comet, in 2010. He also appeared in three episodes of Kaldor City as the newscaster Danl Packard. He regularly made personal appearances at science fiction conventions and in 1997 was made the honorary president of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society.

In 1998, Courtney released his autobiography, titled Five Rounds Rapid! (ISBN 978-1852277826) after a line of dialogue the Brigadier had in the 1971 Who serial "The Dæmons".[16] He recorded his memoirs, subtitled A Soldier in Time for release on CD in 2002 by Big Finish. In 2008 he appeared in the film Incendiary, as the Archbishop of Canterbury, alongside Ewan McGregor.

An updated autobiography, Still Getting Away With It (ISBN 978-1871330731), was published in 2005,[4] with co-author Michael McManus.


Courtney's death was reported by SFX[1] and The Stage[2] early in the morning of 23 February 2011. The exact cause of death was not given in these early reports. Doctor Who audio play producers Big Finish, with whom Courtney had worked on several releases in his continuing role as the Brigadier, confirmed the date of his death as 22 February 2011.[17] The BBC reported that he had "died in London at the age of 81".[18] According to his official website, he died following a long illness.[19] Doctor Who writer Mark Gatiss called him "a childhood hero and the sweetest of gentlemen".[18] Former Doctor Who co-star Tom Baker also paid tribute, having visited him on the Friday before his death. Baker wrote "We shall miss him terribly" in a newsletter on his website, in which he also indicated that Courtney had been battling cancer.[20]

He was survived by his wife Karen and two children, Philip and Bella.



Year Title Role Notes
1962-67 The Avengers Captain Gifford / Captain Legros 2 episodes
1965 The Saint Alain / Policeman 2 episodes
1965-89 Doctor Who Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart and various 107 episodes
1973 The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes Hutchinson Hatch Episode: Cell 13
1980 All Creatures Great and Small Paul Cotterell Episode: Matters of Life and Death
1987 Yes Prime Minister Police Commissioner Episode: A Diplomatic Incident
1988 Only Fools and Horses Charles Episode: Dates
1991-2007 The Bill Dr Nigel Botterill / Judge 2 episodes
1992 Screen One Tim Aying Episode: Born Kicking
1993 Then Churchill Said to Me Lt. Col. Robin Witherton 6 episodes
Dimensions in Time Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart TV short
2005 Doctors Edmund Black Episode: Heart on His Sleeve
2007 Casualty Claude Devigny Episode: The Fires Within
2008 The Sarah Jane Adventures Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart Enemy of the Bane: Parts 1 and 2


  1. 1 2 "Nicholas Courtney RIP". SFX. Future Publishing. 23 February 2011. Retrieved 23 February 2011.
  2. 1 2 Scott, Matthewman (23 February 2011). "Doctor Who's Brigadier Nicholas Courtney dies". The Stage. The Stage Newspaper Limited. Retrieved 23 February 2011.
  3. Clapperton, Guy (2 November 2006). "Regenerating an original Doctor Who". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 December 2010.
  4. 1 2 3 Hadoke, Toby (23 February 2011). "Nicholas Courtney obituary". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 29 February 2016.
  5. Alumni of the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art: Penelope Keith, Angela Lansbury, Paxton Whitehead, Eva Green, Ross Kemp, Terence Stamp. LLC Books. 2010. ISBN 1-155-69084-2.
  6. Steve Broster (Producer) (19 June 2006). The UNIT Family (Part 1) (DVD). United Kingdom: BBC Worldwide.
  7. MacManus, Michael (26 February 2011). "Nicholas Courtney: Actor known for his long-running role as the Brigadier in Doctor Who". The Independent. Retrieved 29 February 2016.
  9. McManus, Michael (26 February 2011). "Nicholas Courtney: Actor known for his long-running role as the Brigadier in Doctor Who". The Independent. Retrieved 27 February 2011.
  10. Wanting to take Sir Alistair to his 22 April 2011 staged 'death' in Utah in "The Wedding of River Song", a heart-broken Eleventh Doctor is informed that Sir Alistair died some months earlier at his nursing home.
  11. "Kate Lethbridge-Stewart ... as I'm sure your father would have told you..." "I need you to send me one of my father's incident files..." "Somewhere in your memory, there is a man called Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart; I'm his daughter." "'Science leads,' Kate. Is that what you meant? Is that what your father meant?" "Space-time telegraph, Kate; a gift from me to your father."
  12. "Three of them?! All my worst nightmares at once!" from The Three Doctors is repeated by the general defending Gallifrey.
  13. "The Day of the Doctor" at 50:06.
  14. He was a regular co-star as the Brigadier in the tenth anniversary serial, The Three Doctors, guest-starred as the retired brigadier in the 20th anniversary episode, "The Five Doctors", made a cameo appearance (never clarified if he was Lethbridge-Stewart or another character) chatting with other sightseers in the queue to visit Windsor Castle in the silver anniversary serial, Silver Nemesis, and had his only scene with the Sixth Doctor in the non-canonical 30th anniversary special, Dimensions in Time.
  15. "The Den Of Geek interview: Nicholas Courtney". Den of Geek. Retrieved 21 May 2013.
  16. He orders one of his subordinates to "Chap with wings - five rounds rapid!"
  17. Briggs, Nicholas (23 February 2011). "Nicholas Courtney 1929-2011". Big Finish website: News. Big Finish Productions. Archived from the original on February 25, 2011.
  18. 1 2 "Doctor Who 'Brigadier' Nicholas Courtney dies aged 81". BBC News. BBC. 23 February 2011. Retrieved 23 February 2011.
  19. Official Web site
  20. Baker, Tom. "The Brigadier is dead". Tom Baker Ltd. Retrieved 24 April 2011.
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