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William Nicholas Stone Courtney (16 December 1929 - 22 February 2011), known as Nicholas Courtney, was an English actor best known for portraying Brigadier Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart in 103 episodes of Doctor Who and two episodes of The Sarah Jane Adventures over the course of forty years. He was the only performer to have played the same role on-screen while working alongside seven of the actors who have played the Doctor.


Early life and stage career[]

Nicholas Courtney was born on 16 December 1929 at the Anglo-American Hospital in Cairo, the son of Geoffrey Courtney, a British army officer and diplomat, and his half-American wife Evelyn. He was the nephew of RAF Air Chief Marshal Christopher Courtney and the grandson of journalist and author William Leonard Courtney. After his parents separated when he was two years old, he was raised by his father and his stepmother, Anne (née Perrott), a great-grandniece of Pyotr Tchaikovsky. Due to his father's career in the Foreign Office, his childhood was spent variously in Egypt, France, Kenya and England. Showing an interest in acting at a young age, he starred in a production of The Dumb Wife of Cheapside while still a student in Cairo and, after passing his A-levels, portrayed Omar Khayyam in an Egyptian State Broadcasting teleplay.

At the age of eighteen in 1948, he was called up for national service in the British Army. Unlike his father, who had served in both World Wars and reached the rank of lieutenant colonel, the younger Courtney's stint in the military was undistinguished; he never fired a single shot, and was not promoted beyond the rank of private. After being demobbed in June 1950, he enrolled at the Webber Douglas School of Singing and Dramatic Art. Following the completion of his two year course - a period in which he won the Margaret Rutherford Medal and studied in the same class as Bernard Horsfall - he went into weekly repertory in 1952, his first job being an actor-cum-assistant stage manager in Cromer. He made his professional debut at Swindon's Playhouse Theatre in September of that year. In 1953 he transferred to the King's Theatre in Hammersmith, where he worked split shifts as an actor and an assistant stage manager in an eight-week classical season overseen by Donald Wolfit.


He relocated to London to begin his work in television, with his first role coming in an episode of the 1957 series Escape, which also featured John Arnatt, Dennis Edwards, James Ellis, Barry Letts, John Nettleton, Brian Peck and Alec Wallis. He made a string of television appearances over the next several years, including roles in Look About (in an episode with Norman Claridge and Victor Lucas), No Hiding Place (with Brian Hawksley), The Indian Tales of Rudyard Kipling (with Jane Asher) and Victoria Regina (with Michael Bilton, Cyril Luckham and Michael Wolf).

Doctor Who[]

His association with Doctor Who began in 1965 when director Douglas Camfield considered him for the role of Richard the Lionheart in "The Crusade". Although the part was ultimately given to Julian Glover, Camfield did not forget Courtney and offered him the role of Space Security agent Bret Vyon in "The Daleks' Master Plan" later that year. Courtney returned to Doctor Who in 1968's "The Web of Fear", his first appearance as Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart. The then-Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart was to have been played by David Langton with Courtney taking the role of Captain Knight, but Courtney became Lethbridge-Stewart's performer after Langton backed out in favour of other work. The character of Lethbridge-Stewart returned later that year, now promoted to brigadier and in charge of the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce, in "The Invasion". On the decision to make the Brigadier a supporting character from Season Seven onwards, he said: "Pat Troughton was leaving and Jon Pertwee was coming in - exiled to Earth by the Time Lords for 'misbehaving in time' - and the BBC asked me to become a regular for a couple of years. Head of UNIT. I was over the moon. A bit of security when my first daughter was born." Courtney said that his father was not a conscious influence upon his performance as the Brigadier. However, he conceded that Geoffrey Courtney's traits, along with some characteristics of the officers he encountered during his national service, may have played a part in the way he approached the role.

Doctor Who appearances[]

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