Get our free email newsletter with just one click

Nicholas Courtney

by -

Nicholas Courtney achieved television immortality as the stiff-backed, moustachioed, Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart in Doctor Who by becoming the longest-serving actor in the franchise.

He was also one of the best-loved characters and appeared with seven Doctors on television, radio and audio recordings. He made his debut in the series in 1965 with the first Doctor, William Hartnell, when Courtney portrayed a special agent. Three years later he was given the role of the Brigadier (originally a colonel) when the actor who had been cast failed to turn up, and quickly became a staple character as the dour trigger-happy officer of the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce.

Born the son of a British diplomat in Cairo on December 16, 1929, he was educated in Egypt, Kenya and France. After national service, he trained at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art (where he won the Margaret Rutherford Award in 1952) and, on graduating, appeared with Buxton Repertory, the Advance Players Association at the King’s Hammersmith, and spent two years with Northampton Repertory.

He played in theatres nationwide and made several forays into the West End, playing alongside Wilfrid Hyde White and Anna Massey in 1963 in The Doctor’s Dilemma at the Haymarket, and on national tours of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (as the Narrator) in 1979, and with Hollywood star George Chakiris in M Butterfly in 1992.

He made his television debut in the 1957 war series Escape and was a familiar face for more than five decades in staples such as The Saint, The Two Ronnies, Yes, Prime Minister, The Bill and Casualty. In 1982 he appeared with Frankie Howerd in the six-part BBC2 series Then Churchill Said to Me.

His last television appearance – fittingly enough as the Brigadier – was in 2008 in the Doctor Who children’s spin-off, The Sarah Jane Adventures. He reprised the role for the last time the following year in the video short Liberty Hall.

An active member of the Equity council for more than 20 years, he resigned in 2006 in protest at the refusal to allow then president Harry Landis to stand for re-election.

He published his autobiography in 1998, updating it in 2005. He died from cancer, aged 81, on February 22 and is survived by his second wife and two children.

Michael Quinn

We need your help…

When you subscribe to The Stage, you’re investing in our journalism. And our journalism is invested in supporting theatre and the performing arts.

The Stage is a family business, operated by the same family since we were founded in 1880. We do not receive government funding. We are not owned by a large corporation. Our editorial is not dictated by ticket sales.

We are fully independent, but this means we rely on revenue from readers to survive.

Help us continue to report on great work across the UK, champion new talent and keep up our investigative journalism that holds the powerful to account. Your subscription helps ensure our journalism can continue.