Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Farewell Brigadier

Well I woke up this morning to hear the sad news that Nicholas Courtney, who played Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewert has died. He was 81.

It's not often that I find the death of an actor genuinely upsetting but Nicholas Courtney is an important part of both my childhood and my nerdhood. As much a key part of Classic Who as any actor to have played the Doctor and I think sometimes you forget that whilst the character might be immortal the actor playing them is only human.

Born in Egypt in 1929 Courtney had only been a Private during World War Two but director Douglas Camfield thought him the right kind of man to play...well initially Captain Knight in 'The Web of Fear' (1968) but a bit of luck saw him promoted to the part that he's best loved and remembered for the then Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart. He was promoted to Brigadier for 'The Invasion' and was in charge of the newly formed UNIT and when it was decided that the Doctor was to be exiled to Earth the Brigadier and UNIT were to be a key part of the Third Doctor's era.

Courtney was to appear with all the Classic Doctor's except Colin Baker and Paul McGann - which was remedied on audio by Big Finish. Such a part of Doctor Who mythos was the Brigadier that he even got semi-regular mentions in the New Series.

His final appearance as the Brigadier was in the Sarah Jane Adventures in December 2008. It's a measure of how brilliant a character the Brigadier was and of Nicholas Courtney's great performance that he was to be playing the Brigadier forty years after his first appearance.

In truth the Brigadier is as much an icon of Classic Who as anyone or thing you care to name. To my generation of Doctor Who fans he's a legend and by all accounts an absolutely lovely man, although I only met him once - briefly - at a convention.

His acting career was obviously broader than just Doctor Who. He made appearances in dozens of other series: The Avengers, The Champions, Shelley, Yes, Prime Minister and Only Fools & Horses to name but a few.

Having been getting through the Pertwee era this month myself Nicholas Courtney's been an almost constant feature & without him, his false moustaches and dry wit the Pertwee era would have been a drabber place. People are obviously highlighting 'Chap with the wings there' as THE Brigadier line but for me I always thought the scene in Battlefield is the signature Brigadier moment. When the Destroyer asks surely the planet Earth can find a better champion the Brigadier's response is a pithy, understated summing up of the character: "Probably. I just do the best I can."

Other people who knew him better will be able to write about him in more detail but I just wanted to pay my own little tribute to Nicholas Courtney. He'll be missed. It is a sign of the affection in which he is held that he still trending worldwide on Twitter.

Goodbye Brigadier. (Salutes)

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