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Nicholas Courtney 1929-2011

February 23rd, 2011 (10:58 am)

So, what to say about the Brig..?

The first thing is that Nicholas Courtney was so identified with Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart that his former colleagues and fans alike referred to him as 'the Brig' and that this didn't seem at all forced. It's a mark of how under-resourced the original character was that we didn't learn the character's full name until he'd been on screen seven years, in Robot, and it was only in the previous story that the Doctor called him by his first name. That kind of role can be a gift to an actor in that they can bring a lot of themselves, and Nicholas Courtney evidently did. For all a large sector of Doctor Who fandom reveres Jon Pertwee's first season, the hard-edged Brigadier of that series never seems comfortable. Courtney's performance seems happier when being the quick-witted and open-minded soldier opposite Troughton's Doctor, or as the memorable buffoonish comic foil of the later Pertwee stories. It's this latter, warmest performance for which he is best remembered. Courtney's Brigadier provided grounding for the arrogant, anxious, vain, vulnerable third Doctor; unable to appreciate the breadth of the Doctor's experience and imagination, but steadily Earthbound and with a practicality which could fondly prick the Doctor's pomposity.

Like a lot of Doctor Who fans, "I met him once..." Nicholas Courtney was a guest at Panopticon 2000 in Manchester, and I joined a group sitting with him based around Fiona Moore and her Kaldor City colleagues. We ended up talking about Oxford, of course, specifically my then place of employment, the places of his grandfather William Leonard Courtney and his uncle Sir Christopher Lloyd Courtney in the context of the project, and about the problems his grandfather faced combining the academic world with journalism and theatre, principally the opposition of his New College colleagues. I'd seen him before: once at the closing ceremony of the second Blue Box convention in Southampton, when he'd been cheered for mounting the stage with full pint glass in hand; and once in Oxford, when I passed a group of Doctor Who fans who visited famous pubs with a Doctor Who celebrity, arranging a mass photograph outside the Eagle and Child. At the centre was Nicholas Courtney, enjoying the event and the company. That seemed to say something of the essence of the man.


Posted by: Alice Dryden (huskyteer)
Posted at: February 23rd, 2011 12:20 pm (UTC)

You have beaten me to it. What sad news.

I also met him once, at Longleat when I was a teenager. Utterly sweet and charming. (Him not me.)

Edited at 2011-02-23 12:21 pm (UTC)

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: February 23rd, 2011 12:23 pm (UTC)

I heard the news last night from my sister; her boyfriend is an actor, who knew Nick through theatrical circles and had worked with him on charity events, and the news was being passed on within the stage and screen world before it was formally made public in an attributable way. Katy Manning was ringing round Doctor Who people on behalf of the family last night, apparently.

Posted by: Alice Dryden (huskyteer)
Posted at: February 23rd, 2011 12:28 pm (UTC)

Oh, how nice of her! I like to think of the UNIT-era cast as being like a family.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: February 23rd, 2011 12:36 pm (UTC)

One of the impressions I have from the 1970s fanzines I have is that fans were struck at the early conventions by how glad the UNIT regulars were to see each other again. They were a great ensemble, with much dinner-partying apparently, particularly between the Pertwees and the Delgados.

Posted by: philmophlegm (philmophlegm)
Posted at: February 23rd, 2011 01:33 pm (UTC)

Did you see this news story?

Made me think that a parallel universe Courtney has just died too.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: February 23rd, 2011 01:35 pm (UTC)

Yes - I had done. gayalondiel and I swapped tweets on Silurians and Primords.

Somewhere, perhaps, they are all wearing eyepatches.

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: February 23rd, 2011 02:17 pm (UTC)

This is sad news. I'm out of the fan loop these days, so this was the first I'd heard of it.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: February 23rd, 2011 02:23 pm (UTC)

Nicholas Courtney is a worldwide top ten trending topic on Twitter, apparently. A tribute to a remarkable actor in a remarkable series.

Posted by: thanatos_kalos (thanatos_kalos)
Posted at: February 23rd, 2011 02:58 pm (UTC)

Such a terrible loss-- I'd never met him but I've heard so many stories about the Brig that it feels as though I had.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: February 23rd, 2011 03:02 pm (UTC)

Tom Baker's tribute at his site is very moving. He visited Nick on Friday to say goodbye. Ed Stradling's video on YouTube is well-assembled, and Alan Stevens has written something at Kaldor City too. I feel the loss in a way which I hadn't expected.

Posted by: widsidh (widsidh)
Posted at: February 23rd, 2011 10:33 pm (UTC)
Liz & Pertwee

It's been a while since I've been moved by the death of someone I never really met, the last had been Andreas Katsulas. Both were people was lucky enough to say briefly hello to at different convention autograph session (Nick Courtney was unwell already and never did his panel), but whom I really only know through their long-time portayal of a single character.
I'm not sure now if I mourn the man or the fiction, but in some way the two will always be linked...

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: February 24th, 2011 01:36 am (UTC)

From quite early on the lighter side of Nick Courtney's character shone through the Brigadier, so I think you had a reasonable impression, though he was more likely to be drinking than shooting rounds...