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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: 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...