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Doctor Who – Brigadier actor Nicholas Courtney passes away

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Doctor Who - Nicholas Courtney with Jon Pertwee
The Bridgader (Nicholas Courtney) with the Doctor (Jon Pertwee) © 1970 BBC

On Tuesday February 2011 actor Nicholas Courtney died. He was best known for playing UNIT’s Brigadier in Doctor Who.


Nicholas was suffering from cancer and was in a hospice in North London. He was 81, and leaves his second wife Karen, his son and his daughter.

Tom Baker (the fourth Doctor) had visited him on the previous Friday and tells on his website how frail Courtney had become. You can find his comments here.

Doctor Who
"Inferno" - The alternative universe Bridgader (Nicholas Courtney) © 1970 BBC

His association with Doctor Who started back in 1965 with his role as Bret Vyon in the story The Daleks’ Master Plan. The current Doctor was the first, played by William Hartnell.

Nicholas was cast as Lethbridge-Stewart in 1968, acting opposite the second Doctor, Patrick Troughton in The Web of Fear. The character re-appeared a few months later in The Invasion, now promoted to a Brigadier and heading the UK section of UNIT, a task force created to battle with the unknown…

When Jon Pertwee became the third Doctor in 1969, the production team decided to strand the Doctor on Earth working with UNIT and the Brigadier. Nicholas Courtney hence became a regular thoughout the early 1970s, although he was only contracted as a regular part of the cast for the 1970 season.

When Tom Baker took over the role of the Doctor, the Brigadier appeared less often. His last appearance in Doctor Who was in 1989 but he did appear in 2008, in the Doctor Who spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures.

I got to meet him in person at various London conventions where I was involved in the organising. It was however while working for a video interview series that that I really appreciated just how professional he was. I was the director and a very young and inexperienced Nick Briggs (best now known as the Dalek voice artist) was the interviewer. Nicholas Courtney was a gem. He was very patient with Nick Briggs and the crew with their learning curves.

Some may know that Jan Vincent-Rudzki who works on this site was the original President of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society (DWAS). After Jan left the role, the organisers decided not to fill the role with anyone else. However much later on Nicolas Courtney was approached to be the Honorary President of DWAS.

Nicholas of course did have other roles, including parts in The Avengers and Casualty, but Doctor Who really did feature heavily in his life, on-screen and possibly even more so in fan conventions and productions after.

So to Nicholas Courtney I would like to say, “May your spirt live on with the grace you lived your life”.