RIP Nicholas Courtney: Splendid Chap, All of Him
The Doctor Who world has been rocked by the sad news that one of its elder statesmen, Nicholas Courtney, who played Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge Stewart from 1968-onwards to his last appearance in 2008 in The Sarah Jane Adventures has died at the age of 81.
The BBC, finally, have an obituary, though the best obituary is by actor Toby Hadoke in The Guardian. There are many lovely tributes to this lovely man, but Tom Baker has one of the first and most touching. Some of the better fan tributes come from Keith Topping and The Middleman creator and TV writer Javier Grillo-Marxuach. Additionally, Doctor Who DVD content producer Ed Stradling has a YouTube tribute.
For me, Nick Courtney wasn’t just the Brigadier. He was the gentleman who gave one of the most haunting, memorable performances I’ve seen on television in an episode of All Creatures Great and Small as a despondent man who has to put down his dog who represented the man’s life. The look on his face when Christopher Timothy’s James Herriot tells him the grave news is astounding: it’s totally understated but packs an emotional punch that has stayed with me for decades. Coming to Doctor Who a little later, I was flabbergasted when I realized that was the same actor best known for saying “Chap with wings—five rounds rapid!” But that was Nick Courtney all over—the man was a talented actor who I wish had been given more opportunity to showcase his considerable abilities, particularly after the 1980s.
I met Nick Courtney in 2004, where I interviewed him on stage with Richard Franklin at the Gallifrey One convention. It wasn’t the most optimal of circumstances—Nick was in the middle of some kind of a dispute with Richard which made the whole interview a protracted, odd, somewhat difficult affair (I was asked to interview them separately though they compromised on coming together at the end). And yet, two things stood out to me from that experience. The first was, whatever the dispute was, I never learned what it was from Nick himself, who was too discreet a gentleman to talk about such private matters and was pleasant, cheerful and professional about the whole thing.
The second thing that stood out to me happened later that afternoon as I sat and had a drink with him, his friend (and biographer) Michael McManus and others. When my gin and tonic came, I reached for my wallet. He gestured for me to hold fire. “This round’s on the Brig,” he said.
That was Nick Courtney from my brief experience of him: Cordial, convivial, thoroughly decent. And he loved Doctor Who and its fans.
He will be missed.
Posted by Graeme on Wednesday, February 23 at 6:26 am