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Nicholas Courtney

NICHOLAS Courtney, the actor, who has died aged 81, was best known to Doctor Who viewers as Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, the longest-serving co-star of the popular science-fiction series, appearing opposite five television Doctors.

His earliest Doctor Who appearance was in 1965 as Special Space Security Agent Bret Vyon opposite the original Doctor, William Hartnell, in the epic The Daleks' Master Plan. But for most Doctor Who fans, he will be remembered as Lethbridge-Stewart, stalwart of Unit (United Nations Intelligence Taskforce), the organisation that kept Earth safe from alien invasion.

Originally intended to play Captain Knight in the 1968 episode The Web of Fear, with Patrick Troughton as the Doctor, Courtney was promoted to the role of Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart by the series director, Douglas Camfield, when the original actor pulled out.

He returned later that year in The Invasion, promoted to Brigadier. Camfield made him wear a series of false moustaches in order to appear older than he was, before Courtney finally grew his own.

Appearing as one of the main characters throughout the incarnation of Jon Pertwee as the third Doctor in the Seventies, Courtney also appeared in two stories featuring the fourth Doctor, Tom Baker, before returning -- retired and teaching maths at a boys' school -- opposite Peter Davison (Doctor number five) and finally opposite Sylvester McCoy, the seventh Doctor, before the series was cancelled in 1989.

Although mentioned a number of times in the revived series of Doctor Who, Courtney made his final appearance in character in 2008 as Sir Alistair in the spin-off series The Sarah Jane Adventures.

William Nicholas Stone Courtney was born on December 16, 1929, in Cairo, the son of a diplomat, and grandson of WL Courtney, a one-time leader writer and literary editor of The Daily Telegraph. He spent a peripatetic childhood as he followed his father's postings and was educated in Egypt, France and Kenya.

After completing his National Service in 1950, Courtney enrolled at the Webber Douglas School of Singing and Dramatic Art and in 1952 went into weekly repertory.

His first television appearance was in the 1957 series Escape. He also had roles in Looking About and No Hiding Place. From the Sixties, he appeared regularly in shows such as Callan and Sword of Honour, as well as The Saint, The Champions, The Avengers, and Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased). After his departure from Doctor Who, Courtney took parts in shows such as All Creatures Great And Small and Sink or Swim, Shelley, Yes, Prime Minister and Only Fools and Horses.

In 1997, Courtney became honorary president of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society.

Nicholas Courtney is survived by his second wife Karen, and his son and daughter.

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