Writing “Nicholas Courtney in 13 Objects” for Candy Jar’s Brigadier: Declassified

There was a big parcel waiting for me in the porch. It was from Candy Jar Books – which would be a regular occurrence as I’ve got a subscription to the Lethbridge-Stewart novels, except that’s normally a sole volume every so often; this was a sizeable package. And then I realised what it could be.

I’m always apprehensive about deliveries because they frequently arrive damaged, but this one looked pristine. Opening it carefully, I was nonetheless nervous. Sure enough, I was right: I’d placed a large pre-order of The Brigadier: Declassified because I wanted additional copies for family and friends – because I’d got an essay in it.

I couldn’t believe it when I found out my essay opened the book, wedged between a foreword by Terry Molloy (better known to fans as Davros) and the recollections of director, Graeme Harper.

So how did this come about? I’ve been fortunate to know Shaun Russell, Head of Publishing at Candy Jar, for a few years now through the Doctor Who Companion, and he simply sent me a message asking for my phone number as he wanted to discuss something with me. Heck, I’m rubbish with phones and accidentally missed a couple of calls from Shaun; fortunately, we finally managed to talk, and Shaun told me his plans for a non-fiction book celebrating 50 years of the Brigadier. And asked if I’d like to be involved!

Specifically, he was looking for a piece on Nicholas Courtney, who played Lethbridge-Stewart, but didn’t want a typical biography. I’m not quite sure when the idea came to me, but I soon sent three pitches across (still thinking they weren’t quite good enough, admittedly), the first of which – detailing Courtney’s life based around a certain number of objects – proved successful.

Great! Now what? Ah, I had to specify the objects I’d cover. I’d already included a few in my initial pitch:

The Courtney Collection/ Nicholas Courtney in 25 Objects: Imagine a museum – vast, immersive, the most fascinating place you’ll ever be. There are galleries of Matt Smith, a Chris Boucher exhibition, and a boot cupboard stacked full of Class.

One of the largest halls is dedicated to Nicholas Courtney. 25 objects tell the story of his life.

Here’s Bret Vyon’s gun: We explore how Courtney got a gig in The Daleks’ Master Plan.

Here’s a Yeti Control Sphere: We find out how Courtney was invited back to Doctor Who, this time for the role of Lethbridge-Stewart.

Here’s Bok’s broken hand: And we regale the tales of the Who crew’s legendary visit to Aldbourne.

Here’s a model Sphinx: Where we touch upon his early life, growing up and educated in Egypt, Kenya, and France.

Here’s a signed photo: Giving us the chance to talk about his convention appearances and other interactions with fans.

This is a chance to get an overview of Courtney’s life, and explore as many behind-the-scenes stories as we can.

So, armed with Nick’s autobiography, Still Getting Away With It, I set out to detail one man’s life. It’s a big challenge, especially when my overenthusiastic “25 objects” was whittled down to 13 because otherwise, it’d be far too long. Plus 13 felt right – it was Grandad’s lucky number, and I felt just that: lucky.

Yes, I’m still annoyed at myself for writing “wing” twice on one page.

Okay, it’s fair to say I know Doctor Who very well. I wouldn’t normally egg myself up like that, but this is a Doctor Who site and readers should at least be safe in the knowledge that the people behind it have seen more than an episode or two. That was a good starting point. I didn’t purely want to list Courtney’s major life events in chronological order because I don’t like such a dreary notion. Doctor Who was the way “in”. Everyone reading it would love the show and be interested in that primarily; from there, I could explore Nick’s reality beyond the cameras.

I hadn’t realised, however, how fascinating Courtney’s life was. To lean on the obvious cliché, it was so much bigger on the inside. Small sojourns led to lengthier afternoons learning about his theatrical work, his education, his loves. I was especially pleased to find an old advertisement from 1932 for Queen Bertha’s School, Kent – something of a rarity considering the institution didn’t last particularly long.

But I had to keep coming back to Doctor Who. It remains a driving force for the piece, for readers, and seemingly for Nick too, whose love of the show really shone through in interviews. It gave the essay a solid format, and even provided me with an ending which hopefully treads the line between mushy sentimentalism and an apt summation of Courtney.

It’s a special book. It has a gorgeous cover by Richard Young, and fascinating features by a number of talented folks like Paul Cooke, Shaun Collins, David McAllister, Peter Grehan, Simon A Forward, Glenn Bartlett, and my editor, Andy Frankham-Allen. That’s without mentioning Shaun Russell’s interview with John Levene, aka Benton, and additional pieces by Terrance Dicks and Ralph Watson! It’s amazing being in such esteemed company.

In case you’re wondering, the objects I chose are rather eclectic. These include jelly babies (duh), the Margaret Rutherford Medal, Winston Churchill’s cigar, and a 16mm film print. There’s even an item in there secretly dedicated to someone very important to me, but hey, that’s between her and me.

Thank you to Shaun and Andy for giving me this chance, for editing such an interesting book, and for making me a small part of the Candy Jar family.

The Brigadier: Declassified is out now as a Special Edition from Candy Jar, priced £8.99 (plus postage).