William Hartnell

William Henry Hartnell (8 January 1908 – 23 April 1975) was an English actor. Hartnell played the first incarnation of the Doctor in Doctor Who, from 1963 to 1966. He was also well known for his roles as Sergeant Grimshaw, the title character of the first Carry On film, Carry On Sergeant in 1958, and as Company Sergeant Major Percy Bullimore in the sitcom The Army Game from 1957 to 1961.

William Hartnell
William Hartnell in a publicity photo
Born(1908-01-08)8 January 1908
Died23 April 1975(1975-04-23) (aged 67)
Marden, Kent, England
Years active1925–1973
Heather McIntyre (m. 1929)

Early life

William Hartnell, known as Billy to family and friends, was born in St Pancras, London, England, the only child of Lucy Hartnell, an unmarried mother. Hartnell never discovered the identity of his father, whose particulars were left blank on his birth certificate, despite his efforts to trace him.

He was brought up partly by a foster mother, and also spent many holidays in Devon with his mother's family of farmers, from whom he learned to ride horses.[1] He was a second cousin of the fashion designer Norman Hartnell.[2]

He left school without prospects and dabbled in petty crime.[3] Through a boys' boxing club, at the age of 14[4] Hartnell met the art collector Hugh Blaker, who later became his unofficial guardian, arranged for him to train as a jockey and helped him to enter the Italia Conti Academy.[5] Theatre being a passion of Blaker's, he paid for Hartnell to receive some "polish" at the Imperial Service College, though Hartnell found the strictures too much and ran away.[1]


Hartnell entered the theatre in 1925[1] working under Frank Benson as a general stagehand.[3][6] He appeared in numerous Shakespearian plays, including The Merchant of Venice (1926), Julius Caesar (1926), As You Like It (1926), Hamlet (1926), The Tempest (1926) and Macbeth (1926). He also appeared in She Stoops to Conquer (1926), School for Scandal (1926) and Good Morning, Bill (1927), before performing in Miss Elizabeth's Prisoner (1928). This play was written by Robert Neilson Stephens and E. Lyall Swete. It featured the actress Heather McIntyre,[7] whom he married during the following year.[5] His first of more than 60 film appearances was in Say It With Music (1932).

Radio work also featured in his career, with his earliest known performance – in a production of Chinese Moon Party – being broadcast by the BBC on 11 May 1931.[8]

From the outbreak of the Second World War Hartnell served in the British Army in the Tank Corps, but he was invalided out after 18 months as the result of suffering a nervous breakdown and returned to acting.[5] In 1942 he was cast as Albert Fosdike in Noël Coward's film In Which We Serve. He turned up late for his first day of shooting, and Coward berated him in front of the cast and crew for his unprofessionalism, made him personally apologise to everyone and then sacked him. Michael Anderson, who was the first assistant director, took over the part (and was credited as "Mickey Anderson").[9]

Hartnell continued to play comic characters until he was cast in the robust role of Sergeant Ned Fletcher in The Way Ahead (1944).[6] From then on his career was defined by playing mainly policemen, soldiers and thugs. This typecasting bothered him, for even when he was cast in comedies he found he invariably played the "heavy". In 1958 he played the sergeant in the first Carry On comedy film, Carry On Sergeant. He appeared as Will Buckley, another military character, in the film The Mouse That Roared (1959), which starred Peter Sellers, and he played a town councillor in the Boulting brothers' film Heavens Above! (1963), again with Sellers.

His first regular role on television was as Sergeant Major Percy Bullimore in The Army Game in 1957. He left after the first season and returned for the final season in 1961. Again, although it was a comedy series, he found himself cast in a "tough guy" role. He also appeared in a supporting role in the film version of This Sporting Life (1963), giving a sensitive performance as an ageing rugby league talent scout known as "Dad".[6]

Doctor Who (1963–66)

Hartnell's performance in This Sporting Life was noted by Verity Lambert, the producer who was setting up a new science-fiction television series for the BBC entitled Doctor Who; mainly on the strength of that performance, Lambert offered him the title role. Although Hartnell was initially uncertain about accepting a part in what was pitched to him as a children's series, in part due to his success in films,[10] Lambert and director Waris Hussein convinced him to take the part, and it became the character for which he gained the highest profile and is now most remembered. Hartnell later revealed that he took the role because it led him away from the gruff, military parts in which he had become typecast, and, having two grandchildren of his own, he came to relish particularly the attention and affection that playing the character brought him from children. His first episode of Doctor Who was aired on 23 November 1963.[11]

Doctor Who earned Hartnell a regular salary of £315 an episode by 1966 (in the era of 48 weeks per year production on the series), equivalent to £5,764 in 2018. By comparison, in 1966 his co-stars Anneke Wills and Michael Craze were earning £68 and £52 per episode at the same time, respectively.[12] Throughout his tenure as the Doctor, William Hartnell wore a wig when playing the part, as the character had long hair.[13]

Hartnell's deteriorating health (he suffered from arteriosclerosis) began to affect his ability to learn his lines, and he had a poor relationship with a new production team on the series following the departure of Verity Lambert. He left Doctor Who in 1966.[13][14] When he departed the producer of the show came up with the idea that, since the Doctor is an alien, he can transform himself physically, thereby renewing himself. William Hartnell himself suggested the new Doctor, stating that "There's only one man in England who can take over, and that's Patrick Troughton."[15] In the fourth episode of the serial The Tenth Planet the First Doctor regenerates into Troughton's Second Doctor.[16]

Many of Hartnell's episodes are missing from the BBC archives as a result of the BBC's purge of old shows during the early 1970s.

Hartnell reprised the role of the Doctor in Doctor Who during the tenth anniversary story The Three Doctors (1972–73). When Hartnell's wife Heather found out about his planned involvement she informed the crew of the show that his failing memory and weakening health prevented him from starring in the special. An agreement was made between the crew and Heather that Hartnell would sit down during the shoot and read his lines from cue cards.[17] His appearance in this story was his final piece of work as an actor.[18]

For the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who in 2013 the BBC broadcast An Adventure in Space and Time, a dramatisation of the events surrounding the creation of the series, which featured David Bradley portraying Hartnell.[19][20][21]

Later life and death

Hartnell's health had worsened during the early 1970s, and in December 1974 he was admitted to hospital permanently. In early 1975 he suffered a series of strokes brought on by cerebrovascular disease, and he died in his sleep of heart failure on 23 April 1975, at the age of 67.[22] He was cremated and his ashes are buried at the Kent and Sussex Crematorium and Cemetery.

Hartnell was married to Heather McIntyre from 9 May 1929 until his death. They had one child, a daughter, Heather Anne,[3] and two grandchildren.[12] After living at 51 Church Street, Isleworth, next door to Hugh Blaker, the Hartnells lived on Thames Ditton Island. Then in the 1960s they moved to a cottage in Mayfield, Sussex. They lived in later life at Sheephurst Lane in Marden, Kent. Heather Hartnell died in 1984.

The only published biography of him is by his granddaughter, Judith "Jessica" Carney, entitled Who's There? The Life and Career of William Hartnell. It was first published in 1996 by Virgin Publishing. To mark the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who Carney, with Fantom Publishing, revised and republished the book in 2013.[23]

A blue plaque marking Hartnell's work in film and television was unveiled at Ealing Studios by his granddaughter, Jessica Carney, on 14 October 2018.[24]


Hartnell acted in numerous British films, as well as having many stage and television appearances, though he is best known for his role in Doctor Who.[3]


Year Title Role Notes
1932Say It with Musicfilm debut
1933The LureBilly
I'm an ExplosiveEdward Whimperley
Follow the LadyMike Martindale
1934Seeing Is BelievingRonald Gibson
The Perfect FlawVickers
Swinging the LeadFreddy Fordum
1935Old FaithfulMinor roleCredited as "Billy Hartnell"
While Parents SleepGeorge
The Guv'norCar salesmanUncredited
1936The Crimson CircleMinor roleCredited as "Billy Hartnell"
The Shadow of Mike EmeraldUnknownUncredited
Midnight at Madame Tussaud'sStubbsCredited as "Billy Hartnell"
La Vie parisienneUnknown
Nothing Like PublicityPat SpencerCredited as "Billy Hartnell"
1937Farewell AgainMinor roleUncredited
1938They Drive by NightBus ConductorCredited as "Billy Hartnell"
1939Too Dangerous to LiveMinor role
Murder Will OutDick
1940They Came by NightMinor RoleUncredited
1941Freedom RadioRadio Location Aerial OperatorUncredited
1942Flying FortressGaylord ParkerUncredited
They Flew AloneScottyCredited as "Billy Hartnell"
Suspected PersonDetective Saunders
The Goose Steps OutGerman Officer at StationUncredited
Sabotage at SeaJacob Digby
The Peterville DiamondJosephCredited as "Bill Hartnell"
1943The Bells Go DownBrookesCredited as "Billy Hartnell"
The Dark TowerJim TowersCredited as "Bill Hartnell"
1944The Way AheadSgt. Ned FletcherCredited as "Billy Hartnell"
Strawberry RoanChris Lowe
1945The AgitatorPeter Pettinger
Murder in ReverseTom Masterick
1946Appointment with CrimeLeo Martin
1947Odd Man OutFencie
Temptation HarbourJim Brown
1948Brighton RockDallow
EscapeInspector Harris
1949Now BarabbasWarder Jackson
The Lost PeopleBarnes
1950Double ConfessionCharlie Durham
1951The Dark ManPolice Superintendent
1952The Magic BoxRecruiting Sergeant
The Pickwick PapersIrate Cabman
The RingerSam Hackett
The Holly and the IvyThe Company Sergeant-Major (C.S.M.)
1953Will Any Gentleman...?Detective Inspector (D.I.) Martin
1955Footsteps in the FogHerbert Moseby
Josephine and MenDetective Sgt.(D.S.) Parsons
1956Private's ProgressSergeant Sutton
DoublecrossHerbert Whiteway
Tons of TroubleBert
1957Yangtse Incident: The Story of H.M.S. AmethystLeading Seaman Frank
Hell DriversCartley
The HypnotistDetective Inspector Ross
Date with DisasterTracey
1958On the RunTom Casey
Carry On SergeantSergeant Grimshawe
1959Shake Hands with the DevilSergeant Jenkins
The Mouse That RoaredSergeant-at-Arms Will Buckley
The Night We Dropped a ClangerSergeant Bright
Strictly ConfidentialGrimshaw
1960And the Same to YouWalter "Wally" Burton
Piccadilly Third StopColonel
JackpotSuperintendent Frawley
1963This Sporting Life'Dad' Johnson
Heavens Above!Major Fowler
Tomorrow at TenFreddie Maddox
The World Ten Times OverDad
To Have and to HoldInsp. Roberts


Year Title Role Notes
1955Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., PresentsChristySeason 3, Episode 28: "The Auction"
London PlayhouseKenyonSeason 1, Episode 7: "The Inward Eye"
1956The Errol Flynn TheatreHimselfSeason 1, Episode 13: "The Red Geranium"
1957A Santa For ChristmasUnknownTV movie
1957–1961The Army GameCompany Sergeant Major
Percy Bullimore
Series 1 (3 episodes)
Series 2 (2 episodes)
Series 5 (8 episodes)
1958–1959Dial 999Joss Crawford
Jeff Richards
Season 1, Episode 1: "The Killing Job"
Season 1, Episode 16: "50,000 Hands"
1959Probation OfficerUnknownSeason 1, Episode 28
The Flying DoctorAbe McKellerSeason 1, Episode 9: "The Changing Plain"
1960ITV Television PlayhouseReynolds
Season 5, Episode 41: "Place of My Own"
Season 5, Episode 44: "After the Party"
1961Kraft Mystery TheaterSmithSeason 1, Episode 11: "The Desperate Men"
Ghost SquadFred RiceSeason 1, Episode 4: "High Wire"
1963The Plane MakersWally GriggsSeason 1, Episode 15: "One of Those Days"
The Edgar Wallace Mystery TheatreInspector RobertsSeason 4, Episode 9: "To Have and to Hold"
Doctor WhoFirst DoctorSeason 1 (42 episodes)
Season 2 (39 episodes)
Season 3 (45 episodes)
Season 4 (8 episodes)
Season 10 (4 episodes)
1967No Hiding PlaceImpeySeason 10, Episode 2: "The Game"
1968Softly, SoftlyHenry SwiftSeason 3, Episode 13: "Cause of Death"
1969Life With JohnnyDadSeason 1, 2 Episodes inc "Johnny Come Home"[25]
1970Crime of PassionHenri LindonSeason 1, Episode 6: "Alain"


  1. Carney
  2. Keay, Douglas (26 July 1957). "Off Parade – At the Hartnell Home". TV Times. London.
  3. Meyrick, Robert (2004) "Hugh Blaker: Doing His Bit for the Moderns" Journal of the History of Collections 16 (2):173–89 ISSN 0954-6650
  4. Retter, Emily (22 November 2013). "William Hartnell: Original Doctor Who transformed himself from a poverty stricken illegitimate child and hard-drinking womaniser to one of television's most iconic characters". The Mirror. Retrieved 14 December 2013.
  5. "Hartnell, William Henry (1908–1975)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. September 2004. Retrieved 2 November 2007.
  6. "Obituary: Mr William Hartnell – An actor of varied talents", The Times, 25 April 1975.
  7. Craig Cabell Who Were the Doctors (John Blake, 2013)
  8. "BBC Genome Project, 11 May 1931". BBC. Retrieved 5 March 2018.
  9. Hoare, Philip (1995). Noël Coward: A Biography. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-684-80937-3.
  10. Mulkern, Patrick (16 October 2013). "Doctor Who's Waris Hussein on William Hartnell, Bette Davis, & Peter Cook loathing David Frost". Radio Times. Retrieved 14 December 2013.
  11. 2-entertain (2006). Doctor Who: Origins. YouTube. Retrieved 28 July 2013.
  12. Howe, David J.; Stammers, Mark; Walker, Stephen James (1994). The Handbook: The First Doctor – The William Hartnell Years 1963–1966. London: Virgin Publishing. ISBN 978-0-426-20430-5.
  13. Doctor Who. "A Brief History of a Time Lord". British Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 28 July 2013.
  14. Haining, p. 39
  15. Howe, Stammers and Walker, p. 68
  16. The Tenth Planet. Doctor Who. 8–29 October 1966. BBC.
  17. Doctor Who (7 February 2012). "Exclusive First Look: Hartnell's perseverance – Doctor Who – The Three Doctors". British Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 28 July 2013.
  18. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-40585673
  19. Jones, David (29 January 2013). "Doctor Who: Mark Gatiss reveals casting for An Adventure in Space and Time". Radio Times. Retrieved 30 January 2013.
  20. Zemler, Emily (24 July 2013). "'Doctor Who' celebrates 50 years with biopic". CNN. Retrieved 27 July 2013.
  21. Cornet, Ron (22 July 2013). "Comic-Con: Doctor Who's 50th!". IGN. Retrieved 27 July 2013.
  22. "BBC – Archive – The Changing Face of Doctor Who – 'Radio Times' Letters Page, 24 November 1966". www.bbc.co.uk.
  23. Retter, Emily (22 November 2013). "Story of the first Doctor Who: How illegitimate thief and womaniser William Hartnell became the original Time Lord".
  24. "DWAS honours William Hartnell". Doctor Who News. 14 October 2018. Retrieved 14 October 2018.
  25. nwhyte (18 April 2015). "William Hartnell as Cliff Richard's father".


  • Wood, Tat; Lawrence Miles (2006). About Time 1: The Unauthorized Guide to Doctor Who 1963–1966. Illinois: Mad Norwegian Press. ISBN 978-0-9759446-0-8.
  • Carney, Jessica (1996). Who's There? The Life and Career of William Hartnell. Virgin Publishing. ISBN 978-1-85227-514-3.
  • Howe, David J.; Stammers, Mark; Walker, Stephen James (1993). Doctor Who: The Sixties. London: Virgin Publishing. ISBN 978-0-86369-707-4.
  • Haining, Peter (1983). Doctor Who: A Celebration. London: W.H. Allen and Co. ISBN 978-0-491-03351-0.
This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.