William Hartnell was born on 8th January 1908 just south of
St. Pancras station, London. He was to be the only child
to unmarried mother Lucy Hartnell.
Although he was also partly raised by his foster mother. Young
William spent many a childhood holiday in Seaton, Devon on his mother's
family farm.He was ashamed by the fact that he illegitimate.He never
did discover the identity of his father, despite extensive efforts to find him.
William left school at the age of 16, without any future prospects. But luckily
through a boys' boxing club he met Hugh Blaker an art collector, who soon
became William's unofficial guardian, and initially set about to train him as a
jockey.The idea failed but Blaker wouldn't give up.He had a passion for the
theatre and arranged for William to audition for
Sir Frank Benson's Shakespearean Company. He was taken on as a general
'dogs' body' carrying out practically every job in the theatre and was even
allowed small walk-on parts.
After two years, William decided to spread his wings and left the company to
tour the country with other theatrical companies and it was then in 1928 he met actress
Heather McIntyre, who would later become his wife.
In the 1930's William thought he would try his luck in films, and eventually won the lead role
in the low budget film 'I'm an explosive' a comedy made in 1933.World War two came and
William was called up and enlisted into the Royal Artillery Corp. But his military career was
to be short lived, when within the first year of joining up he suffered a nervous breakdown.
After a lengthy spell in an Army hospital,the Colonel said to him 'Better get back to the theatre,
you're no bloody good here.' So he left the Army complete with a stutter- a result of his breakdown.
But with the help of contacts and very good friends in the 'business', William returned to the
theatre and soon overcame his stutter.His big break in films was to come in 1943, after
director Carol Reed saw William playing the part of 'Dallow', in the stage play
'Brighton Rock' by Graham Greene. Carol Reed was so impressed by his performance
he asked William to come and screen test for the part of a tough uncompromising
Army Sergeant in the film 'The Way Ahead'.He won critical acclaim for the part and was
signed up by British National Studios. He received top billing in 3 films for them but
sadly none were box office hits and they did not renew his contract.
But the lack of success was to be short lived, as director Carol Reed approached
William asking him to reprise his role of 'Dallow', in Reed's film version of
'Brighton Rock', starring a young Richard Attenborough. He then went on to appear in
other tough guy roles until the late 1950's when he was offered a part in TV's 'The Army Game
playing the part of another Sergeant. He then went on to star in the very first
'Carry On' film 'Carry on Sergeant' where he again played the part of an Army Sergeant,
with Bill Owen ( Compo from Last of the Summer Wine) playing his Corpoal trying to keep
the likes of Kenneth Williams, Kenneth Connor and Charles Hawetry in order.
Then in 1962 he was first approached to play the lead role in a brand new science fiction
series for the BBC called 'Doctor Who'. He eventually agreed to the role as it was
completely different to anything he had ever played before and required some
thinking about how to play the part of the alien known as 'The Doctor'. It was a role
that he was to become very fond of. so much so that when the show celebrated it's 10th
Anniversary, with the story 'The Three Doctors' the BBC phoned William asking him if he
would like to come back and reprise his role as the 1st Doctor. Without any hesitation he
agreed. But it was when the script arrived at his home in Mayfield, Sussex that his wife
Heather found out what he was going to do. She instantly telephoned the BBC and explained
that William was indeed very ill and would never be able to cope with the journey to London.
The BBC were very obliging and his scenes were re-written and filmed at his home.
It was to be his last performance as an actor.
December 1974 saw William admitted into Hospital.Then in 1975 he suffered a series
of strokes brought on by Cerebrovascular Disease and died peacefully in his sleep
on 23rd April 1975 aged 67.
'I think that if I live to be 90, a little magic of Doctor Who will cling to me'. he once said.
But he certainly left his stamp on the series, by setting a high bench mark for the future
actors to measure up to when playing the part of 'The Doctor', in a show that is still
going strong today and celebrates it's 50th Anniversary on 23rd November 2013.
He was 'The Doctor'.