No self-respecting Whovian is unaware of English actor William Henry Hartnell and his importance to the “Doctor Who” universe.
Hartnell, born on this day, Wednesday, 8 January, in 1908, played the first incarnation of the Gallifreyan Time Lord known as The Doctor. In 1963 and for the next three years, as The Doctor, Hartnell travelled through time and space to the furthest corners of the unknown universe.
Hartnell, born in St Pancras, London, England, left school with no real expectations of accomplishing anything beyond getting a paying job to support himself. After joining a boxing club, at 14-years-old, Hartnell became acquainted with art collector Hugh Blaker. It was through Blaker’s connections, Hartnell would receive his initial training as a jockey.
When Hartnell expressed an interest in becoming a thespian, Blaker also helped him enter the Italia Conti Academy. The Italia Conti Academy, a co-educational independent theatre arts training school for pupils aged 10 to 19, was founded by actress Italia Conti. In addition to Hartnell, the theatrical arts institution can boast “Doctor Who” stars Karen Gillan, Daniel Mays and Bonnie Langford amongst its alumni.
Spanning almost half a century, Hartnell’s film career began in the early 1930s with the Jack Raymond directed musical “Say It with Music.” From a cursory examination of his acting career, there is an argument that can be made Hartnell was typecast in playing authoritarian characters. Exemplifying this point is the films “The Goose Steps Out” (1942), “The Way Ahead” (1944), “The Dark Man,” “The Magic Box” (1951), “The Holly and the Ivy” (1952), “Seagulls Over Sorrento,” “Will Any Gentleman…?” (1953), “Josephine and Men” (1955), “Private’s Progress” (1956) and “Scotland Yard Dragnet” (1957).
Adding to the notion Hartnell had been typecast in playing authoritarian characters, from 1957 to 1960, the actor could be seen playing Command Sergeant Major Percy Bullimore in the television series “The Army Game.” It was his portrayal of Bullimore that prompted casting director Betty White to seek Hartnell to play Sergeant Grimshaw in the 1958 Gerald Thomas directed “Carry On Sergeant.”
Harnell’s characterisation of Grimshaw is fondly remembered by “Carry On” fanatics around the world.
If you are not familiar with the film, Hartnell plays Sergeant Grimshaw. Grimshaw, in coming up to his retirement from the British Army, has a new batch of National Servicemen to make soldiers of. With a cast including the comedic talents of Charles Hawtrey, Kenneth Connor, Kenneth Williams, Bob Monkhouse and Bill Owen, the sergeant had his work cut out for him.
Even though Hartnell returned to the series in 1972-3 for the four-part story “The Three Doctors,” due to increasing ill-health, Hartnell was forced to step away from “Doctor Who” in 1966. Because of his health, Hartnell was not seen in the third episode of the story “The Tenth Planet,”
“The Tenth Planet” was Hartnell’s last “Doctor Who” story before his character regenerated into the Second Doctor, played by Patrick Troughton.
Hartnell died in Marden, Kent, England on 23 April 1975. He was 67.
“An Adventure in Space and Time,” starring “Harry Potter” actor David Bradley as William Hartnell, revolves around the events leading up to the creation of the series “Doctor Who.”
The only reason the editors of the 2017 Rachel Talalay directed “Doctor Who” Christmas Special “Twice Upon a Time” were able to incorporate the original regeneration scene from “The Tenth Planet” was that the BBC children’s magazine series “Blue Peter” had a copy of the fourth episode. For “Twice Upon a Time,” Bradley expertly portrayed Hartnell’s character The Doctor. “The original, you might say.”
Unfortunately, because of poor archival management at the BBC, many of the “Doctor Who” episodes Hartnell appeared in are currently missing.
The Faces of William Hartnell
In addition to Hartnell, other entertainment professional born on this day include:
For a more comprehensive list of entertainment professionals born on this day, click “8 January.”