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William Hartnell - Actor

William Hartnell 1908 - 1975

The ashes of the actor William Hartnell who played the first Doctor Who are interred in the grounds of the crematorium (kerb 107 bed 12, no memorial plaque).

He was born on 8th January 1908 in a poor area of St. Pancras, London, the only child of Lucy Hartnell, an unmarried mother. He was a second cousin of the fashion designer Norman Hartnell. He never knew the identity of his father, a fact that caused him great embarrassment and which resulted in him being bullied as a child. He had an unhappy childhood, spending some time with foster parents and on occasions shoplifting food because he was hungry.

While attending a boxing club at the age of fourteen William Hartnell met Hugh Blake an artist and philanthropist, who became his unofficial guardian and who helped him to enrol in the Italia Conti theatre school. Hartnell’s career in the theatre began as a stagehand, but he quickly progressed to acting, and during the 1920s and 1930s he appeared in various Shakespearean plays, and also the comedies, She Stoops to Conquer and School For Scandal. He made his film debut in 1932 in Say It With Music, a musical made at Elstree Studios.

He served briefly with the Tank Corps during the Second World War, but was invalided out after suffering a nervous breakdown. He returned to acting, appearing mostly as policemen, soldiers and thugs. In 1958 he appeared in the first Carry On film, Carry On Sergeant, and played another military role in The Mouse That Roared, starring Peter Sellers. He appeared in more than 60 films in total, including the acclaimed Brighton Rock, based on the 1938 Graham Greene novel. On television he played Sergeant Major Percy Bullimore in two series of The Army Game, a situation comedy made by Granada TV between 1957 and 1961.

In 1963 Hartnell appeared in a supporting role in the award-winning film, This Sporting Life, directed by Lindsay Anderson. His performance in the film drew the attention of Verity Lambert, a BBC producer who was working on a new TV programme called Doctor Who, a children’s series featuring the adventures of The Doctor, a Time Lord. When Verity Lambert offered Hartnell the leading role he was initially reluctant to accept, but eventually took it on as he was concerned that he was becoming typecast. Doctor Who was an immediate success, and resulted in William Hartnell becoming a household name.

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