Radio Times

Doctor Who’s first action hero

WILLIAM RUSSELL 1924—2024

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Sir Lancelot, Ivanhoe, Nicholas Nickleby, Ian Chesterton… The last of these may not ring a bell, but all four characters were brought vividly to life by the actor William Russell, who died earlier this month aged 99. For millions of Doctor Who fans worldwide, Ian has been the stuff of legend for 61 years and counting.

Russell was one of the original stars in 1963 with William Hartnell as the first Doctor. Science teacher Ian was spirited away by the Tardis, becoming the series’s first action hero. For 77 episodes until 1965, he fought Daleks, Aztecs, Zarbi, Saracens, befriended Marco Polo, became a gladiator for

Nero and was even dubbed Sir Ian, Knight of Jaffa, by Richard the Lionheart. I first met Russell in 2010 when he was a spry 85. Calling at his north London home for an RT interview, I pressed his door bell and a window flew open high above. A beaming head emerged, calling, “I’ll be right down!” Within seconds, this dapper gentleman flung open the door and was heartily shaking my hand.

Born William Russell Enoch in Sunderland, he was known as Russell or Russ to his friends and colleagues. His theatre credits began in the 1940s and, in 1954, he garnered his first RT credit for the TV play Lonesome Like. He soon bagged title roles in St Ives , The Adventures of Sir Lancelot and Nicholas Nickleby.

In 1992, he joined Coronation Street as Ted Sullivan and married Rita. Across the decades he was engaged by the National Theatre, Shakespear­e’s Globe and the Royal Shakespear­e Company. Indeed, the Bard was always close to Russell’s heart.

Well into later life he was an enthusiast­ic traveller, accompanyi­ng his second wife, Dr Etheline Enoch (née Lewis), on trips abroad. Yes, Russell had married a doctor! He once told me that while Etheline was attending a World Health Organisati­on conference in Rio de Janeiro, he’d be relaxing on the beach. As a child, their son Alfred Enoch was in the Harry Potter films and last year starred in Channel 4’s The Couple Next Door.

Into his 90s, Russell thrived on joie de vivre. In 2010 he told me: “I’m always looking forward to the next experience. You have to as an actor.” In 2022, he amazed his fans by returning to Doctor Who for the first time in 57 years — for a cameo in Jodie Whittaker’s final episode.

I last spoke to Russell in October 2022, when he called joyously down the phone line, “Hello, Radio Times!” On the future of Doctor Who, he remained clear: “I think it will grow.” PATRICK MULKERN

 ?? TIME TRAVELLER In 2010 with the script to the very first Doctor Who episode; left, on set with William Hartnell in 1965 ??
TIME TRAVELLER In 2010 with the script to the very first Doctor Who episode; left, on set with William Hartnell in 1965
 ?? ?? With sFoAn Enoch William and Russell with his wife wife Etheline Etheline and son Alfred in 2018
With sFoAn Enoch William and Russell with his wife wife Etheline Etheline and son Alfred in 2018

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