To celebrate William Hartnell's birthday on Sunday the 8th January 2012, we're having a party with the grand opening of 'Club Hartnell' starting at 11pm GMT (3pm SLT).
Come along and join in the celebration for the man who started it all.
William Henry "Bill" Hartnell portrayed the first incarnation of the Doctor. For many, he remains the definitive portrayal of the character. Elements of his portrayal are evident in the performances of all his successors on the television series and beyond.
His performance as a tough yet sympathetic character in This Sporting Life was noted by Verity Lambert, a young Producer who was setting up her first television series for the BBC, namely Doctor Who, who then offered him the title role. Although Hartnell was initially uncertain of whether he wanted to take on the part, Lambert and director Waris Hussein convinced him to play the character for which he gained the highest profile and for which he is now most widely remembered. Hartnell came to relish, particularly, the attention and affection from children that playing the character brought him, and he became very fond of the role. By 1966, when Season 4, his final season, aired, the role also earned Hartnell a regular salary of £315 per episode. (In comparison, his co-stars Anneke Wills and Michael Craze earned £68 and £52, respectively, per episode.)
According to some colleagues on Doctor Who, he could be a difficult person to work with, although others, notably actors Peter Purves and William Russell, and producer Verity Lambert, speak glowingly of him after more than forty years. His poor health (arteriosclerosis) as well as poor relations with the new production team on the series following the departure of Lambert mid-way during the first half of Season 3 ultimately led him to leave Doctor Who in 1966 when his contract expired.
Some commentators now contend that reports of Hartnell's illness were subsequently exaggerated by Lambert's successors in the role of producer, John Wiles and Innes Lloyd, to justify a desire (ultimately successful) to remove him from the series because of the expense of his salary. (John Wiles had considered this as early as the pre-production plans for The Celestial Toymaker.) Others suggest that it was a mutual decision between Hartnell and the production team that he should leave the programme. Innes Lloyd has been quoted that Hartnell even approved of his the choice of actor saying (according to Innes Lloyd) "There's only one man in England who can take over, and that's Patrick Troughton" However Hartnell claimed in later life that he did not want to leave the series, writing, in an oft-quoted letter, "I didn't willingly give up the part". Suggestions that Hartnell's health was failing him are seemingly contradicted by his returning to demanding theatre work almost immediately upon leaving Doctor Who and he also made television guest appearances during the late 1960s, which include No Hiding Place.
Hartnell was 55 years old at the time he made his first appearance as the Doctor. As of 2010 he remains the oldest actor to be cast as the Doctor. He suffered a number of injuries while in the role, most notably during filming for The Dalek Invasion of Earth when the ramp of the Dalek spaceship collapsed and he was temporarily paralysed. He returned to work after just a week's bed-rest. During recording of The Myth Makers, Hartnell not only suffered another injury, namely a bruised shoulder when he was accidentally struck from behind by a camera, but also a bereavement – his Aunt Bessie passed away. Unfortunately, Hartnell found himself unable to take time off to attend her funeral due to the tight production schedules.