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Five Rounds Rapid! - The Autobiography of Nicholas Courtney: Doctor Who's Brigadier

By Nicholas Courtney

Book review by Jon Preddle

There have been many published interviews with Nicholas Courtney documenting his time on Doctor Who but little has been told about his background and other acting achievements. We know all there is to know about the Brigadier, but practically nothing about the man behind the (false) moustache.

Five Rounds Rapid! helps to address this. I never knew that Courtney has two children from his first marriage, or that he was divorced soon after his last regular appearance on the show (almost mirroring the Brig's life in Downtime), or that he has been heavily involved with Actor's Equity for most of his career.

The book is very easy to read, but rather uninvolving and doesn't quite get emotional enough. I've read many autobiographies but I just couldn't get rid of the nagging impression that something important was missing. The book takes a chronological journey starting at Courtney's childhood in Egypt (oddly, his date of birth is not given) and ending right up to date in 1998. Much is made of his prolific and varied theatre career - and he takes great delight at name-dropping about his more famous fellow cast members (many of whom have also appeared in Doctor Who). The book is illustrated with many fascinating photographs of the author in his various stage roles, but sadly none are dated and therefore lack any real context.

One third of the narrative covers the UNIT Years. Obviously this section is the one that is going to appeal to most readers - which is why, like Jon Pertwee's final book, this has been packaged more as a piece of Doctor Who merchandise than as a standard autobiography. All the old stories are here (yes, complete with eye-patches!) and a few new ones, such as how he got the role of Bret Vyon.

It is obvious that, for Courtney, writing the book was a happy trip down memory lane, but I still feel that only the surface has been peeled away, and that he was just aching to reveal much, much more. Perhaps JN-T's function as editor was to ensure that the Who facts were correct and that the Brig's image was not tarnished by anything potentially embarrassing. However Courtney does not treat his audience like children; he takes a huge risk by telling us about his extra-marital affairs. I know I'll now never be able to watch an episode with Courtney in it again without thinking about the time that he and.... well, read the book and find out! [3/5]

[Jon adds: Courtney wrote a follow-up, Still Getting Away With It, in 2005, which updates, corrects and expands upon the text of Five Rounds Rapid.]

This item appeared in TSV 56 (October 1998).