Interview with Hannah Haisman, conducted by Chris McKeon (November 2014)
First, how does it feel knowing that Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, a character your grandfather helped to create almost forty-seven years ago, is about to make a grand literary return for a new generation of Doctor Who fans?
It is very exciting indeed! I am extremely proud that Lethbridge-Stewart is held in such high regard with Doctor Who fans. There has been a lot of positive feedback on social media over the release of these novels and I am truly humbled that fans old and new cannot wait for a character my grandfather co-created to make a literary comeback.
In your previous interview with Type 40 you talked a lot about your early memories of your grandfather. Can you share with us some your earliest memories of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart?
To be honest, I never really had early memories of Lethbridge-Stewart. Doctor Who was a snapshot in time of my grandfather’s writing career, one that only spanned a period of a few years. The first memory I have is when organising his literary estate and compiling a record of all the works and characters he created.
In your earlier interview you also mentioned your grandfather’s deep love for books and literature. Did he have any particularly favourite stories in his collection? Do you know of any stories that may have inspired him to help craft the character of Lethbridge-Stewart?
Most of the books in his study were for research purposes, ranging from historical to spiritual, travel to black magic! As for stories that inspired the creation of Lethbridge-Stewart, I think that was more down to his time in the army than any book on his shelf, but I feel he based the character, as he usually did, on someone he knew or had met. Certainly when the Brigadier barks orders, I’m reminded of my grandfather.
All characters, like people, have a name and the Brigadier has an especially dignified one. Do you know anything of how your grandfather came up with the name for Lethbridge-Stewart? I have heard before that the original surname was simply Lethbridge.
Lethbridge-Stewart was created over fifteen years before I was born, and growing up Doctor Who wasn’t really talked about, in fact none of my grandfather’s work was. Although he was passionate about writing, it was a job. It was only in his twilight years that we sat and talked about things that he had done. Looking back, I wish I had asked him so many more questions. If I had, I would be in a better position to fill in the gaps!
Was there ever a point where you realised that in creating the character of the Brigadier your grandfather had also created a television icon?
Not until recently! It was only when I had die-hard Doctor Who fans tell me the importance of Lethbridge-Stewart. I’m being educated in the importance of certain characters and thankfully Andy (Frankham-Allen, range editor of Lethbridge-Stewart) has been brilliant. I know by this statement some people will recoil in horror, but I didn’t see my grandfather as a creator of icons. To me he was the icon.
Many people credit Nicholas Courtney’s performance as Lethbridge-Stewart as the source of the Brigadier’s popularity. Certainly the actor’s forty-one year association in playing the role is a testament to his incredible contribution to the character. Did your grandfather ever discuss his thoughts on Courtney’s performance in the role?
The last time I visited my grandfather, we sat up till 3am just chatting. He spoke about the Doctor Who years and his other credits. He was very vocal about those he liked and those he didn’t! He didn’t go into detail of his thoughts on an individual’s performance, but I know that out of the three series he penned, Lethbridge-Stewart was a character he felt fondly about. This was probably due to the way Mr Courtney brought him to life.
Did you ever have the chance to meet Mr Courtney and what do you feel he brought to the character of the Lethbridge-Stewart?
Unfortunately I never had that honour. I feel that the role couldn’t have been played any better by any other actor, and Mr Courtney is as much of an icon as Lethbridge-Stewart himself.
Due to the BBC’s now defunct policy of destroying film to conserve storage space, many Doctor Who episodes from the 1960s are currently missing from the BBC archives. Because of this sad loss of material, The Web of Fear was thought to be lost to viewers. But just last year most of the missing episodes from that story were triumphantly returned to the BBC and have since been released on DVD. For many fans this was their first time to see Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart in action. How did it feel to learn that one of your grandfather’s Doctor Who adventures was available again to see and enjoy?
I was over the moon when I found out that most of that story had been found. Nobody from the BBC had told me of this momentous news; I found out the same time as the general public. My twitter feed went crazy on the news of its release and I suppose that was the first time I realised just what grandad had created, and what part he had played in the formative years of Doctor Who.
I re-watched watched it today in preparation for this interview, and I have to admit, I love it! In a way it is like watching a ghost as I can see so much of my grandfather and other people in certain characters. Examples of this would be Ann Travers; she is very like my grandmother in her speech and mannerisms, and I can see a lot of my grandfather in the Doctor and Professor Travers. I have reasons to believe, from conversations I had with my grandfather about his time working on The Web of Fear, that Chorley’s character is loosely based on Derrick Sherwin!
The Web of Fear also featured as its monster the Great Intelligence and its robotic Yeti, which your grandfather co-created for the 1967 Doctor Who adventure The Abominable Snowmen, which is sadly still missing from the BBC archives. Whereas abominable snowmen are the stuff of myths and legends, the Intelligence, a formless, shapeless eternal entity, was a very novel concept your grandfather introduced to the world of Doctor Who. Can you give us any insight into what inspired him to create such an intriguing character?
My grandfather’s parents were very spiritual people, which before the war was rare. The majority of people back then were either Catholic or Christian, but after the untimely death of my grandfather’s sister Stella, the family found the Spiritualist movement, in particular Buddhism. When looking at the beliefs of Buddhists, they include a belief in an infinite intelligence, a continuous existence of the human soul where energy will change form to spirit and that the spiritual world penetrates the material world on a different dimension. It was this belief that formed the central concept of the Great Intelligence, something I feel was lacking in its most recent television appearances.
Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart and a few other familiar faces from The Web of Fear will be returning next year in The Forgotten Son, the first book for the new Lethbridge-Stewart novel range. What has been your involvement in the development of this upcoming series?
After chatting with Andy, he introduced me to Candy Jar Books, where we discussed the possibility of me granting the rights to use Lethbridge-Stewart. I have given Candy Jar complete creative control over the characters and concepts my grandfather created for Doctor Who. I chat very regularly with Andy, and he consulted me when he put together the official timeline for the Great Intelligence, and I’m being kept in the loop with other authors. Most of all, I trust the authors and if I have any questions, they are more than happy to talk me through them.
Without giving too much away about the future of the series, can we expect to see some appearance of other Doctor Who characters and concepts associated with Lethbridge-Stewart along the way, such as UNIT, Cybermen, or – dare we hope – the Doctor?
Never say never! I think you will see certain characters and concepts owned by various authors, but I’ve been sworn to secrecy!
Although Nicholas Courtney died nearly four years ago and the character of the Brigadier was declared dead three years ago, it seems Lethbridge-Stewart is alive once more, but now as a Cyberman. Were you surprised to see Lethbridge-Stewart’s return as one of first monsters he faced onscreen?
It is documented that I haven’t been a life-long Doctor Who fan, but, under orders from Andy, I watched Death in Heaven and as soon as the Twelfth Doctor saluted the Cyberman, I got it. I was very surprised and more than happy to see Lethbridge-Stewart return as a Cyberman; I really wasn’t expecting that and I don’t think the fans were either.
In your last interview with Type 40, you expressed your feelings of joy at the Brigadier’s unexpected return but also your clear opinion that he should not remain as a Cyberman (and yes, those monsters still make me hide, too) but perhaps as a sort of ‘higher consciousness’ to aid his daughter in future episodes. Do you think it might be possible we may yet see the Brigadier again in Doctor Who, perhaps even with a new actor, fighting alongside the Doctor?
It would be nice to see the spirit of Lethbridge-Stewart live on, but it would have to be done right for it to work. If you have ever lost someone who is close, there are times when you feel their presence with you. If it were to be done, it would have to be in that way and not as a Cyberman!
Now seems to be a time when the character of Lethbridge-Stewart is rising once more in popularity and awareness amongst Doctor Who fans. What do you feel makes your grandfather’s character so special and so beloved and, I would say, even immortal?
I really couldn’t pinpoint what it is. My grandfather wrote his best works when he believed in the characters. When a writer believes in the characters he creates and the part is cast to the right actor, as it was with Nicholas Courtney, the character becomes believable and even more special amongst fans. With Lethbridge-Stewart it was a combination of the two – great writing and a great performance. My grandfather could not have hoped for a better legacy, and alongside Candy Jar Books and Andy, we’ll make sure it continues to be honoured.