Doctor Who and Coronation Street star dies aged 99 as tributes flood in

Doctor Who and Coronation Street star William Russell has died at the age of 99, his family have confirmed. The actor famously starred in the first ever episode of Doctor Who back in 1963
-Credit: (Image: BBC)

Doctor Who and Coronation Star William Russell has died at the age of 99. Russell, who was part of the original Doctor Who cast in 1963, also made a cameo appearance in the show in 2022, setting a television record.

He first gained fame in the ITV series The Adventures of Sir Lancelot in 1956 and had a successful career on stage and screen for many years. His most notable role was as Ian Chesterton alongside William Hartnell's Doctor Who in the first episode of the BBC series in 1965.

In 2022, he reprised his role to bid farewell to Jodie Whittaker, who was making her final appearance as The Doctor. He returned to the role of Ian, a science teacher and companion of the first Doctor, portrayed by William Hartnell from November 1963 to October 1966, 57 years after his first appearance on the sci-fi show.

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During his initial stint on Doctor Who in the 60s, which included 77 episodes over two series, Russell returned to his role 57 years later for Jodie's grand exit at the end of 2022. His triumphant return not only thrilled fans but also earned him a place in The Guinness Book of Records, reports the Mirror.

The actor holds the record for the longest hiatus between television appearances, thanks to his 57-year and 120-day break from playing The Doctor's companion Ian. On the show's 59th anniversary, it was confirmed: "The longest gap between TV appearances is 57 years 120 days, and was achieved by William Russell (UK) as the Doctor Who character Ian Chesterton in the 'The Power of the Doctor' episode, which aired on 23 October 2022."

Russell's remarkable return to Doctor Who has eclipsed the previous record held by Coronation Street's Philip Lowrie, who returned as Dennis Tanner after a 43-year absence. His career spanned various roles including Ted Sullivan in Coronation Street, parts in The Great Escape and the 1978 Superman film.

He also featured as Tom Preston in Harriet's Back In Town and made an appearance in an episode of Agatha Christie: Poirot. Radio Times reports that Russell passed away on Monday 3rd June. He leaves behind three children, Robert, Laetitia and Vanessa, from his first marriage to Balbina Gutierrez, and son Alfred with his second wife Etheline Margareth Lewis Enoch.

The esteemed actor is also survived by four grandchildren: James, Elise, Amy and Ayo. Alfred Enoch, who played Dean Thomas in the much-loved Harry Potter film series, paved his career on the path set by his father. As news of William Russell's death emerged, fans took to social media to share their tributes.

William Russell in film The Adventures of Sir Lancelot, 1956

One follower remarked: "What sad news to say farewell to William Russell. What a wonderful man with a delightful family an extraordinary life and career. The most charming smile and twinkling eyes, he always lit up the room. I hope there will be many celebrations of this beautiful man."

Actor and writer Nicholas Pegg also extended his homage saying: "Raising a glass to William Russell, who has left us just a few months shy of his 100th birthday. Already a star when he became a crucial part of Doctor Who's genesis, his long and remarkable career embraced everything from Shakespeare to Blackadder. A fine actor and a lovely man."

Doctor Who's creative force Russell T Davies expressed his sadness at William's passing via an Instagram post. He posted an image featuring himself with William and captioned it as: "William Russell (1924-2024). What a sad loss, William played the Doctor's very first companion, Ian Chesterton, back in 1963. A schoolteacher, trapped on the Tardis by a wily old Doctor, unable to get home, whisked off to the Stone Age, Skaro, the Crusades, planet of the Zarbi..! Wonderful! A fine, nimble, witty, heartfelt actor who absolutely sold the truth of those early years. Before that, he'd been Sir Lancelot on the BBC; it's often undersold what a star booking he was for Doctor Who."

"He later went on to marry Rita Fairclough as Ted Sullivan on Coronation Street. In the photo, I bumped into him on a train in 2018! I was star-struck! He spoke with so much pride and joy about his son, Alfred Enoch, who I'd seen in King Lear at the Royal Exchange. Absolutely lovely man. A fine, long life. Well done, sir, well played."

Artist Stuart Humphryes shared: "R.I.P. The late and legendary actor William Russell (1924-2024). He was the first and the greatest of all the many companions who starred in Doctor Who. He first played Ian Chesterton in 1963 and last returned to the series to play him in 2022, earning him a Guiness Book of Records award. A wonderful innings, yet still immensely sad - It is the passing of an era and also of a hero. Sleep well, Sir Ian, Knight of Jaffa. I was one of your biggest fans."

Russell would have marked his 100th birthday in November, having been born in Sunderland in 1924.