Doctor Who legend William Russell dies aged 99 as tributes flood in

-Credit: (Image: BBC)
-Credit: (Image: BBC)

William Russell, who starred in the original Doctor Who series over sixty years ago, has sadly passed away at the age of 99.

The actor, who was the longest running Doctor Who companion on the show, first gained recognition on the ITV series The Adventures of Sir Lancelot in 1956 and went on to have a successful career on stage and screen.

His most notable role was as Ian Chesterton alongside William Hartnell in the very first episode of the BBC's Doctor Who in 1963.

Russell reprised his role in 2022 for Jodie Whittaker's final appearance as The Doctor, marking 57 years since he first appeared on the iconic sci-fi show, breaking a TV record in the process.

His character, Ian, a science teacher, was a companion of the first Doctor, played by William Hartnell from November 1963 until October 1966, the Mirror reports.

Two men and a woman - black and white
William starred in the first ever episode of Doctor Who in 1963 as the first doctor's companion, Ian -Credit:BBC

During his initial stint on Doctor Who in the 60s, Russell featured in 77 episodes across the first two series. He returned to the role 57 years later for Jodie's grand exit at the end of 2022.

This triumphant return not only thrilled fans but also earned him a place in The Guinness Book of Records.

Actor William Russell has notably set the record for the longest interval between TV appearances, with a staggering 57-year and 120-day gap between his most recent portrayals as The Doctor's associate, Ian.

The BBC programme confirmed on its 59th anniversary that: "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 much-awaited return to Doctor Who led him to take over the record from Coronation Street's Philip Lowrie, who had previously boasted the title with a 43 year pause before his comeback as Dennis Tanner.

Russell T Davies and William Russell
The Doctor Who star would have been turning 100 years old in November -Credit:@russelltdavies63/Instagram

Known for portraying Ted Sullivan in Coronation Street, and memorable roles in The Great Escape and 1978's Superman, Lowrie also garnered recognition for recurrent character Tom Preston in Harriet's Back In Town, and a cameo in a chapter of Agatha Christie: Poirot.

As reported by Radio Times, Russell sadly passed away on Monday 3rd June. He leaves behind his three children, Robert, Laetitia and Vanessa, from his first marriage to Balbina Gutierrez, and son Alfred, whom he had with second spouse Etheline Margareth Lewis Enoch.

Russell was also a loving grandad to four grandchildren - James, Elise, Amy and Ayo.

His son, Alfred Enoch, followed in his father's footsteps with his role as Dean Thomas in the Harry Potter series.

Tributes have poured in for William on social media, with one fan commenting: "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."

William's son is Harry Potter star, Alfred Enoch -Credit: Eamonn M. McCormack/Getty Images
William's son is Harry Potter star, Alfred Enoch -Credit: Eamonn M. McCormack/Getty Images

Actor and writer Nicholas Pegg shared his sentiments, 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."

Russell T Davies, known for his work on Doctor Who, also paid homage to William on Instagram with a heartfelt post: "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."

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

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