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Hartnell, William (1908-1975)


Main image of Hartnell, William (1908-1975)

Before playing the first Dr. Who, William Hartnell was a familiar face in British cinema portraying tough sergeants and underworld types. However, despite stereotyped roles, the actor often delivered varied inflexions to his part.

Born in St Pancras, London, on 8 January 1908, and a former jockey's apprentice, he first appeared on stage in 1924 and appeared in films from the early '30s onwards. He could play both light leads and character roles. He came to notice playing the firm sergeant in The Way Ahead (d. Carol Reed, 1944), which led to a brief period as leading man in the crime dramas Murder in Reverse? (d. Montgomery Tully, 1945) and Appointment with Crime (d. John Harlow, 1946), as well as playing the title role in the political morality film The Agitator (d. Harlow, 1945).

During the '50s, Hartnell soon became stereotypically cast as a sergeant in serious films and comedies such as Private's Progress (d. John Boulting, 1956) and Carry on Sergeant (d. Gerald Thomas, 1958), but with some interesting character variants from time to time, like soft-spoken Dallow in Brighton Rock (d. John Boulting, 1947) and the ambivalent hanger-on to the football star in This Sporting Life (d. Lindsay Anderson, 1963).

Jessica Carney, Who's There? The Life and Career of William Hartnell, 1996.

Tony Williams, Encyclopedia of British Film

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Bells Go Down, The (1943)Bells Go Down, The (1943)

Stirring film about the Fire Services in Blitz-torn London

Thumbnail image of Brighton Rock (1947)Brighton Rock (1947)

Graham Greene thriller with Richard Attenborough as a vicious gangster

Thumbnail image of Carry On Sergeant (1958)Carry On Sergeant (1958)

The first Carry On comedy pokes fun at the army and National Service

Thumbnail image of Defeated People, A (1946)Defeated People, A (1946)

Humphrey Jennings documentary about the fate of postwar Germany

Thumbnail image of Goose Steps Out, The (1942)Goose Steps Out, The (1942)

WWII comedy with Will Hay dropped behind enemy lines

Thumbnail image of Heavens Above! (1963)Heavens Above! (1963)

Comedy of clerical misunderstanding starring an on-form Peter Sellers

Thumbnail image of Hell Drivers (1957)Hell Drivers (1957)

Uncompromising B movie set in the macho world of ballast truck drivers

Thumbnail image of Magic Box, The (1951)Magic Box, The (1951)

Star-studded biopic of British film pioneer William Friese-Greene

Thumbnail image of Odd Man Out (1947)Odd Man Out (1947)

A wounded Republican gunman dodges police on Belfast's streets

Thumbnail image of They Drive By Night (1939)They Drive By Night (1939)

Thriller in which a newly-released criminal tries to prove his innocence

Thumbnail image of This Sporting Life (1963)This Sporting Life (1963)

Lindsay Anderson directs Richard Harris as a troubled rugby player

Thumbnail image of Tomorrow at Ten (1962)Tomorrow at Ten (1962)

Race-against-time thriller about a kidnapped child

Thumbnail image of Way Ahead, The (1944)Way Ahead, The (1944)

Inspiring propaganda film following the making of an Army unit

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