Born: 19th November 1924 (as William Russell Enoch)
William Russell was born in Sunderland, Tyne and Wear. As a child he listened to BBC Radio, which inspired an interest in acting. Russell completed an English degree, partly disrupted by service as an RAF flight lieutenant, after which he started to transition from amateur to professional stage work. In the early Fifties, he began appearing on television and in film; initially going by the name “Russell Enoch”, he instead switched to “William Russell” in 1954 in order to avoid confusion with another actor. In 1953, he married his first wife, Balbina Gutierrez, and they had three children together.
In the mid-Fifties, Russell won starring roles in two adventure series -- St Ives (one of several collaborations with producer Rex Tucker) and The Adventures Of Sir Lancelot -- as well as the title role in an adaptation of Nicholas Nickleby. On the big screen, he had supporting parts in films such as the Clifton Webb spy movie The Man Who Never Was and the Steve McQueen classic The Great Escape.
In 1963, Rex Tucker was appointed Doctor Who's caretaker producer (overlapping with Verity Lambert, who would take over on a permanent basis). Tucker was involved in the casting process for the new show's regular roles, and he recommended Russell as a suitable candidate for Ian Chesterton. Like the other principal actors, Russell made his first Doctor Who appearance in the opening instalment of 100,000 BC. Although he enjoyed making the show, Russell's was increasingly concerned that his success in television had come at the expense of the stage work he loved. As such, he left Doctor Who in the final episode of The Chase, near the end of its second season. Ironically, his very next project saw him cast alongside Jacqueline Hill, who had played Barbara Wright in Doctor Who, in a successful run of the play Separate Tables.
As the Sixties gave way to the Seventies, Russell continued to amass a long list of credits in the theatre, including the first of several stints with the Royal Shakespeare Company. He also made sporadic television appearances, such as Dr Finlay's Casebook, Father Brown and Crown Court. In 1978, he had a small role in another science-fantasy institution: the first Christopher Reeve Superman movie, where he played a Kryptonian elder.
In the Eighties, Russell made appearances in programmes like The Black Adder and Robin Of Sherwood. He was also twice approached about returning to Doctor Who, although theatre commitments intervened on both occasions. First, he was offered a substantial guest role in the 1983 serial Mawdryn Undead, where Ian Chesterton was ultimately replaced by Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, as played by Nicholas Courtney. Soon thereafter, he was invited to make a cameo appearance in the twentieth-anniversary special The Five Doctors.
In 1988, Russell's fourth child was born to his second wife, Brazilian-born doctor Etheline Lewis. Their son, Alfred Enoch, would grow up to become a well-established actor in his own right, with roles in the American drama series How To Get Away With Murder and as Gryffindor student Dean Thomas in the Harry Potter movies. In 1992, Russell enjoyed one last recurring role on television, appearing for eight months in Coronation Street. His career began to wind down in the late Nineties, but not before he appeared in the initial seasons of the new Globe Theatre. Latter credits included episodes of Casualty, Heartbeat and Poirot.
In 1999, Russell returned to the role of Ian Chesterton for the first time in thirty-four years, recording in-character linking material for the VHS release of The Crusade, which was missing two of its four episodes. In 2009, he began appearing as Ian in audio dramas for Big Finish Productions, starting with The Transit Of Venus in The Companion Chronicles range. In 2013, he made a cameo appearance in An Adventure In Space And Time, a telefilm exploring the early years of Doctor Who. Here Russell played a BBC commissionaire named Harry, while his younger self was portrayed by Jamie Glover.
|Updated 4th May 2020|
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