William Hartnell was born in London in 1908. His mother was unmarried at the time of his birth and he never knew his father's identity, despite the efforts William made later in his life to locate him. He was raised by his aunt and then attended the Imperial Service College, also training as a boxer and a jockey. He was adopted at the age of sixteen by Hugh Blaker who helped him gain employment with Sir Frank Benson's Shakespearean Company as a runner / gopher.
He appeared in over sixty films, typically playing comic characters until he appeared in his role of Sergeant Ned Fletcher in the 1944 film, The Way Ahead. He appeared in the Carry On film, Carry On Sergeant as Sergeant Grimshaw.
In 1963 he was offered the part of the Doctor in Doctor Who, a new Children's series. He was initially reluctant to accept the part, but after meeting the show's Producer agreed to take the part. William played the Doctor until 1966 and left the series due to the impact of the show's long hours to his health. He was well known for his 'Hartnellisms' or 'Billy Fluffs' where he would noticeably forget his lines or forget a character name. Many of these appear on the final cuts of the series due to limited time given to produce an episode.
William reprised his role as the first Doctor in 1973 for the tenth anniversary special, 'The Three Doctors' with the help of cue cards. He only appeared via a television monitor which played pre recorded inserts.
Much of Hartnell's family and early life is difficult to research due to conflicting accounts. His granddaughter, Jessica Carvey, published a Biography entitled 'Who's There?' however, this is considered biased by critics.
William died on the 24th April 1975 in Marden, Kent after complications arose from his recent stroke.