On Christopher Eccleston's birthday, Christopher Morley looks at the life and career of the man who played the Ninth Doctor.

Join us in wishing Christopher Eccleston a fantastic birthday!

The man who would become the Ninth Doctor following the 2005 revival of Doctor Who was born on February 16, 1964- his tenth birthday was also the transmission date of Episode Six of Invasion Of The Dinosaurs. And like Jon Pertwee's Third Doctor, he would face the Nestene Consciousness/Autons in his first appearance in the role.

Since his days as the Doctor, Christopher Eccleston has taken on a multitude of diverse projects for both the big and small screens. Most recently to be found in Fortitude, you might have caught him as Claude in Heroes, Malekith in Thor: The Dark World or even as John Lennon in the BBC4 drama Lennon Naked.

He was inspired to enter the acting profession at the age of nineteen after a viewing of Boys From The Blackstuff, training at the Central School of Speech And Drama. His first recognised role came when he was cast in Let Him Have It as Derek Bentley, hanged for his part in the killing of a police officer- though it was his sixteen year old accomplice Christopher Craig who fired the fatal shot. There's still quite some debate over whether the shout of 'let him have it!' was meant to egg Craig on to commit the crime or to hand the gun over to the eventually murdered officer!

Three years on Eccleston would appear in Danny Boyle's Shallow Grave as accountant David Stevens.

Two key roles in 1996 really bought Eccleston to the public's attention. He starred in both Our Friends In The North, which saw him playing Nicky Hutchinson, and in Jimmy McGovern's Hillsborough (based on the aftermath of the infamous disaster at the home of Sheffield Wednesday, which was playing host to an FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool & Nottingham Forest) where he played Trevor Hicks, who lost his two daughters that day. Chris would later act as best man at the real Trevor's wedding in March 2009!

When it comes to footballing matters he's actually a fan of Liverpool's bitter rivals Manchester United. His first taste of the Old Trafford atmosphere came in a 1973 home match against Bristol City! Though, as he told the Observer Sport Monthly, it seems the modern game leaves him a little cold...
"I don't enjoy the Old Trafford experience as much any more because of a lack of atmosphere. Everyone now has to sit and success has attracted a different kind of supporter. It's big business now and corporate entertainment has killed the atmosphere. Roy Keane was bang on with his comments about 'prawn sandwich eaters'. I loved Roy for saying that. However, it's inevitable that United have sought to become more of a global brand than a football club and that has contributed to our success."
Quite a contrast from his memories of that magical first trip to the famous old stadium.
"My dad took me to my first match: Bristol City at home in October 1973. It was a night match, which made it even better. If I ever have a son myself I'll try and take him to a night match as his first game because it's more magical. I remember feeling my dad's hand on my shoulder, everyone looking serious, the ground being all concrete and ugly, how huge the arena was, and never having seen grass so green in all my life. Bestie played and had a penalty saved. I'm convinced Denis Law tried a diving header and we lost - at home to Bristol City!

The result was a letdown but it was just so exciting to go. That was the relegation season. People these days won't appreciate it but for many years after that United were the underdogs, until we finally won the league in 1993. Us being the underdog was one of the attractions of supporting United in the Seventies and Eighties. City always turned us over; we were the joke of Manchester."
Of course we must also mention his time as the Doctor!

Eccleston was cast as the Ninth Doctor after working with Russell T Davies on ITV's The Second Coming in which he took on the role of Steve Baxter, a video rental outlet employee who comes to the realisation that he is in fact the Son of God!

And with Davies' decision to start again with a new Doctor, following Paul McGann's outing in the 1996 TV film, the man who had taken on a godly mantle was putting on a leather jacket & keeping his accent into the bargain, though only for one series- from Rose to The Parting Of The Ways.

But why did he leave after so seemingly short a tenure aboard the TARDIS? In 2011, during an acting master class he revealed his reasons...
“I left Doctor Who because I could not get along with the senior people. I left because of politics. I did not see eye-to-eye with them. I didn’t agree with the way things were being run. I didn’t like the culture that had grown up, around the series. So I left, I felt, over a principle.

I thought to remain, which would have made me a lot of money and given me huge visibility, the price I would have had to pay was to eat a lot of shit. I’m not being funny about that. I didn’t want to do that and it comes to the art of it, in a way. I feel that if you run your career and– we are vulnerable as actors and we are constantly humiliating ourselves auditioning. But if you allow that to go on, on a grand scale you will lose whatever it is about you and it will be present in your work.

If you allow your desire to be successful and visible and financially secure – if you allow that to make you throw shades on your parents, on your upbringing, then you’re knackered. You’ve got to keep something back, for yourself, because it’ll be present in your work. A purity or an idealism is essential or you’ll become– you’ve got to have standards, no matter how hard work that is. So it makes it a hard road, really.

You know, it’s easy to find a job when you’ve got no morals, you’ve got nothing to be compromised, you can go, ‘Yeah, yeah. That doesn’t matter. That director can bully that prop man and I won’t say anything about it’. But then when that director comes to you and says ‘I think you should play it like this’ you’ve surely got to go ‘How can I respect you, when you behave like that?’

So, that’s why I left. My face didn’t fit and I’m sure they were glad to see the back of me. The important thing is that I succeeded. It was a great part. I loved playing him. I loved connecting with that audience.''
Connect with us he did, and respect to him for being such a massive part of Doctor Who's rebirth!

Happy Birthday Christopher Eccleston, have a fantastic day.

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