Bernard Lee


Actor
Bernard Lee

About

Birth Place
London, England, GB
Born
January 10, 1908
Died
January 16, 1981

Biography

An English actor whose screen career spanned more than 100 roles on film and television over nearly five decades, Bernard Lee was best remembered for his recurring appearances as 'M," the no-nonsense head of the British Secret Service in the first 11 James Bond films. The son of a music hall performer, Lee trained with the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art prior to launching a prolific stage...

Biography

An English actor whose screen career spanned more than 100 roles on film and television over nearly five decades, Bernard Lee was best remembered for his recurring appearances as 'M," the no-nonsense head of the British Secret Service in the first 11 James Bond films. The son of a music hall performer, Lee trained with the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art prior to launching a prolific stage career in London's West End. Early film roles usually saw him cast as either a policeman or military officer in such features as "The Third Man" (1949) and "Seagulls over Sorrento" (1954), but it was with a relatively minor appearance as Bond's superior in "Dr. No" (1962) that indelibly linked him to Ian Fleming's legacy. For most of the two decades that followed, Lee steadily took on roles in projects like "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold" (1965), but increasingly it appeared as though audiences and producers alike only saw him as the authoritarian MI6 chief. Two years after appearing as M for the final time in "Moonraker" (1979), Lee succumbed to cancer. Although he was eventually replaced in the role, for the majority of die hard Bond fans, Bernard Lee would always be considered the one true personification of the man known as M.

John Bernard Lee was born on Jan. 10, 1908 in Brentford, Middlesex, England to Nellie Smith and Edmund James Lee, a stage actor. Pulled into the family business as the age of six, Lee first appeared onstage alongside his father in the sketch "The Double Event" at London's Oxford Music Hall in 1914. Later, the young Lee worked as a fruit vendor to pay his fees while attending the revered Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in 1926. After graduating from RADA, he joined repertory companies in Cardiff and Rushholme prior to landing roles on the stages of London's famous West End throughout the 1930s. Popular thrillers and mysteries, with lurid titles like "Root of All Evil" and "Murder Gang" made up the majority of Lee's theatrical endeavors at the time. Lee made his film debut with a supporting turn as a working class character in "The Double Event" (1935). The young actor continued to accrue both stage and screen credits, appearing in minor film efforts like the period drama "The Black Tulip" (1937), based on the Alexandre Dumas tale, and "The Terror" (1938), adapted from a novel by popular British author Edgar Wallace. With the outbreak of World War II, Lee served with distinction in the Royal Sussex Regiment until he was discharged in 1946.

After the war, Lee returned to his acting pursuits, working steadily on stage and in a growing number of films. Most notable among these early screen appearances was his turn as stalwart police officer Sgt. Paine in "The Third Man" (1949), the revered thriller starring Orson Welles, based on the novel by Graham Greene and directed by Carol Reed. Roles as policemen soon became a staple of Lee's acting career, with supporting turns as inspectors or police superintendants in crime dramas like "The Blue Lamp" (1949), co-starring a young Dirk Bogarde. Keeping one foot firmly planted on the stage, he also took part in a well-regarded production of the naval-drama "Seagulls Over Sorrento" at the West End Apollo Theatre in 1950. Lee played yet another inspector in "Calling Bulldog Drummond" (1951), a crime-thriller based on the novels of Herman Cyril McNeile, whose titular character would greatly influence an aspiring writer named Ian Fleming in the creation of his own fictional man-of-action at around the same time as the film's release.

Lee played another police inspector, this time opposite Humphrey Bogart in the John Huston production of "Beat the Devil" (1953), a satirical noir co-starring Peter Lorre, Robert Morley and Gina Lollobrigida. The following year he reprised his role from the popular stage production for the film adaptation of "Seagulls Over Sorrento" (1954), starring Gene Kelly and returned to similar waters in the naval docudrama "The Battle of the River Plate" (1956). By the turn of the decade, Lee's work was gaining notice and the size of his roles increased. He earned high marks for his performance as a bullying factory shop steward in the Richard Attenborough drama "The Angry Silence" (1960) and landed the role of the unscrupulous Captain Hoseason in the big-budget Walt Disney production of Robert Louis Stevenson's adventure classic "Kidnapped" (1960) that same year. A rare leading role came Lee's way as an airline pilot wrongly accused of incompetence in the drama "Trouble in the Sky" (1960), co-starring Hammer horror film regular Peter Cushing. With his career on the ascendance, he played Haley Mills' troubled father in "Whistle Down the Wind" (1961), a Christian allegory directed by acclaimed British helmer Bryan Forbes, who he reteamed with for the societal drama "The L-Shaped Room" (1962), starring Leslie Caron.

It was this same year that Lee would first appear in the role that, while both a blessing and a curse, would without a doubt become the character with which he would forever be most associated. The first film adaptation of novelist Ian Fleming's popular spy series took the form of "Dr. No" (1962), a highly-stylized, violent and sexually-charged action-adventure that formally introduced the world to James Bond, Agent 007 (Sean Connery). Early in the film, Lee made his debut as 'M,' the straight-backed and stern head of the British Secret Intelligence Service and, most importantly, Bond's boss. Produced on a relatively modest budget, "Dr. No" proved a smash hit for producers Albert "Cubby" Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, setting the stage for a sequel and, he hoped, more work for Lee. In that regard, Lee need not have worried, as he was soon called back to duty for "From Russia with Love" (1963), in which he sent Bond off to retrieve a Russian cryptograph device from a beautiful defector (Daniel Bianchi). While the work was less than challenging, Lee - along with fellow recurring actors Lois Maxwell and Desmond Llewellyn, who played Miss Moneypenny and 'Q,' respectively - appreciated the added exposure the Bond films provided, hoping they would lead to an increase in the size of his roles on other projects.

And for a time it appeared as if Lee would indeed parlay the role of M into more prominent work. Throughout the first half of the 1960s, the actor appeared with regularity as the dogged Superintendant Meredith on the popular British crime movie series "The Edgar Wallace Mystery Theatre" (ITV, 1960-64). Increasingly, however, it was his role as M that audiences most identified Lee with, in such as blockbusters as "Goldfinger" (1964), the third entry in the Bond franchise. While minor parts all, other appearances of the time included the Amicus-produced portmanteau horror anthology "Dr. Terror's House of Horrors" (1965) and the adaptation of a popular non-Bond espionage novel, John le Carré's "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold" (1965), starring Richard Burton. Still, the release of "Thunderball" (1965) marked the zenith of the James Bond mania that swept the world, and for the remainder of the decade audiences would be hard pressed to recall Lee turning up in any films other than the 007 adventures "You Only Live Twice" (1967), "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" (1969) and "Diamonds Are Forever" (1971).

As frustrating as the typecasting must have been at the time, a pair of personal tragedies threatened to derail Lee's life and career over the course of the next year. Lee was devastated after a house fire in 1972 took the life of his first wife, Gladys. Only adding to his misery, a brutal mugging by a pair of street toughs the following year left the 64-year-old actor shaken to his core. Lee began to drown his despair and anxiety in alcohol and before long he was finding it hard to attain work. Soon, the bills began to mount. Things looked increasingly dour until a chance meeting with former co-star Richard Burton - himself known for his prodigious alcohol consumption - resulted in Burton lending Lee enough money to square his debts and get back on his feet. Burton's display of kindness and generosity proved a turning point for Lee, who soon regained his confidence and, eventually, his reputation within the film industry.

The odd job still came Lee's way during this period. He shared screen time with Peter Cushing once more for a brief appearance in the Hammer horror film "Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell" (1973) and a few other minor endeavors. But it was his continued cameos as M - now kept busy reprimanding the latest incarnation of 007 played by Roger Moore - in the Bond entries "Live and Let Die" (1973), "The Man with the Golden Gun" (1974) and "The Spy Who Loved Me" (1977) that placed him in front of broader audiences. In a rare return to the classics, Lee chewed the scenery with gusto as the Ghost of Christmas Present in a British television production of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" (BBC, 1977) and lent his patrician air of authority to a recurring role on the glitzy primetime soap "The Foundation" (ITV, 1977-78). As M once more, Lee sent Bond into space for the special effects-heavy "Moonraker" (1979) prior to making his final screen appearance in the made-for-TV mystery "Dangerous Davies: The Last Detective" (ITV, 1981). After having battled the painful disease for much of the previous year, Lee died from stomach cancer on Jan. 16, 1981 at the age of 73. Sadly, he passed away before filming his scenes for "For Your Eyes Only" (1981). Out of respect for the revered actor, Lee's lines were given to another character for the film, with veteran British actor Robert Brown taking over the role of M for the next installment, "Octopussy" (1983).

By Bryce Coleman

Filmography

 

Cast (Feature Film)

Moonraker (1979)
The Spy who Loved Me (1977)
Beauty and the Beast (1976)
Edward Beaumont
The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
M
Live and Let Die (1973)
The Man Who Died Twice (1973)
Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
'M'
Dulcima (1971)
Mr Gaskain
The Raging Moon (1970)
Uncle Bob
On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)
"M"
Crossplot (1969)
Clue of the Twisted Candle (1968)
Superintendent Meredith
You Only Live Twice (1967)
"M"
Operation Kid Brother (1967)
Commander Cunningham
The Share Out (1966)
Detective Superintendent Meredith
The Spy Who Came In From the Cold (1965)
Patmore
Thunderball (1965)
"M"
Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (1965)
Hopkins
Goldfinger (1964)
"M"
From Russia With Love (1964)
"M"
Saturday Night Out (1964)
George Hudson
Ring of Treason (1964)
Henry Houghton
The Brain (1964)
Frank Shears
Fury at Smuggler's Bay (1963)
Black John
Dr. No (1963)
"M"
The L-Shaped Room (1963)
Charlie
A Place to Go (1963)
Whistle Down the Wind (1962)
Mr. Bostock
Trouble in the Sky (1961)
Capt. George Gort
The Secret Partner (1961)
Detective Superintendent Hanbury
Kidnapped (1960)
Capt. Hoseason
The Angry Silence (1960)
Nowhere to Go (1959)
Victor Sloane (also known as Lee Henderson)
Breakout (1959)
Web Of Evidence (1959)
Patrick Mathry
The Man Upstairs (1959)
Inspector
High Flight (1958)
Flight Sergeant Harris
The Key (1958)
Wadlow
Dunkirk (1958)
Charles [Foreman]
Fire Down Below (1957)
Dr. Sam
Across The Bridge (1957)
Inspector Hadden
Pursuit of the Graf Spee (1957)
Capt Patrick Dove,
The Ship That Died Of Shame (1956)
Customs Officer
The Spanish Gardener (1956)
The Purple Plain (1955)
Dr. Harris
Crest of the Wave (1954)
Lofty Turner
Beat the Devil (1954)
C.I.D. Inspector Jack Clayton
The Detective (1954)
Inspector Valentine
Sailor of the King (1953)
Wheatley
The Yellow Balloon (1953)
Constable Chapman
Calling Bulldog Drummond (1951)
Colonel Webson
Cage Of Gold (1950)
Inspector Grey
The Third Man (1949)
Sergeant Paine
Quartet (1949)
Prison visitor [Ned Preston]
Elizabeth Of Ladymead (1948)
The Fallen Idol (1948)
The Courtneys Of Curzon Street (1947)
Rhodes (1936)
Cartwright

Cast (TV Mini-Series)

Tycoon: The Story of a Woman (1983)

Film Production - Main (TV Mini-Series)

King (1978)
Technical Advisor

Life Events

Videos

Movie Clip

Goldfinger (1964) - Personal Vendetta Back at HQ, Bond (Sean Connery) tells "M" (Bernard Lee) about the killing of Jill Masterson, confirms he's up for the job, then does customary banter with Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell) in Goldfinger, 1964.
Dr. No (1963) - Moneypenny, M Bond (Sean Connery) is briefed on his mission and lectured about his gun as Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell) and "M" (Bernard Lee) make their first appearances (with Peter Burton as Major Boothroyd) in Dr. No, 1963.
Spy Who Loved Me, The (1977) - I'll Assign Our Best Agent Before the credits and even before the action opening, after a British submarine seems to vanish, the Russians get similar news (via Walter Gotell as Gen. Gogol)and activate Agent XXX (with a twist, Barbara Bach) and the Brits (via M and Moneypenny, Bernard Lee and Lois Maxwell) summon Bond (Roger Moore), in The Spy Who Loved Me, 1977.
Live And Let Die (1973) - Title Song, Insomnia, Sir? After three murders (of not-too-dashing likely-English guys) in the prologue, the title song by Paul & Linda McCartney, produced by George Martin, (which went to #2 on the Billboard U.S. chart, becoming by-far the most successful Bond theme ever) followed by M (Bernard Lee) intruding on 007 (Roger Moore, in his first appearance in the role) and a paramour (Madeline Smith), in Live And Let Die, 1973.
On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) - A Location Fix On Double-O-Seven M and Q and Moneypenny (Bernard Lee, Desmond Llewelyn and Lois Maxwell) express concern about 007, then we find him (George Lazenby, the first-ever new James Bond, in his Aston-Martin) pursuing Diana Rigg (as Teresa “Tracy” Draco in a Mercury) on the Portugese coast, opening On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, 1969.
On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) - You Never Do Anything With Me On his first trip to HQ in London in his only appearance as James Bond, George Lazenby nails the hat-toss, jousts with Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell) and M (Bernard Lee), and reaches an excellent outcome, and an opportunity to pursue Blofeld, in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, 1969.
Thunderball (1965) - Codename Thunderball Ken Adam's production design takes over as Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell) sends Bond (Sean Connery) to "the conference room" where M (Bernard Lee) and the Home Secretary (Roland Culver) preside in Thunderball, 1965.
You Only LIve Twice (1967) - Funeral At Sea The funeral of a "British Naval Commander" (exteriors shot on the destroyer HMS Tenby at Gibraltar) is only a prelude to 007 (Sean Connery) visiting Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell) and "M" (Bernard Lee), this time on board a submarine in You Only Live Twice, 1967.
From Russia With Love (1964) - Girls Do Fall In Love "M" (Bernard Lee), Boothroyd (Desmond Llewelyn, later known as "Q") and Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell) appear as Bond (Sean Connery) is briefed for his mission in From Russia With Love, 1964.
Dunkirk (1958) - Be Like Dad -- Keep Mum! In London, March 1940, irritated with sketchy news from the Ministry Of Information, journalist Foreman (Bernard Lee) at his local, joined by his wife (Maxine Audley), tangling with machine shop owner Holden (Richard Attenborough), whom he considers a profiteer, a merchant seaman (Victor Maddern) joining in, early in Dunkirk, 1958.
Dunkirk (1958) - You're Under Orders Now Now in Sheerness, Kent, having sailed their commandeered boats from London, journalist Foreman (Bernard Lee) realizes British forces in France are being routed, tells the naval officer (Michael Gwynn) he’s willing to sail across himself, inspiring young Frankie (Sean Barrett) and previously timid Holden (Richard Attenborough) to volunteer as well, in Dunkirk, 1958.
Crest Of The Wave (1954) - Death Or Glory Boys At a post-WWII British naval research station after a colleague’s death in an accident, Badge (Sidney James) counsels Haggis and Sprog (David Orr, Ray Jackson), joined by Lofty (Bernard Lee), before P-O Herbert (Patric Doonan) intrudes, in John and Ray Boulting’s Crest Of The Wave, 1954.

Trailer

From Russia With Love (1964) -- (Original Trailer) James Bond (Sean Connery) is tempted with a Russian decoder and a beautiful blonde in From Russia With Love (1963).
You Only Live Twice (1967) -- (Original Trailer) Sean Connery as James Bond winds up in Japan, investigating a space hijacking, in the fifth 007 feature from producers Harry Saltzman and Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli, You Only Live Twice, 1967, with Akiko Wakabayashi.
Thunderball (1965) -- (Original Trailer) Sean Connery as 007 winds up chasing nuclear bombs in the Bahamas, Terence Young directing, Claudine Auger as Domino, and Adolfo Celi as the villain Largo, in the fourth and biggest-yet James Bond feature, Thunderball, 1965.
Dr. No (1963) -- (Original Trailer) For the first James Bond feature, the original trailer, from United Artists, producers Harry Saltzman and Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli and director Terence Young, starring Sean Connery and Ursula Andress, Dr. No, 1963.
Calling Bulldog Drummond - (Original Trailer) Walter Pidgeon plays the famed British sleuth in Calling Bulldog Drummond (1951).
Nowhere to Go - (Original Trailer) A burglar on the lam holes up with an innocent English girl in Nowhere to Go (1958), a British film.
L-Shaped Room, The - (U.S. Trailer) An unmarried, pregnant French woman (Leslie Caron) takes up residence in a British boarding house in The L-Shaped Room (1962).
Spy Who Came In From the Cold, The - (Original Trailer) A British agent infiltrates the enemy by allowing himself to be disgraced at home in The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (1965) starring Richard Burton and Claire Bloom.
Dunkirk - (Original Trailer) The true story of the Allied evacuation of occupied France at the start of World War II in Dunkirk (1958), starring John Mills.

Family

Jonny Lee Miller
Son
Actor.

Bibliography