Bernard Lee Biography
John Bernard Lee was an accomplished English actor, born on January 10th, 1908, with a career that spanned over four decades. He began his acting career at the age of six and later received formal training at the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London.
After graduating from RADA in the 1930s, Lee began working in repertory theatre in Cardiff and Manchester before landing roles on the West End stage in productions such as Blind Man’s Bluff. He also had success in comedic roles, including his performance in the play Ten Minute Alibi with Arthur Askey.
Bernard Lee’s extensive filmography includes over one hundred films, television dramatisations, and stage productions. He was well-known for playing dependable authority figures like military characters and policemen, with notable roles in films such as The Third Man, The Blue Lamp, and Whistle Down the Wind. He also played commanders, colonels, or brigadiers in films such as Calling Bulldog Drummond and Morning Departure.
In 1962, Bernard Lee was cast in what would become his most iconic role – M, the head of the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), and the superior of James Bond. He played M in the first eleven Eon Productions James Bond films from Dr. No to Moonraker. His portrayal of M was highly regarded for being in line with the original literary representation, and he was praised for his performance as a serious, efficient, and no-nonsense authority figure.
Aside from his acting career, Lee served with the Royal Sussex Regiment during World War II. While waiting to be demobbed, he attended a golfing ladies’ night and met a producer, which subsequently led to him being offered a part in the play Stage Door. Lee was married twice, with his first wife tragically passing away in a fire at their home in 1972. Following the incident, Lee struggled with alcohol and debt but eventually found love again and married a television director’s assistant.
In 1980, Bernard Lee was diagnosed with stomach cancer and admitted to the Royal Free Hospital in London. Sadly, he passed away on January 16th, 1981, at the age of 73. Lee is remembered as a talented actor who brought authority and reliability to his roles and as a significant figure in the James Bond franchise.