With Ralph Fiennes introduced as the new M at the end of Skyfall following in the long-serving footsteps of Dame Judi Dench, we take a look at the career of the first actor to play the MI6 boss, Bernard Lee.
Bernard Lee was a respected English actor who starred in over seventy different movies during his lifetime. He gained a lot of popularity for his continued reprisal of the character M, James Bond’s short tempered boss and head of the MI6.
Lee was born on 10th January, 1908 and grew up in London where he would later attend the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. In 1928, he made his first west end stage debut and given its popularity at the time, much of Bernard’s career in his earlier years featured acting appearances on stage. He however starred in his first movie at the age of 26. After acting in about half a dozen movies during the 30s, he took a break from acting and joined the army from 1940 to 1946.
With the Second World War concluded, Lee once again resumed acting, playing many roles that reflected his experience during the war. His ability to play the position of military officer led to him winning critical acclaim in several different movies the first of which was his portray of Sergeant Pain in the 1949 film The Third Man. Other movies in which he earned memorable roles include the Blue Lamp, The Angry Silence and Whistle down the Wind.
By the early 60s Bernard Lee had starred in over 40 films making him a successful and widely recognized actor. It was therefore not surprising when he was cast as M, the choleric head of the MI6 in the first James Bond movie directed by Terence Young. The movie was called Dr No, and would grow to become one of the best loved film series in the history of cinema.
In all, Bernard Lee reprised his role as M eleven times, starting with the first Bond Movie Dr No, and going on through every subsequent Bond installment until Moonraker in 1979.
After battling with stomach cancer for several months, Lee died in January 1981, barely a week after his 73rd birthday. At the time of his death he had been cast to appear in the James Bond Movie, For Your Eyes Only. Out of respect, his role was not recast until the following film, Octopussy, when Robert Brown took over the role.