Best remembered as 'M' in the James Bond films, Bernard Lee was a popular character player in British films throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Born into a theatrical family, he made his stage debut at age six and later attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. He first appeared on the West End stage in London in 1928, and continued to work in the theatre during the 1930s, taking only occasional film roles.
It was only after World War II that he concentrated his efforts on the cinema, and was much in demand in British films of the 1950s as friendly authority figures, including army sergeants, police detectives or navy officers. Detectives became a particular specialty, and he played this role in more than a dozen films, including The Blue Lamp (1950), Beat the Devil (1953) and Father Brown (1954). In the early 1960s, he also made regular appearances as police detectives in the The Edgar Wallace Mystery Theatre (1959) second feature series, usually as "Inspector Meredith". He also made memorable appearances in The Third Man (1949), Morning Departure (1950), Gift Horse (1952), The Battle of the River Plate (1956), Dunkirk (1958) and Whistle Down the Wind (1961).
He was effectively cast against type in only two films, as the union agitator in The Angry Silence (1960), and as a disgruntled civil servant who becomes a spy for the Russians in Ring of Spies (1964).
In 1962, he made his first appearance as the head of the British secret service in the first James Bond film, Dr. No (1962). He went on to be featured in the next ten films in the series, appearing with Sean Connery, George Lazenby and, later, Roger Moore as Bond, and will probably be considered the definitive "M" by more than one generation of Bond fans.
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