Interesting facts about Sir Christopher Lee and his fascinating connections to famous writers
Last week we lost one of Britain’s most talented actors, Sir Christopher Lee (1922-2015). Lee was a fascinating man and a gifted actor who, it has frequently been said, had the rare ability to give a good performance even in an otherwise bad film. But there are many surprising literary facts about Christopher Lee, so this is what we, by way of tribute to him, would like to focus on in this post. So without more ado, here are our five great literature-related facts about Christopher Lee.
1. Christopher Lee shared his birthday with a war poet. Christopher Lee was born on 27 May 1922, the same day as WWII poet Sidney Keyes. Keyes died in 1943, having already left behind a small corpus of poetry that would ensure his name lived on in literary circles. However, Lee would survive him by over 70 years. It is odd to think that both men were not only of the same generation but even came into the world on the same day.
2. At Eton, he was interviewed by celebrated ghost-story writer M. R. James. A young Christopher Lee met James, perhaps the greatest ever writer of ghost stories, when Lee was interviewed for a scholarship at Eton in the 1930s. The interview was unsuccessful and Lee didn’t get his scholarship, but it did give Lee a chance to observe the great writer in person – experience that would prove useful when, over 60 years later, he would play M. R. James in a series of BBC specials dramatising the readings of James’s ghost stories.
3. Christopher Lee was the step-cousin of Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond. When Lee’s mother remarried following his parents’ divorce, it was to a man with the remarkably English name of Harcourt George St-Croix Rose. This man was the uncle of Ian Fleming, so Lee and Fleming became step-cousins. (For fans of Fleming and James Bond, we have more great facts here.)
4. Lee portrayed both of the most-filmed fictional characters of all time. Sir Christopher Lee played both Dracula and Sherlock Holmes on screen – and he was the only actor to play both Holmes brothers, Sherlock and Mycroft. Other notable roles include the Creature from Frankenstein, Fu Manchu, the voice of Death in TV adaptations of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, and Saruman in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.
5. Lee actually met J. R. R. Tolkien. Christopher Lee was the only member of the cast of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit who had actually met Tolkien. The meeting took place in a pub in Oxford and happened by chance, when Lee was out in Oxford with a group of friends. Lee called meeting Tolkien ‘the greatest literary achievement of my lifetime.’ We’d say it was one among many such achievements, from an actor who helped to bring to life so many of our favourite literary characters.
Image: Sir Christopher Lee in 2008, by Petr Novák, Wikipedia.