Christopher Lee 1922-2015: an appreciation by Mark Kermode

Christopher Lee 1922-2015: an appreciation by Mark Kermode

Sir Christopher Lee loved to sing. I remember being at the BBC one afternoon in 1994 and hearing his voice booming majestically down the corridors of Broadcasting House – rich, mellifluous, commanding. As a longtime horror fan, I instinctively recognised that voice from the Hammer films that made Lee an international celebrity back in the 60s. But as well as being an iconic screen presence, he was an acclaimed vocalist whose powerful range could be employed from opera to heavy metal with breathtaking results. Alongside his many other accolades, Lee received a Spirit of Metal award in 2010 for his work on Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross, a “symphonic metal concept album”, which cemented his reputation as a genuinely unpredictable cultural polymath. “It’s fascinating,” he said at the time, “that people are starting to look upon me as ‘a metal singer’.” To my surprise and great pleasure, I suddenly find that there seems to be another string to my bow… ”

I first met Lee in 1991, when he provided the narration for a Channel 4 documentary I was working on entitled Fear in the Dark. The script (which I had “polished”) was somewhat perfunctory, but Lee made it sound… important, vibrant, engrossing. I remember sitting in the control booth with director Dominic Murphy listening to Lee breathe dramatic life into words that had seemed so sterile on the page. The timbre of his voice was astonishing – if he’d read the phone book out loud, it would have seemed deep and meaningful. I also remember his numerous notes – correcting small factual errors (he believed very strongly that the devil was in the detail), reconfiguring clumsily constructed sentences, challenging lazy generalisations. He also politely, but firmly, put me straight on the correct pronunciation of the word “piranha”, a word that has never sounded the same to me since.

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