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Sir Christopher Lee (1922-2015)

By Adam Lyal, June 11, 2015 - 11:27pm
Christoper Lee at the Berlin International Film Festival 2013 (credit: Avda / Wikimedia Commons)

News reaches us today of the death of Christopher Lee, a true giant of the horror genre, and one to whom my wardrobe-mistress owes a considerable debt.

In 1958, Bram Stoker's Count Dracula was no newcomer to the silver screen, and the prototype of his trademark dapper, cloaked appearance had already been established by Bela Lugosi in 1931. However, it was in Hammer Studios' 1958 Dracula that Lee cemented the image of the Count that persists most strongly today, in the minds of a much wider audience and, with the benefit of colour film, at last granting it the slash of vivid scarlet the character demanded.

In truth, the sartorial trimmings were among the least of what Lee brought to the role: even before he spoke a word, his 6'5" frame, smouldering looks, crocodilian smile and piercing stare cut a figure that would not be ignored. When the words came, they were impeccably well-spoken, at once warm and beguiling, yet dripping with menace and dreadful intent. This Dracula was nothing short of a force of nature, against whose infernal will the very idea of resistance was utterly futile.

Lee reprised the role a number of times for Hammer, often alongside his lifelong friend Peter Cushing as the Count's nemesis, Abraham van Helsing. Yet, unlike many actors who have the arguable luck to become the "face" of a popular character, he outgrew it and never fell prey to typecasting. He will equally be remembered as the cinematic embodiment of pulp supervillain Fu Manchu; the unconventional agriculturist Lord Summerisle in The Wicker Man (1973); James Bond's most worthy adversary, the honour-bound assassin Francisco Scaramanga in The Man With The Golden Gun (1974); and, more recently, as another Count -- Dooku -- in the Star Wars prequel series, and Saruman in the Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit trilogies. Not even content with leaving such an indelible mark on the cinematic world, he also pursued many other artistic interests, the best-known being two well-regarded concept albums in the symphonic and heavy metal genres.

There is, however, a special place in the hearts of myself and all those who walk in my boots for the man who, more than anyone, inadvertently defined the appearance and manner of the Adam Lyal who strode out into a crisp November night back in 1985, terribly pleased with my highly original "highwayman chic" ensemble, to be greeted with the immortal words:

"Oi! Dracula!"

Despite hearing this phrase several hundred times a night, I have never and will never receive it as anything other than the greatest compliment, as the steps in which I walk are those of a giant.

Sir Christopher, if you do not wish to rest just yet, a cloak has been reserved for you.

(You might need to supply your own boots, though.)

Photo: Avda / Wikimedia Commons. Licence: CC-BY-SA 3.0