I once met Sir Christopher Lee, long before he was knighted for services to Drama and Charity in 2009. Well, more than once, actually. I was a young writer fresh from playing a monster in the first Doctor Who in colour at the BBC. I had put together a rough screenplay of a story I’d dreamed up, of a bride in a country village in Victorian times, snatched on her wedding day by a brooding, towering stranger from the past.

Christopher Lee and Blakemoor

christopher leeI think it was my agent (Norman North at A.D. Peters) who got the script to him and, although I hadn’t had in mind any particular actor when writing it, all fell into place perfectly when word came back that this great actor was interested in playing Blakemoor. I realised at once, like a lightning bolt playfully striking the cranium, that absolutely no one else in the world could possibly inhabit this part so powerfully and convincingly.

In the spring of  1971 I was summoned to meet him at Richmond Golf Club, where he was a member. I put on a tie, straightened my unkempt locks, hid my battered old car in the shrubbery and approached the place on foot. I was ushered into a room that might have been shipped over from Buckingham Palace, with plush chairs and a glorious fireplace. And there was Christopher Lee, who rose from his seat, and kept on rising. I’m nigh on six feet tall, but he dwarfed me, his head near the ceiling, and a smile that had enchanted many an unsuspecting blood-lettee in Dracula both warmed and terrified me, while his voice, trembling from his boots with thrillingly dramatic vibrancy, made my own timid, stammering vocal delivery sound like a castrato who’d swallowed his tongue.

Script Inside Out

Christopher Lee was everything good that anyone ever said about him. Patient, kindly, incisively intelligent, shrewd. After several such meetings, at the Golf Club, at Pinewood Studios and on one occasion at his palatial flat in Cadogan Square, he and director Fred Burnley had that script inside out, upside down and back together again in ways I would never have dreamed possible. At times, when the dialogue I‘d written was a bit too dense and tongue-twisterish, he would chide me gently with “That isn’t easy to say”, prompting me to refine and sharpen the line. The man wasn’t just magnetic and charismatic but utterly brilliant, as well as being a most charming gentleman. The Emperor Charlemagne, from whom he was said to be descended, would have been proud and delighted by his illustrious descendant, whose voice had even featured in one of my all-time rave-fave films as a lad, Olivier’s Henry V.

When the finance for the film didn’t come together in time, Christopher bade me an I hope regretful farewell and went off to make The Wicker Man. The screenplay he left me with, which had incorporated not a few of his ideas, I eventually turned into a published novel. In its most recent incarnation, it can be found in Little, Brown Book Group’s Crime Vault as The Mystery of the Stolen Brides – An Inspector Dearborn Case. I like to think of that as my very humble tribute to a truly lovely and, if I may be allowed to say so, magnificent man.
Who could play Blakemoor now?

Sir Christopher Lee, 27 May 1922 – 7 June 2015

 

Robin Squire in the CRIME VAULT

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