Gavin Mortimer Gavin Mortimer

Who dares lies

Christopher Lee never exactly lied about his creditable wartime record, but he encouraged its embellishment. It’s a surprisingly common story

Sir Christopher Lee, who died last month aged 93, knew how to play a part. One of the consummate actors of his generation, whose career spanned nearly seven decades, his versatility on stage and screen was legendary. At first glance his military career during the second world war was similarly versatile. According to some reports and obituaries in the days after his death, Lee served in the Special Air Service (SAS), Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) and Special Operations Executive (SOE). In reality he served in none. He was attached to the SAS and SOE as an RAF liaison officer at various times between 1943 and 1945, but he did not serve in them and never, as one paper stated, ‘moved behind enemy lines, destroying Luftwaffe aircraft and fields’. When asked about his service record — which it should be pointed out was a fine one, with liaison officers performing a valuable link between the RAF and special forces — Lee didn’t exactly lie, but he did lead us on, encouraging us to believe it had involved more derring-do than it actually did. Asked about his wartime exploits in an interview in 2011 he said: ‘Let’s just say I was in special forces and leave it at that. People can read into that what they like.’ Pressed on the subject, he replied with melodrama worthy of a Hammer film: ‘We are forbidden — former, present, or future — to discuss any specific operations.’ Nonsense. Wartime members of those special forces units are not — and never have been — prevented from discussing operations. A decorated wartime SAS officer, Roy Farran, published an account of serving in the regiment as early as 1948. When I wrote my own history of the SAS in the second world war, I did so with the full cooperation of the regiment, which put me in touch with more than 50 wartime veterans, all more than happy to talk.

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