Saturday 15 August 2015

Robert Lee

A smartly dressed Japanese businessman raises a question in an English language night class.

Robert Lee:

† 1913 – Dec 1 1986*

A versatile veteran East Asian British character actor. I'd guess he is of Hong Kong Chinese descent, but he has been cast by British studios as Japanese and Korean almost as often. In any case, he is probably only second to the ubiquitous Burt Kwouk in cornering 'oriental' roles on British screens.

His early film work involves a few uncredited roles and non-speaking parts in budget adventure and soho detective movies, with titles like 'Outcast Of The Islands' (1951), 'The Desparate Woman' (1954), 'The World Of Suzie Wong' (1960), 'Visa To Canton' (1961), and 'The Sinister Man' (1961).

In the 1963 'Avengers' story, 'The Golden Fleece'

In the 1978 TV series 'Hammer House Of Mystery And Suspense'

The burgeoning world of television in the early '60s offered a steady stream of work, in primetime favourites ranging from 'The Avengers', 'Danger Man' and Dixon Of Dock Green' to comedy like 'The Arthur Askey Show' and 'Hugh & I' with Terry Scott and Hugh Lloyd.


In a science fiction-y episode of the weird detective
gameshow 'Whodunnit' hosted by Jon Pertwee

As the '70s rolled into the '80s, Mr Lee made his big leap into the nation's consciousness with his role as Japanese businessman Mr Nagazumi in the problematic but popular sitcom 'Mind Your Language'. Other work that came his way included 'The Bill', 'Reilly Ace Of Spies' and predictable appearances in 'Tenko' and 'The Chinese Detective'. There were also various movie bit-parts such as Harry Grout's tailor in 'Porridge' (1979), the Chinese Ambassador in 'Half Moon Street' with Michael Caine and Sigourney Weaver, and Mr Banzai in Lindsay Anderson's scattergun 'Britannia Hospital' (1982). 
Portraying Japanese Admiral Togo in 'Reilly Ace Of Spies'

I don't know when he was born, but he must be getting on a bit now, having made his uncredited film debut in 1944, and his last recorded appearance is from 2010.

Whatever he's doing now, he deserves this small bow of honour.

* The news of Robert Lee's death had not found its way to the imdb or the larger internet when I added this post in 2015. In general, my intention with this blog is to salute living, British, actors whose faces are more familiar than their names. Although Mr Lee didn't perhaps qualify on either count, I would like to leave the entry here to acknowledge his contribution to UK film and television.     

Robert Lee-imdb