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Legends: Roger Moore – king of cool, the smooth, funny, very British way

March 16, 2010

Coming in – rather than going out – with a bang: Roger Moore makes his debut as Bond in 1973’s Live And Let Die

So, to kick off the ‘Legends’ corner here at George’s Journal, I’ve decided to start as I mean to go on, by taking a look at an undeniable legend of the British small- and large-screen for more than 30 years – and one very close to my heart.

Roger Moore is, it seems, remembered fondly by fans of film and TV. Nowadays most often to be seen in one of his seven James Bond films screened on a public holiday on the box wherever one is in the world, his presence enwraps you as snugly as that new snanklet you just bought off the Net or warms your cockles as pleasingly as a cup of hot cocoa before bed. Back in the day, he was handsome, confident, twinkling-of-eye, witty and with that errant eyebrow; nowadays he’s avuncular, wears tinted glasses, lives in Monaco and Gstaad and promotes the Post Office. As big-time adventure heroes go, you don’t get much more cuddly – or, indeed, merry – than Roger.

But is that doing him a disservice? Is there more to Moore than that? Should we look beyond the persona that seems to be summed up by Q’s delivery of the line ‘I think he’s attempting re-entry, sir’, at the end of Moonraker?

Well, on the one hand, no, probably not; for that’s who he is, and rightly so. But, on the other, I’d say, yes, absolutely. Moore is the embodiment of a ‘legend’ for me, because there’s a wonderful retro nostalgia one can attach to him, but if you scratch the surface, there’s much more depth there to be discovered – and enjoyed.

Sir Rog was born in 1927 in Stockwell, London, to policeman father George Moore and mother Lily. Conscripted in the army for his national service, he rose to the rank of Captain and served in West Germany, performing in the entertainment branch. He worked for an ad agency in London’s Soho and soon was accepted into the esteemed Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA), before treading the boards in small roles in the West End and on the road in repertory theatre. Following this, he turned down a chance to join the esteemed Royal Shakespeare Company, instead deciding to seek fame and fortune on-screen – this may have been the first time the self-proclaimed ‘ponce’ followed the money instead of perceived art. Yes, in all fairness, it wouldn’t be the last.

Moore quickly found himself in the States, eeking out a decent living as a contract player with MGM. However, it didn’t lead to much in the way of roles or exposure, so in the late ’50s he drifted into US television, initially fronting drama Ivanhoe, loosely based on the Walter Scott novel of the same name, and then appearing opposite James Garner (a very similar actor – almost an American version of Moore, to my mind) in Maverick, the original series on which the 1994 Mel Gibson film was based. He eventually took lead duties on that series too once Garner moved on.

Knock-out: Tony and Rog hit the heights in The Persuaders!

Shortly after this, Sir Rog moved back to the UK and in 1960 was cast as the roguishly heroic Simon Templer in The Saint, a series based on Leslie Charteris’s novels and produced by Lew Grade for ITC/ ATV. In actual fact, Moore had looked into acquiring the rights to The Saint several years before. It was this role that rocketed him to relative stardom – he starred in 118 episodes; making up six series, three of them in colour, long before colour TV sets were available to the great unwashed in Britain. But then, The Saint was a series with lofty ambitions, all of which it fulfilled.

Made as much for the American market as for that of the homegrown UK, it was very much a part of television’s mid- to late-’60s spy-detective genre that was influenced by and riding on the wave of 007’s popularity at the cinema, but which at the same time carved out a nice cultural niche for itself. Contemporaries of the series included The Avengers and The Prisoner. Aside from Moore himself, the series is surely most memorable for the halo that would appear above his head whenever he or someone else would identify him as The Saint/ Simon Templar in the pre-title opening scene, and for the sprightly, kooky Edwin Astley tune over the titles, as well as the white Volvo 1800 Templar drove in practically every episode.

Unfortunately, actors and crew on The Saint weren’t allowed to venture to any of the foreign locales where the episodes were set, filming being limited to Elstree Film Studios and the surounding countryside instead – not that that bothered Moore; he always liked to return home to his wife and kids after a long day’s shooting. However, with a bigger budget on his next project, The Persuaders!, this time Sir Rog was forced to film abroad. Indeed, the budget on this 1971 series was so much larger it managed to secure Hollywood actor Tony Curtis’s services as co-star.

Of the two, I prefer The Persuaders! to The Saint. Yes, its production values are higher, but the real seductive thing about it is the repartee between Curtis and Moore as, respectively, New York millionaire Danny Wilde and English aristocrat Lord Brett Sinclair. Together, they’re a joy to behold. Our two heroes, playboys with limitless funds and inexhaustible wardrobes, gallivant all over Europe on colourful, crime-addled adventures, while villains with dodgy ‘foreign’ accents fruitlessly attempt to stay one step ahead – or, depending on the situation, behind – them. The one down-side to The Persuaders! is that it didn’t make the grade in the US, ensuring sadly only one series was made. However, if it had been a success Stateside we would probably never have seen…

Suits you, sir: He may be wearing a safari suit, but look who’s surrounded by a gaggle of girls in 1979’s Moonraker

… Sir Rog cast as James Bond. This happened following Sean Connery’s second departure from Eon Productions’ extraordinarily endurable film series, following the latter’s final fling in Diamonds Are Forever. Moore had been considered by producers Albert R ‘Cubby’  Broccoli and Harry Saltzman for the part of Britain’s most famous secret agent way back in 1962 when Connery was first cast, but his commitment to The Saint precluded him. So, in 1973, at a youthful-looking 46, Moore made his bow as Bond in Live And Let Die, an intriguingly Blaxpoitation-informed addition to the Bond canon that brought the series slap-bang into the funktastic Seventies. It was a success – actually, Live And Let Die remains the fifth most successful Bond film at the worldwide box-office, inflation adjusted, just ahead of Daniel Craig’s Casino Royale. Six more Eon-produced Bond films followed for Roger; The Man With The Golden Gun (1974), The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), Moonraker (1979), For Your Eyes Only (1981), Octopussy (1983) and, finally, A View To A Kill (1985).

Now, if I‘m being honest, it’s perhaps when one delves a little deeper into Moore as Bond that one can really find there’s more to his contribution to popular culture than meets the eye. Looking closely, it becomes apparent that throughout his 12 years in the role, he was asked to play the character in subtly different ways – almost from film-to-film. His Bond hops from a romantic-cum-foolish hero (LALD) to a harder incarnation (TMWTGG) to a smooth Cary Grant type (Spy and MR) to an ageing civil servant (FYEO) and, finally, to a nearly-over-the-hill government assassin (OP and AVTAK). While Moore wasn’t fond of the violent side of the character, and has an aversion to real-life guns, if you look close enough you’ll discover a hard edge, a ruthlessness and an earnestness uncover themselves in his 007 . In short, there was certainly more to his version(s) of Bond than a smutty line delivered tongue-in-cheek and a cocked eyebrow. Although, God love him, there was plenty of room for that too.

Following his agreement with Cubby Broccoli he should hang up the shoulder holster in the mid-’80s, he found himself rather devoid of good acting projects. There had been many while he was Bond  – Gold (1974), Shout At The Devil (1976),  The Wild Geese (1978), Escape To Athena (1979), North Sea Hijack (1979), The Sea Devils (1980) and The Cannonball Run (1981) – all of them frolicsome adventure hokum perhaps, but good fun and solid hits in which Moore shared the screen, collectively, with the likes of Gregory Peck, Richard Burton, David Niven, Richard Harris, Telly Savalas, Hardy Kruger and Lee Marvin. But now, at the age of 58 and, admittedly, looking it, good work looked harder to come by; perhaps even more so when he realised he’d made a mistake and pulled out of the original production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1987 stage musical Aspects Of Love just before curtain-up of the dress rehearsal.

However, it wasn’t long before Sir Rog found for himself another – probably higher – calling. Roped into attending a UNICEF event by his old friend and neighbour in Switzerland, the glorious Audrey Hepburn, this led to him being offered the chance to carry on her great work for the organisation by becoming a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, upon her untimely death in 1993. Over the course of nearly the last 20 years, this has seen him genuinely work tirelessly, travelling all over the world to downtrodden locales, as well as pressing the flesh with politicians and businessmen and raising as much publicity for UNICEF’s work as he’s been capable of. That says a lot for the man who has always maintained he’s a real ‘ponce’, methinks.

Then… and now: At a UNICEF event – is that a royal wave from Sir Rog?

So, while it’s easy to dismiss Sir Rog as the ‘second – or even third or fourth – best Bond’, or the easy-going 007 who never really acted in the role, methinks the feller deserves more credit for his position in the popular culture firmament. He can act, you just need to look out for it –  indeed, if you never have, check out the 1970 thriller The Man Who Haunted Himself, in which Moore plays two roles: the haunted man of the title and dark doppelganger that haunts him. There’s no scrimping on the acting front from Rog in that one.

What’s more, he was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2007 (appropriately located at 7007 Hollywood Boulevard) and was knighted in 2003 for his charity work. Now, they don’t hand either of them out to just anyone. So here’s raising a glass – a vodka Martin, shaken and stirred – to the thrice-married bon viveur extraordinaire, good friend of both Connery and Caine and exponent of a suave, bawdy and irresistible manner that one can try to emulate, but will probably never get anywhere near to… the toast then is Sir Rog, a legend, who at 82 not-out, is far from toast.


15 Comments leave one →
  1. March 17, 2010 10:19 am

    Ah, Sir Roger Moore.

    Someone very special to me asked me the other day that if I could choose to meet anyone from any time in history, who would it be?

    The answer, I found myself surprised by: Sir Rog himself.

    Why? Never was there a more affable, honest and likable human being. Here is a man who would regale you with annecdotes from his wonderful history in Hollywood and beyond, recalling with considerable clarity the events of years gone by, adding his own humorous slant, whilst remembering all the crew’s names, from the gaffer to the tea boy.

    He is not only the funniest, smoothest, most charming man, he is entirely without ego, it seems. One can’t help but feel he would meet you as an equal, down playing his incredible life with a self-effacing quip.

    However, there is so much more. Sir Rog gives so freely of himself. His work for charity seems to come from a genuine desire to help (this was fuelled by his visit to India in Octopussy, where he saw the devide between the rich and impoverished) and there is no trace of self promotion in his seemingly ceaseless work for others. No Smashy of Nicey here.

    However, above all, he is what a decent human being should be. He works hard for others, always gives his all, delights in making people happy and is loveable, kind and good. The consumate avuncular hero.

    A wonderful article, George, and I look forward to reading more from your blog.


  2. March 17, 2010 3:06 pm

    My, what a reply – you’ve put some effort into that, dublo, thank you.

    Yes, Sir Rog wasn’t the biggest challenge as topics go for my opening blog, but hopefully with small seeds mighty oaks will grow. Or however it is that saying goes.

    Can’t say I disagree with one eloquent thing you’ve said about the great man there either. Mind you, wonder what ol’ Rog would make about two guys waxing eloquently lyrical about him like this – sure he’d have some banterous, self-deprecating remark to make…!

  3. March 17, 2010 3:25 pm

    He certainly would, Georgey.

    And I should just add that if there was ever a man that I could aspire to, it is Sir Roger.

    Arguably not the best Bond, but, in my opinion, the best of men.


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