Sir Roger Moore (1927-2017)

23rd May 2017

Sir Roger Moore, the longest serving James Bond, has died aged 89

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Sir Roger Moore has died in Switzerland after a short but brave battle with cancer. He was 89. A statement, from his children, read: "With the heaviest of hearts, we must share the awful news that our father, Sir Roger Moore, passed away today. Thank you Pops for being you, and being so very special to so many people. We are all devastated."

Sir Roger Moore 1927-2017

Sir Roger Moore KBE, the longest serving actor in the role, played James Bond a record seven times and for a generation, will always be the definitive incarnation.

Roger Moore, born 14 October 1927, grew up in Stockwell, South London. Following a stint in graphic design, he attended RADA before beginning his career as a model appearing most notably in knitwear commercials. He took on brief acting roles and in 1954 secured a contract with MGM and headed to California. However, Hollywood didn’t work out and after the commercial failure of Diane (1956), in which he starred opposite Lana Turner, he was released from his contract after only two years. Always the self-deprecator, he later admitted, “I’m one lucky bastard. During my early acting years I was told that to succeed you needed personality, talent and luck in equal measure. I contest that. For me it’s been 99% luck. It’s no good being talented and not being in the right place at the right time.”

Sir Roger Moore 1927-2017

He found his forte on British television and from 1958 to 1961 starred in three major shows; Ivanhoe, The Alaskans and Maverick. But he hit pay dirt when mogul Lew Grade cast him as Simon Templar in The Saint. It made Roger Moore a household name, running for six seasons, totalling 118 episodes, some of which Moore directed himself. He yearned to make his break on the big screen, but was lured once more to a lucrative TV deal when Grade pitched him The Persuaders. Moore refused a second series because he heard Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman were on the verge of offering him the biggest role in cinema – James Bond 007.

Roger Moore had been a contender from the very beginning when the producers were casting Dr. No. Later, in 1967 he had passing discussions with them following Sean Connery’s departure. He interacted with both Broccoli and Saltzman socially and recalled he would sit around the gambling tables of Mayfair with them “like real life James Bonds.” He recalled viewing the early Bond films in Eon’s private South Audley Street screening room. Finally, he got the call from Saltzman and was announced as the new James Bond on the 1st August 1972.

Moore met Guy Hamilton, the director of his first Bond movie, Live And Let Die, at the Ian Fleming haunt, Scotts, “over a dozen oysters and martinis. I confessed to Guy that in reading the script I could only ever hear Sean’s voice saying, ‘My name is Bond.’ In fact, as I vocalised it to myself I found that I was giving it a Scottish accent.”

Roger amusingly recalled taking his son Geoffrey for lunch at The White Elephant shortly after landing the role; “He sat and looked around the room and he said, ‘Dad, could you beat up anybody in here?’ And I looked around, they were fairly older, and I said ‘Yeah, sure I could.’ He said ‘What about if James Bond came?’ I said, ‘but I'm going to be James Bond.’ He said ‘No, I mean the real one, Sean Connery.”

Sir Roger Moore 1927-2017

Guy Hamilton played a major role in preparing Roger Moore for Bond. “My job is to bring out your strengths and cover your weaknesses,” the director told Moore. “Roger had enough hair to stuff a mattress and we had to get his haircut which was quite dramatic. He kept popping in and saying, ‘How’s this Guy?’ I said, ‘No, Roger, it’s got to be short back and sides. Proper.’ And he’d go off again.” Broccoli also told Moore, ‘“Think like Bond, act like Bond, BE Bond!” Lois Maxwell the original actress to play Miss Moneypenny knew Moore; they’d trained together in the same class at RADA back in 1944. Quizzed on the difference between Connery and Moore, Maxwell would reply, “If Moneypenny had her choice she would have Roger as her husband and Sean as her lover.”

Live and Let Die was an international smash hit, outgrossing its predecessor Diamonds Are Forever. Moore admitted he was nervous right up to premiere night, comparing the press and public reaction to giving birth, “There’s nothing you can do to stop it, the baby is going to come out no matter what.”

The Man With The Golden Gun followed, the production overshadowed by the bickering between Broccoli and Saltzman who were reaching the point of divorce. “I liked them both greatly, but sometimes had to dodge the crossfire.” Moore was always the pacifist and even tried to heal relations between Sean Connery and Cubby Broccoli; “I got them together – dinner at my house. I overheard Cubby saying, ‘Did you really say that if my brains were on fire, you wouldn’t piss in my ear.’ And Sean said, ‘Not true Cubby, I’d piss in your ear anytime!’”

Moore made it no secret that The Spy Who Loved Me was his personal favourite. “Lewis Gilbert was a wonderful director and we had wonderful locations. Everything worked very well and we also had a great song, Nobody Does It Better.”

Following Moonraker’s grueling schedule, which took him to Paris, Venice and Rio, Moore showed his first signs of tiring of Bond; “I spend eight months working on [it] and it was back breaking. I only had three days off in that whole time. If you worked a horse like that, you’d be in trouble. On top of that, we had visits from 360 journalists. It got to the point where I had to excuse myself to go and do a scene. Spending eight months being blown up and climbing under waterfalls and struggling through jungles isn’t fun. The real problem with the Bond films is they’re so physically taxing.”

Sir Roger Moore 1927-2017

By 1979 Roger Moore had completed his initial contract and was negotiating with Broccoli on a film-by-film basis. He never discussed financial matters with Cubby directly, he left those to his agents, but amusingly recalled during one negotiation, “We were playing backgammon and it was Cubby’s turn to throw the dice. He picked them up, popped them in the cup and hesitated. ‘You can tell your agent to shit in his hat.’”

Broccoli began testing prospective replacements, but at the eleventh hour, Moore signed up to play 007 for a fifth time. For Your Eyes Only saw a change in direction with John Glen introducing a harder more serious approach, which, at first, didn’t sit comfortably with Moore. He was vocal that his Bond would not coldly kick a villain sitting helplessly in his car over a cliff to his death. “We compromised – I tossed a badge in and gave the car a not so hard kick to topple it. Many critics and Bond experts have highlighted that scene as being an important one in the evolution of Bond on film. So maybe I was wrong?”

The production of Octopussy was overshadowed by Sean Conney’s rival Bond pic Never Say Never Again. Moore didn’t seem bothered; “There was no animosity between Sean and me. We didn’t react to the press speculation that we had become competitors in the part. In fact, we often had dinner together and compared notes. I never actually saw Sean’s film. I’m told it did very well, but not quite as well as Octopussy!”

At the age of 57 Roger Moore gracefully bowed out with his seventh Bond picture, A View To A Kill in 1985. “A rather nice deal was agreed with my agent, and once again I slipped into the tuxedo – admittedly it had to be let out a bit since my first film – to play Jimmy Bond once last time.” One review he recalled said, “I looked like ‘a floor-walker who had been to Switzerland three times for a facelift.’ You've got to laugh.”

Sir Roger Moore 1927-2017

Cubby’s secretary, Janine King, remembered Roger Moore could often be found between Bond films at South Audley Street playing backgammon with Cubby. On one occasion Moore even answered the telephone and took a message, “I couldn’t help chuckling because whoever was on the other end of the phone would be so astounded if they knew it was Roger Moore they were leaving a message with.”

The actor sought to find the fun in Bond, to let the audience know that if they wanted they could scream hysterically. “My attitude is that it’s completely unreal. Here you’ve got this secret agent who’s recognised by every barman in the world and they know that he takes his vodka martinis shaken and not stirred. It’s crazy. What sort of secret agent is that? So you know that it is a spoof already before you start. I don’t like to play him as a true-blue hero. There’s always a moment of doubt in Bond’s mind. I mean, if I save the girl, I may get killed doing it. So I always let that go through my mind and then say, ‘Oh, to hell with it, I’ve read the script. I know I’m going to live.’”

His Bond films were interspersed with action adventure pictures; Gold (1974), The Wild Geese (1978), Escape To Athena (1979), North Sea Hijack (1980) and The Sea Wolves (1980). Moore sent himself up in films such as The Cannonball Run (1981) and Spiceworld (1997). He was most proud of his work in Basil Dearden’s The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970), “I played both myself and my doppelganger. It was a film I actually got to act in, rather than just being all white teeth and flippant and heroic.”

He published two volumes of his memoirs and a third was planned to mark his 90th birthday later this year. He also wrote two books on Bond – a diary of his experiences making Live And Let Die, as well as a celebration of all things 007 to mark the 50th anniversary of the series. His third wife Luisa perfectly summed up Moore’s portrayal of the character; “It’s been said that any good-looking actor could play James Bond. That’s ridiculous. Roger made it look so easy only because of his immense talent and personality to do it. It’s much more difficult to be Bond than anyone can imagine.”

Roger Moore had been a fan of Daniel Craig ever since he was first cast in October 2005. On stage at the Royal Festival Hall during the finale of his 2016 tour he said, "Today, I think we're very lucky to have Daniel Craig because he is quite extraordinary, I always say that Sean looked like a killer – but Daniel Craig would finish it off. When I saw Casino Royale, I thought that Daniel Craig did more action in the first seven minutes than I did in seven movies.” He later said, “Skyfall was marvelous, the best Bond film ever made.”

Sir Roger Moore 1927-2017

He was an avid supporter of UNICEF having been introduced to their work by Audrey Hepburn. Moore was appointed a goodwill ambassador in 1991 and traveled the world to see the charity’s work in action and advocate for children’s rights. His work for UNICEF was his proudest.

Moore married four times, most recently to Kristina Tholstrup in 2002. He had three children with Luisa Mattioli, Deborah, Geoffrey and Christian.

In later years Moore became the ambassador for all things James Bond and relished the opportunity to discuss his time as the custodian of the most coveted role in motion picture history. He contributed to many books and documentaries and was always on hand to celebrate the franchise milestones. “Being eternally known as Bond has no downside. People often call me ‘Mr. Bond’ when we’re out and I don’t mind a bit. Why would I?”

About The Author
Matthew Field is the co-author of Some Kind of Hero: The Remarkable Story of the James Bond Films. He is a regular contributor to both MI6 Confidential and Cinema Retro. He currently serves on the board of directors of The Ian Fleming Foundation.

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