KEEPING THE BRITISH END UP
Sir Roger Moore obituary
It is with great sadness that the global James Bond fan community has learned of the death of Sir Roger Moore at his home in Switzerland at the age of 89.
Sir Roger will always be remembered as the most enduring actor to play 007 and as a great ambassador for the franchise. From his announcement as Sean Connery’s replacement in August 1972 to his retirement in December 1985, he thrilled and charmed a whole new generation of Bond fans and redefined the series. In his seven Bond films: Live And Let Die (1973), The Man With The Golden Gun (1974), The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), Moonraker (1979), For Your Eyes Only (1981), Octopussy (1983) and A View To A Kill (1985), he made James Bond his own. Arguably the greatest purveyor of Cool Britannia before the term had been invented, he kept the British end up as his reign as 007 saw Bond through the 1977 Silver Jubilee and national resurgence in the 1980s. He was the Bond not only of his own but also the Daniel Craig generation by keeping Ian Fleming’s gentleman spy alive when people thought his best days were over. We are all sad at the passing of a great British icon. Nobody did Bond better.
Moore was always destined to play 007. “As a matter of fact, Cubby [Broccoli] and Harry [Saltzman] tell me that when they first started making the Bonders, I was their first choice for the role. I don’t believe them, of course. But that’s what they say. They also said I was Ian Fleming’s first choice. But Ian Fleming didn’t know me from shit. He wanted Cary Grant or David Niven.” Moore had been aware of the character, “I knew that the English newspaper, the Daily Express, was running a competition to find a James Bond. I’d developed a nasty habit, or continued a nasty habit, of gambling. I found myself playing at least once a week, across the table, with Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. They told me about it all and invited me to see Dr. No which, considering the low budget, was a great effort. I thought Sean Connery was marvellous. I started the The Saint around the same time.” Indeed whilst the first Bond film premiered in London on 5 October 1962, but the day before had seen the debut of what would go on to be a star-making vehicle for Roger as Leslie Charteris’ Simon Templar in the hit TV show, The Saint.
In 1964, he played James Bond on TV opposite comedy star Millicent Martin on her eponymous show. That same year, Charles K. Feldman announced he was pursuing Roger Moore to star as the spy in his upcoming non-Eon film adaptation of Fleming’s first novel, Casino Royale. In 1967, when Connery initially relinquished the role after You Only Live Twice, there was talk of Roger toplining a Cambodian-set version of Fleming’s posthumous 1965 bestseller, The Man With The Golden Gun but then he continued lucratively as Simon Templar until 1969.
Moore was in the frame to take over eventually, his friendship with Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman standing him in good stead, as he quipped “What better way for a potential Bond than to meet the producers.” Early on he established an attitude towards 007, “I tried to find out what Bond was all about, but you can’t tell much from the books. There’s the line that says ‘He didn’t take pleasure in killing, but took pride in doing it well.’ So that’s what I did.”
Sean Connery had created the role and had become a iconic cinema hero. Moore was unperturbed, “You don’t really think about that. How many millions of actors during the last 400 years have played Hamlet? They don’t worry about how the other fella did it—they just get on with doing it their way. And everything I do comes out exactly the same! I always sound like me.”
His Bond debut avoided overt some established series’ tropes: Bond appearing in the pre-title sequence, no dinner jacket required, no formal briefing with M in his office nor by Desmond Llewely’s Q, no casinos, no ordering of Martini’s shaken not stirred. “Well in Live And Let Die, I didn’t do any of that because that was what Sean would do. My personality is entirely different from his. I’m not that cold-blooded killer that Sean can do so well—which is why I play it for laughs. Sean, I think, said I go through the door looking for the laugh.”
Moore’s Bond immediately was its own entity: 007 is a fashionable and fastidious dresser, smokes Havana cigars, has a public schoolboy charm and very English veneer, speaks fluent Italian and tended to outsmart his foes. The film’s writer, Tom Mankiwicz opined, “the difference between Sean and Roger was that Sean looked dangerous. Sean could sit at a table with a girl at a nightclub and either lean across and kiss her or stick a knife in her under the table and then say, ‘Excuse me waiter, I have nothing to cut my meat with.’ Whereas Roger could kiss the girl, if he stuck a knife in her it would look nasty because Roger looks like a nice guy.” Moore’s Bond did share many characteristics with Connery especially under the tutelage of a shared director, Guy Hamilton. This included the era of the lighter, more fun, set-piece filled Bond films of the seventies.
Moore’s experience gave him confidence, “I think that I’ve got an even-money chance to make it. After all, I’ve been around a long time in this business. I did The Saint on TV for seven years then The Persuaders on TV with Tony Curtis.”
Live And Let Die was a huge success resulting in a steady increase in global box office, reaching new and younger audiences and crossing generations.
For Roger, it made sense, “This is a famous spy–everyone knows his name, and every bartender in the world knows he likes martinis shaken, not stirred. Come on, it’s all a big joke! So most of the time I played it tongue-in-cheek.” He thought of Bonds as pure hokum, “People are always reading things into the films. We set out to make entertainment. There’s no hidden agenda. They’re just ‘Whambam-thank-you-ma’am! here comes a pretty girl, there goes a car chase, let’s shoot a helicopter down.’ That’s as deep as they got.” Moore also understood his audience, “We have very little brutality in Bond. As Cubby once said, we are sadism for the family. Most of the violence is mechanical, Disney violence.”
As the Bonds became increasing technological extravaganzas, he would always keep the set light and was observant of his own lines. When we get on the floor. In the old days, when I used to get the script, I would say what’s this and I would be busy writing all over it and I would call Cubby and he would say, ‘Let’s see your notes’ and I would send them over and then there would be this whole mish-mash. Then, Lewis Gilbert hit it right on the head. He said, ‘Look, we’re going to change it on the floor. You know you’re going to change it, I’m going to change it, so let’s not have a big hassle before we get in unless you see there’s a plot point that, by making a change, you must move the plot in a different direction.’” Moore felt, “in order to make the best picture we can, they keep making changes right up to the last minute. You can say I know what’s in the script before I sign on to do it. But it seems the production period keeps getting longer with every film.” He was impressed by some of his scriptwriters though, “Mankiewicz wrote the best Bond line of any of them, in Diamonds Are Forever, when Lana Wood saddles up to Connery and says ‘My name is O’Toole, Plenty O’Toole,’ and Bond says, ‘Named after your father, no doubt.’ Lovely line. He gave me a wonderful line in The Man With The Golden Gun, when I drop the sights of a rifle down on a gunsmith’s crotch and say, “Speak now or forever hold your piece.”
Moore’s method was effective: when confronting a villain, he imagined his nemesis had halitosis. “If you watch those scenes, you’ll see I look mildly repulsed.” He envied his colleagues hired to play the baddie, “Oh yeah, they’re the best part! Poor old Jim, all he does is stand around and say, ‘My name is Bond, James Bond,’ whereas a villain says ‘this is the end of the world, this is the end of civilization as you know it, Mr Bond!’” A self-confessed coward, Moore was bemused by his image as some kind of hero, “Ah, well that’s where the acting comes in you see! I look incredibly brave, but I’m very, very good at getting people to look like me.”
His personal favourite Bond was The Spy Who Loved Me with its iconic pretitle sequence, “Well it certainly was that sequence. It was quite extraordinary seeing it with an audience for the first time and hearing that gasp. First of all, it’s an incredibly long fall and then when the Union Flag opens, well, it doesn’t matter what country it’s in, or what language, it always gathered applause. It was the first time I worked with Lewis Gilbert, just a wonderful director. We introduced Jaws, and Barbara Bach isn’t exactly a terrible strain to look at. I thought it was a first class script, great fun to do and had wonderful locations.”
Over the years Moore made Bond his own often acting with players from his past: he as a RADA with Lois “Moneypenny” Maxwell, had done TV with Robert Brown and Geoffrey Keen (M and Minister of Defence respectively), was good friends with David ‘Felix Leiter’ Hedison and had directed a number of other in episodes of The Saint, most notably Julian ‘Kristatos’ Glover. He had also gotten to know a number of the crew including the director of his last three Bonds, John Glen with whom he had worked on a slew of big, international action pictures in the seventies.
The actor gave an insight into the additional pressures of being 007 “During filming, I gave more than 150 interviews to newspaper reporters, magazine journalists and the major television interviewers of five different countries. Normally, I don’t mind talking to the press because it is part of my job. I’m very aware of the interest in James Bond but, finally, there is just so much you can say about him and the film you’ re doing. And it doesn’t stop when the filming does. There are photo gallery sessions, film festivals, movie premieres, publicity trips to the major foreign film markets. It begins to get to you when you hear yourself saying the same things, over and over, without meaning to do so.” He developed standard quips. When asked if he did his own stunts, he responded, “Of course I do! I also do my own lying.” Asked about the hardest part of being Bond, he joked, “The love scenes, of course.”
In 1983, Moore was faced with a rival non-Eon Bond film but he was unfazed, “Never Say Never Again began and the British paper had the headline ‘The Battle of the Bonds’, which was picked up everywhere. I never saw Never Say Never Again. We weren’t having a battle, we’re friends.” Moore later charmingly said, “It’s the only film I’ve been criticised for which I was never in.”
Towards the end of his reign as Bond, Moore left it unclear whether he would return to the role: he often said never again. However, it was part of an ongoing gambling match with his producer and friend, “I feel sorry for Cubby [Broccoli] because he’ll have a terrible job finding anybody else who will work as cheap as I do. Actually, I enjoy the work. I’m glad people are still misguided enough to employ me.”
Moore’s on screen talent was immense but made to look effortless, leading to the popular myth that he could not act. He was sometimes his chief detractor but explained, “Listen, if I say I’m shit as an actor, then the critic can’t, because I’ve already said it! For years my agents would tell me, ‘You’ve got to stop saying these things about yourself. People will believe you.’ So? They may also be pleasantly surprised!”
Roger Moore, whose last autobiography was titled, “One Lucky Bastard” was nonchanlant about his career: “I’m really a lucky bloke who was born with a photogenic face and got a few lucky breaks. There was never any acting tradition in my family. My father, as you probably know, was a policeman here, and since I was his only child, we developed a really warm friendship. I grew up in South London, and despite the war I had a happy youth. My family never had much money, and I went to work after I left school for a company called Publicity Picture Productions, which specialized in animated cartoons. I started in as an apprentice cartoonist and was promptly fired, which in retrospect was one of those lucky breaks I mentioned. I worked as an extra for a few days and on the third day as I walked through the gates, a car pulled up alongside of me. The co-director on the film was a man named Brian Desmond Hurst. He stuck his head out of the window, called me over, and asked if I was interested in becoming an actor. I said, ‘Sure.’ Hurst told me that if I could get my family to support me for a while he would pay my tuition at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. It sounds like a film script, doesn’t it, but that’s the truth of how I became an actor.”
After he relinquished the role of Ian Fleming’s James Bond 007, Roger Moore became a great ambassador for UNICEF, raising countless millions for charity. No better third act could be found for a life well lived. Sir Roger, as he became in 2003, continued to be an ambassador for the Bond films and encapsulated their appeal in 2012: “For 50 years it’s gone on and people go back because it’s an old friend. Their fathers may have taken them to see it the first time, and then they take their grandfathers. And Christmas never seems to be Christmas without a Bond movie showing on a television screen somewhere.”
By Ajay Chowdhury
Selected Honours and Awards
2008: Dag Hammarskjöld Award (from the UN)
2005: UNICEF Snowflake Audrey Hepburn Humanitarian Award
2003: German Federal Cross of Merit (Bundesverdienstkreuz): for his work battling child traffickers as special representative to UNICEF
2003: Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire
1999: Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE)
Lifetime achievements awards
2008: Commander of the French National Order of Arts and Letters (Ordre national des Arts et des Lettres)
2007: Hollywood Walk of Fame
2002: Monte Carlo TV Festival (Lifetime Achievement Award)
Roger Moore Filmography
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