Tuesday 14 October 2014

An appreciation of Sir Roger Moore

Over the past couple of years, I've had a lot of fun writing blog posts that celebrate things I enjoy (namely on my Nostalgic For My Childhood thread) and I thought it might be an idea to write some about people I admire in entertainment - my heroes, if you will.

With that in mind, in honour of today being his 87th birthday, this is my appreciation of Sir Roger Moore.
Sir Roger Moore & I, backstage at Northampton Derngate theatre, Monday 6th October 2014
Sir Roger George Moore, KBE, was born on 14th October 1927 in Stockwell, London, the only child of George Moore, a policeman and Lillian, a housewife.  By his own account (from his stage shows and autobiography), he had a happy childhood apart from a period of evacuation in Holesworthy, Devon, which he left as soon as he could.

After briefly attending RADA, where he was a classmate of Lois Maxwell (who would later play Miss Moneypenny to his Bond), he began to appear in films as an extra.  Shortly after the war, aged 18, he was conscripted for National Service and eventually commanded a small depot in West Germany.  He later transferred to the Entertainment corps, where he became friends with (film director-to-be) Bryan Forbes.

In the early 1950s, Moore worked as a model for a wide range of products (with his print ads for knitwear leading Michael Caine to give him the nickname ‘The Big Knit’) before moving to Hollywood under contract to MGM.  He has since said, of this time, “At MGM, RGM (Roger George Moore) was NBG (no bloody good)”.

He made his name when he was cast as the eponymous hero in the serial Ivanhoe, loosely based on the novel by Sir Walter Scott.  He later appeared in The Alaskans series for ABC/Warner Brothers and as Bret Maverick in the series Maverick, with James Garner.

In 1962, Lew Grade cast Moore as Simon Templar in the TV series The Saint and it was so successful that it made him a household name across the world.  The series ran for six years and 118 episodes (some of which Moore himself directed), making it - along with The Avengers - the longest running series of its kind on British television.

After two films - Crossplot and the darker, more challenging The Man Who Haunted Himself (which he rates as favourite of his own films) - Moore returned to television with The Persuaders.  Partnered with Tony Curtis (with whom he quickly developed a good rapport) and produced by Lew Grade, Moore was paid £1m for a single series, making him the highest paid TV actor in the world.  Unfortunately the series didn’t take off in America (its primary intended market) and so only 24 episodes were made.

With Sean Connery declaring that following his payday on Diamonds Are Forever it was “never again” for him and Bond, Moore was approached by Albert ‘Cubby’ Broccoli to take over the role in August 1972.  Moore, who had to cut his hair and lose weight for the role, discussed the situation with his friend Connery before accepting, first appearing in Live and Let Die in 1973.  Moore would appear in seven Bond films in total - Live and Let Die, 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 was 45 when he took on the role and 58 when he announced his retirement from it.

Opinions differ greatly (the rule of thumb seems to be that your favourite is often the one you grew up with) but I think Moore was the best Bond, though I’ve enjoyed most of the films (Pierce Brosnan had to endure some rubbish) and like the Daniel Craig version.  His Bond was very different to the Ian Fleming character (and the Connery version) but the films were too.  Screenwriters, including Tom Mankiewicz and George MacDonald Fraser, wrote films in which 007 was more of a debonair Englishman, who always had a trick or gadget up his sleeve when he needed it, a move by the producers to better serve the contemporary taste in the 1970s.

In between his Bond outings he made other, often smaller films and was criticised for making three movies in South Africa during the 70s.

After “A View To A Kill”, he didn’t act on screen for five years, breaking that run with “Bed & Breakfast” and “Bullseye!”, with Michael Caine in 1990.  He officially announced his retirement from acting in an article for The Sunday Telegraph magazine in April 2009.

Sir Roger has been married four times.  His first wife was the skater Doorn Van Steyn, whom he left for the singer Dorothy Squires.  Whilst filming in Italy in 1961, he met the Italian actress Luisa Mattioli and lived with her until their marriage in 1969 when Squires finally granted him a divorce.  With Mattioli, he had three children - Geoffrey, Deborah and Christian - but Moore ended the marriage in 1993 (he subsequently reported his marriages to both Squires and Mattioli were often abusive, at his expense).  In March 2002 he married Kristina Tholstrup.  Moore was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1993 though surgery on it was successful (it's in remission) and he had a pacemaker fitted in 2003 after collapsing on stage in New York.

Shocked by the level of poverty he witnessed whilst filming Octopussy in India in 1983 and after speaking with his friend Audrey Hepburn, who worked with UNICEF, he became a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in 1991.  Since that time, he has worked tirelessly for the organisation and writes most movingly about it in his autobiography.

Sir Roger was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1999 and advanced to Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) in June 2003.  The citation on the knighthood was for his charity work and he said, at the time, that it "meant far more to me than if I had got it for acting... I was proud because I received it on behalf of UNICEF as a whole and for all it has achieved over the years".  He was awarded a star on the Hollywood Wall of Fame in 2007 and it’s located, appropriately enough, at 7007 Hollywood Boulevard.

Sir Roger has been a hero of mine from when I was a kid right up to the present day.  A huge fan of his films (especially the Bonds), "The Persuaders" and the man himself (reading about his thoughts on his own children, once I was a father myself, just made me like him even more), I've been lucky enough to see him twice.  Alison & I caught his "An Audience With..." tour at Milton Keynes theatre in 2013 and it was a brilliant show.  When we found out he was touring again in 2014 and would be at Northampton Derngate (our local theatre), we booked tickets straight away and I emailed Gareth Owen - his biographer - about the possibility of meeting him ('nothing ventured, nothing gained').  To my surprise, Gareth was amenable to it and so - on Monday 6th October - Alison & I went backstage before the show and got to meet the great man and his lovely wife.  I wrote about it in this blog, but he was everything I expected him to be, a genuine living legend and he couldn't have been nicer to us.  It was a wonderful experience and I'll never forget it.

Over the years, Sir Roger has written four books (the title links go to my Goodreads reviews):

* A diary for Pan, “Roger Moore as James Bond: Roger Moore's Own Account of Filming Live and Let Die”, was published in 1973 (it’s a great read) and opened with the acknowledgement: “I would also like to thank Sean Connery – with whom it would not have been possible.” 

* His autobiography, “My Word Is My Bond”, was published in 2008 by Michael O’Mara and is a fascinating book, full of his wry, self-deprecating humour and a terrific read.  It's also available as an audio book, which he reads.

* In 2012, Michael O’Mara published “Bond On Bond”, which tied in with the 50th anniverary of the series.

* In 2014, Michael O'Mara published "Last Man Standing: Tales From Tinseltown", a collection of anecdotes told in Moore's inimitable style, which was another good read.

There was also a series of six adventure books for children, “Roger Moore and the Crimefighters”, published by Alpine/Everest in 1977/78, aiming for a slice of the market enjoyed by “The Three Investigators”.  Moore’s involvement was limited to a cover photo and a chapter at the end wrapping the story up.  His royalties from the series were donated to the Stars Organisation for Spastics and to the Police Widows and Orphans Fund.  I wrote about the series at this blog-post.

Widely regarded as a genuinely nice man, to my mind Sir Roger Moore is a living legend - suave, debonair, English cool personified - and I'm grateful that I got a chance to meet him.

Thank you, good sir, for the entertainment you've provided us over the years and many happy returns of the day!

2017 update:
Sir Roger Moore passed away on 23rd May 2017 after "a short but brave battle with cancer".  His children posted a statement on Twitter, which read "With the heaviest of hearts, we must share the awful news that our father, Sir Roger Moore, passed away today. We are all devastated."  It continued, with "Thank you Pops for being you, and being so very special to so many people."

Thank you indeed, Sir Roger, for all the joy you brought to so many others and to me.

Goodnight, good sir. 

1 comment:

  1. Only actor I've seen bring his bad reviews to interviews, hilariously funny gentleman, Cary Grant of his generation.