There are actors, and then there are legends. Sir Roger Moore has long been an iconic figure of the big (and little) screen, thanks to the success of The Saint in the 60s, then as the longest-running Bond actor across seven thrilling 007 films between 1973 and 1985.
Now he is preparing to return both to his native England (he was born in Stockwell, south London, 87 years ago and now divides his time between Monaco, Switzerland and the south of France) and to the stage, where his career began, when he embarks on a UK tour of An Evening with Sir Roger Moore.
Born to a policeman and a housewife, Roger George Moore left school at 15 then trained at RADA – interrupted by a period of compulsory national service from 1946.
“I did a couple of plays back in ’44 and ’45 — Feydeau’s Italian Straw Hat and Klabund’s Circle of Chalk, directed by Christopher Fry, no less. Then I started a season of Shaw in Cambridge, but the army caught up with me and I was carted off to Bury St Edmunds for six weeks’ training.
“They didn’t know what to do with me,” he explains, “so they gave me a commission and I was posted off to Germany where I spent the next three years. In the last year I was transferred to the Combined Services Entertainment and the colonel allowed me to do a play to get my hand back in before I came out.”
Back in Blighty, his early work included modelling knitwear and toothpaste. On reflection, he says, he is glad he never won the first film contract he chased.
“Coming out of the army, I thought I was going to have a great big film career as I was highly recommended for a Rank contract, but they were just cutting back on their contract list. That was very fortunate, actually, as I would have gone straight into film and not had the chance to do weekly rep, which is the best training of all — it trains the mind.”
Moore soon landed a seven-year film contact with MGM, about which he famously declared: “At MGM, RGM (Roger George Moore) was NBG [no bloody good].” But his career then started gaining traction via a series of TV roles in shows like Ivanhoe, The Alaskans and Maverick, before worldwide fame arrived with spy thriller, The Saint. How did he keep the show and the character, Simon Templar, fresh?
“I never thought about it!” Moore exclaims, jovially. “You just have to look at the lines, say them, and don’t bump into the furniture. It was always a complaint, usually from actresses that I worked with, that I used to fool around too much — not with them, I hasten to add, but having fun. I always see the fun in everything going on around me.
“Invariably in the 60s everyone who had a drinks cabinet had a soda siphon in it, and we’d invariably have a lot of them on set for The Saint — the camera crew knew they were in trouble when I came on with the soda siphon handy.”
I always see the fun in everything going on around me
In 1973 he took over from Sean Connery as Bond, delivering a charmingly urbane portrayal of 007 in Live and Let Die. Does he miss those days?
“I’m nostalgic for Friday pay day — so are my agent and bank manager!” he quips. “But I’m also very grateful. I had a good time doing them.”
Moore continued as Bond until the age of 58 when he agreed that he was a little too old to be doing love scenes with girls young enough to be his daughter. In 1999, he was made a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire: a knighthood followed in 2003. However his health tripped him up momentarily in the same year during a performance of The Play What I Wrote in New York.
“I had a little brush with heart problems and collapsed on stage,” he admits. “I was very fortunate and I had a pacemaker put in within 14 hours. My father had one before me — I didn’t get his, by the way!”
On the subject of retirement, he jokes, “I’ve only retired as James Bond!” He adds: “My wife asks why am I doing this tour, it’s so tiring — but I enjoy the contact with an audience. And I’m always curious to see if they’ll applaud or not. I worry that when Gareth Owen [his biographer] says, ‘Here’s Sir Roger Moore’, they’ll say ‘So, big deal — bring on Sean Connery!’”
But they don’t — and instead audiences are treated to a rare encounter with a genuine star. And it can be unpredictable.
“I can wander off and talk about anything I like, within reason! Sometimes I use 4,000 words when one will do, and at other times I forget what the one word is, so I never say it…”
Moore also invites questions from the audience. Is he ever surprised by these?
“No, but I look surprised! In The Fugitive, a detective was chasing a doctor who was innocent but accused of murder, and the actor who played him said the one thing he got tired of was having to look surprised when someone said ‘he went that way!’. I got used to that whenever people would ask me where my halo was! You have to look as if you’ve never heard it before.”
An Evening with Sir Roger Moore, Cambridge Corn Exchange, 19 October, 7.30pm. Tickets £25