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Remembering the life and career of James Bond star Sir Roger Moore


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Yesterday the news broke that British actor Sir Roger Moore has died aged 89.

Most boys, it is said, want to be James Bond. When I was a kid, I wanted to be Roger Moore.

I loved him not just as Britain’s greatest spy but in his earlier roles in The Saint and The Persuaders, and for who he was as a person.

Both on and off screen he seemed emblematic of all that was great about Britishness. He was charming and modest, but also bold and adventurous, and even in desperate situations refused ever to be totally serious.

When he took up the role of James Bond in the early 1970s, many doubted his suitability and the future of the series. Few believed he could be as convincing as Sean Connery with the tux and the Walther PPK.

But Moore stunned the naysayers with a string of highly successful films in which he made the role his own, ensuring the Bond films would not go down as a relic from the 1960s but would thrive as the global phenomenon it continues to be today.

His Bond was consciously different from Connery’s serious, gritty interpretation of Ian Fleming’s super spy. In keeping partly with the outrageousness of the era, Moore’s 007 was irreverent and tongue-in-cheek, raising only an eyebrow at his films’ ludicrous plots, in which he saved the world a record seven times.

Though criticised for this he justified his portrayal by pointing out the innate absurdity of the series, which had as its central character a supposedly secret agent who could nevertheless walk into any club in the world and be immediately recognised by the barman.

Moore played Bond for 12 years, believing his third film, 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me, to be his best. He had given up the role long before I was born, with 1985’s brilliantly awful A View to a Kill, of which I still remember being bought an old VHS copy.

Bond was the culmination of a long career in showbusiness, which began at acting school in England in the 1930s and the modelling of knitwear for men’s fashion magazines. The rise of television increased his popularity, with shows such as Ivanhoe, The Saint and The Persuaders, all of which starred him as the dashing hero, enjoyed by millions of viewers.

I was lucky enough to see Sir Roger, as he later became, giving one of his amazingly successful evening talks in Glasgow a few years back. Audiences were frequently in stiches at these events, in which he described his attempts to make it in Hollywood playing extras in 50s’ B-movies set in Ancient Rome, and being famous on set for 'his either very short toga or very long spear.’

On a more serious note, Moore also reflected on how his personality often different from his on-screen persona. For instance, though he often played elegant English gentlemen of public school and old money backgrounds, he was in fact born in virtual poverty in South London in 1927.

And for a man whose career was made with television and films depicting bloodshed, albeit light-heartedly, Moore personally abhorred violence and villainy of all kinds.

It was partly for this reason that he moved on to less appreciated but more worthy charitable work later in life, becoming an ambassador of the children’s foundation UNICEF, into which he put time and a genuine passion to improve the lives of the unfortunate.

I often thought jealously of all the otherwise miserable and destitute children in Africa and Asia who had got to do something I had not done, and meet him in person.

His onscreen appeal with women was no fiction, however: Moore was married four times in what were all very rocky relationships. Having long lived in Switzerland in the tax-exile tradition of Connery, Michael Caine and others, he married his fourth wife, Danish socialite Kristina "Kiki" Tholstrup, in 2002.

Such was their father’s fame that some of Moore’s children inherited the acting bug, his daughter Deborah once appearing alongside him in The Persuaders and later in a Bond film opposite Pierce Brosnan.

Acting was always more of a luxury and privilege than a profession for Moore, joking that all it involved was remembering your lines and not tripping over the furniture.

He once said that the only film in which he was allowed to act was the creepy 1970 classic, The Man Who Haunted Himself, about a businessman whose near death experience leaves him unable to tell fantasy from reality.

In most other films, including the spy series that will make him immortal, Moore largely played himself. Yet with his warmth, talent, and sheer screen presence, himself was all the audiences desired.

Above all, Roger Moore could claim for himself that when it came to playing the man every boy wanted to be, nobody did it better.

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