Wednesday May 24, 2017
As a devoted fan of Sir Roger Moore, I have been writing about quite a few of his television programmes and films for Lancaster Insurance. My aim, as many of you would have already guessed, was to pen a celebration of 40 years of The Spy Who Loved Me this July followed by a 90th birthday tribute in October. Instead, this is a tribute to an actor who always seemed to deprecate his talents but whose deceptively light touch, plus a succession of very fine motor cars helped to entertain and inspire millions of people around the world.
My first clear memory of Roger Moore is when ITV screened Live and Let Die; I would not see a Bond film on the big screen until as late as 1981 and that was a revival of The Spy Who Loved Me in a Palma cinema. The Chevrolet Impala belonging to Clifton James’ Sherriff J W Pepper – ‘Secret Agent?! On whose side?’ – caught my eye, as did the stunt work with that unfortunate AEC Regent bus and the dialogue was eminently quotable. I also liked the fact that the warning system in Mr. Big’s underground liar was a sound effects record of an ambulance bell; it is such details that give any decent 007 film that essential homely touch. Above all, Live and Let Die introduced me to the radical concepts that a) Bond need not have an Edinburgh accent and b) could look pretty good in a safari suit.
Looking back at Moore’s seven Bond pictures, The Spy Who Loved Me appears to be the second-best film in Sir Roger’s cinema career and almost certainly his finest hour as Bond. The Man with The Golden Gun has Christopher Lee’s splendid villain and that 360-degree stunt with the AMC Hornet X but Moore seems very ill at ease with scenes involving physical violence. Octopussy does have the bonus of a Mercedes Benz being driven along the Nene Valley Railway and Steven Berkoff’s exuberantly over-the-top villain and by the time of View to a Kill with its decapitated Renault 11 taxi Roger was, put tactfully, a rather mature Bond. I was never a fan of Moonraker, although the closing lines were worthy of Carry On Camping while the Citroen 2CV6/Peugeot 504 chase in For Your Eyes Only was one of the few examples of Moore’s Bond using driving skill rather than Q’s gadgets.
But the definite Roger Moore ‘Bond Car’ will always be the Lotus Esprit, the vehicle that also established his on-screen relationship with Desmond Llewelyn’s Q – ‘now pay attention 007!’. Countless die-cast Corgi models were ruined via ill-advised submersions after youthful Odeon patrons saw The Spy Who Loved Me as a birthday treat while various fathers up and down the country started to drive their company Vauxhall Cavalier 1600Ls in the manner of James Bond. There was also that wonderful scene with Richard Kiel and a Leyland Sherpa (although why the Egyptian telephone service is using a RHD van is never made clear) and a small but very noticeable moment of pathos. Bond’s reaction to hearing the name of his late wife is a beautiful demonstration of Roger Moore’s talent for understatement.
By the time Timothy Dalton was receiving his first orders from M, I had started to appreciate Roger’s earlier work – namely The Persuaders! and The Saint. The former will be the subject of a DVD of The Week later this year, so I will merely say here that the sight of Lord Brett Sinclair driving his yellow DBS while wearing a quite incredible brown blazer never fails to cheer me up. I also recently profiled The Saint but in my deeply subjective view, it more than deserves a further mention. When the show first aired in 1962 Roger Moore had over 15 years of screen experience but it was The Saint that established his screen image – dapper, witty and immaculately groomed.
Looking at my box set collection, what initially struck me was that the continuity is often so lacking as to be quite surreal; Skodas and Vauxhalls will change model from shot to shot and a Mercury Comet might have the interior of what looks like a Morris Oxford. But when The Saint was first aired in the UK it would have been aired on a flickering black and white TV screen and viewers would have been too engrossed in narrative to point out how an apartment block in ‘Argentina’ or ‘New York’ would have a remarkable number of Hertfordshire registered Austin A40 Farinas in the car park. Anyone who saw the 1966 episode The House at Dragon’s Rock will never forget Roger Moore’s heroic battle with giant mutant killer ants.
Nearly all of us will have our favourite memory of Sir Roger, whether he was bantering with Tony Curtis in The Persuaders! or keeping the British up as Commander James Bond. I don’t think I am alone in thinking The Man Who Haunted Himself is Moore’s finest hour on screen but my abiding image is of his Simon Templar. Here was an international man of mystery who could make arriving in Stevenage appear as thrilling as landing in Fiumicino Airport - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i2kVtR3oqzw – and the finest hour of The Saint was The Fiction Makers. This was a 1968 cinema that was made from two re-edited Saint Episodes and it goes without saying that the on-screen cars – the Volvo P1800, a police Wolseley 6/99, a Humber Hawk - are all splendid. Even better, The Fiction Makers has an incredible new title sequence and it guest stars Sylvia Syms, which allows Roger a prime opportunity to display his brilliance as a light comedian.
I’ll conclude with the first and last moments from The Saint - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MrBeOQ89vPY – as just one reminder out of many why Sir Roger Moore’s passing is so widely mourned.
Put simply, for generations of fans around the globe he was indelible and an irreplaceable presence on the screen.