A star who never behaved like one. An actor pathologically modest about his own abilities. A bed-hopping lothario on screen who oozed old-school courtesy off it.
Why can’t more stars today be like the late Sir Roger Moore who died yesterday? Actually, scrub that. Why can’t any stars today be like Sir Roger Moore?
When I interviewed the former James Bond star in 2008 (as a child of the Seventies and Eighties, he was my James Bond) it was one of the few occasions I struggled to maintain the line between journalist and fan.
Moore’s light touch approach to Bond and effortless cool made him a movie God to me, not to mention his winning self-deprecation. The fact I was interviewing him shortly after the release of the Daniel Craig Bond bomb Quantum Of Solace (director Marc Forster should never be let out of movie jail for that one) made me feel even more warmly nostalgic for his seven film-spanning 007 era.
To this day, no one has done it longer: Moore owned a franchise long before the word became the tedious dream of every studio.
Looking, it must be said, all 81 of his then years, Moore was immaculately turned out in navy blazer and tie. A gin and tonic would have completed the picture of golf club gent but instead he was drinking espresso, carefully stirring in a sweetener (ever mindful of his health).
Even though something gave me the impression he might have made slightly more effort had I been wearing a skirt, Moore twinkled convivially and made great play of his old-school virtues.
“I don’t know when manners went out of the window,” he mourned in his rich baritone. “I think quite a lot of it had to do with the feminist movement. You became a pig if you opened a door to a lady or if you gave your seat, which is what I was brought up to do.”
As for the behavior of millennials, Moore drily noted to me, “I think the fault lies not so much with the children as their parents.”
Of the generation obliged to perform National Service in the UK armed forces (Moore served in Germany), and as the son of a south London policeman father and homemaker mother, Moore grew up with a strong sense of the role a real man was supposed to play.
That involved bringing home the bacon (he did love a big paycheck) and saving the world. It also meant being discreet. You’ll struggle to find Moore uttering a bad word publicly about anyone.
In all 416 pages of his memoir, My Word Is My Bond, the only person he has a go at is Grace Jones. She starred alongside him in 1985 Bond movie A View To A Kill, playing the henchwoman to Christopher Walken’s peroxide blonde nutso. In one of the weirdest scenes in a Bond movie, she and Moore have a violent dust-up which culminates in a yucky kiss.
In his memoir, Moore confessed that his “diplomatic charm was stretched to the limit by Grace Jones”. In polite Moore-speak that means she was a nightmare.
For all the thrill of playing Bond, the role of which he was most proud was that of roving ambassador for charity UNICEF. Note to today’s stars: just because you’re a hero on screen doesn’t mean you’re God’s gift to acting. Or anything.
For all the air of effortless success he projected, let’s not forget that stardom came fairly late to Roger Moore. He was 44 when he was cast as 007 in his first Bond, Live And Let Die, which was released in 1973. Still, he was seemingly content to wait his turn.
“I have so many friends who were dead at 50 because of ambition,” he explained. “It drove them so much.” However limited his gifts as an actor, Moore told me he learned a valuable lesson in childhood, recalling a race in which he had finished last.
“When I got to the finishing line I went to the judges’ stand and I stood there and I stood there until they gave me a bag of toffees,” he said. “So my theory of life is you don’t have to win the race to get a bag of toffees.”