Date of Birth: 14 October 1927, Stockwell, London, UK
Birth Name: Roger George Moore
Nickname: Roger Moore
Sir Roger Moore who brought humour, panache and suavity to his starring roles in The Saint, The Persuaders! and seven James Bond films
He considered himself to be only the fourth best actor to have played Ian Fleming’s secret-service agent James Bond on screen: in his estimation, he came in behind Daniel Craig (whom he called “the Bond”), Sean Connery and George Lazenby. Though Moore was rarely regarded as the best or most definitive Bond, his inimitable humour and panache made him many viewers’ favourite. His tally of seven films beginning with Live and Let Die (1973) and ending with A View to a Kill (1985).
Irreverence and knowingness were integral to his interpretation. But he also seemed far more plausibly endangered as Bond than Connery had ever been. Part of the viewer’s affection and even concern for him could be attributed to his advanced age: Moore was already 45 when he was cast as Bond, whereas Connery made his debut at 32 and Craig was 37. This contributed to the sense that Moore’s wellbeing was actively at risk on screen. Subjected to punishing levels of G-force on a flight simulator in Moonraker (1979) or dismantling a bomb while dressed as a clown in Octopussy (1983), he looked uniquely vulnerable. Clambering up the Eiffel Tower and the Golden Gate Bridge in A View to a Kill seemed inadvisable behaviour for a man of 56.
His range was modest, as he was the first to admit. He credited his success to “99% luck”, and singled out the 1970 supernatural thriller The Man Who Haunted Himself, in which he played a businessman who appears to be living two lives, as “the only film I was allowed to act in”. Such self-deprecation only encouraged critics to contribute their own jibes: Anthony Lane of the New Yorker said that Moore “needed a stunt double for his acting scenes” in the Bond films.
Moore became an object of mild mockery after the 1980s satirical TV show Spitting Image featured a puppet of him that expressed its emotions solely through its eyebrows
He was born in London, to Lily (nee Pope), a housewife, and George Moore, a police constable whose responsibilities included drawing accident scenes to be used in evidence in court. Roger himself had artistic ambitions early in life. He left school at 15 to accept a job as a trainee animator at Publicity Picture Productions, but was sacked a few months later when he neglected to collect a can of film.
Tagging along with friends in 1945 to auditions for film extras, Moore was picked to appear in a non-speaking role as a legionnaire in Caesar and Cleopatra, starring Vivien Leigh and Claude Rains. The film’s first assistant director, Brian Desmond Hurst, took Moore under his wing and encouraged him to audition for Rada. When Moore was accepted, Hurst paid his fees. He left at 18 to become a supporting player in the repertory company of the Arts theatre, Cambridge, before he was called up for military service. Posted to Germany, he succeeded in getting a transfer to the Combined Services Entertainment unit. In 1946, he had married Doorn Van Steyn, a fellow Rada student.
After three years in the army, Moore returned to acting, landing small roles in theatre and film, as well as appearing as a model for knitting patterns and in photo stories. He moved to New York City in 1953 with his second wife, the singer Dorothy Squires (Moore and Van Steyn had divorced earlier that year), and began getting acting work on US television. He signed a contract with MGM and was cast in a series of unmemorable films, including The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954) and Interrupted Melody (1955). Returning to Britain, he took the lead in a 1958 television adventure series adapted from Walter Scott’s novel Ivanhoe.
Other regular TV roles of increasing size followed, including two western series, The Alaskans and Maverick, before Moore finally became a bona fide star, playing the crime-fighter and playboy Simon Templar in the popular television crime series The Saint. Produced by Lew Grade, it ran from 1962 until 1969. Moore, who also directed nine episodes, brought a suavity to the part which makes it a clear precursor of his work as James Bond; even his habit in early episodes of looking directly at the camera prefigures the later Bonds, where he all but winks at the audience.
Two years after The Saint ended, Moore was cast once more as a playboy adventurer in another Grade TV series, The Persuaders!, in which he was teamed with Tony Curtis. The odd-couple pairing (Moore, as Lord Brett Sinclair, was dapper; Curtis, playing Danny Wilde, was a ruffian) and the action staged in glamorous locations made the series a hit. Moore also directed two episodes. During this period, he was appointed the head of Brut Films, an offshoot of the cologne manufacturer. He tried unsuccessfully to entice Cary Grant to make his acting comeback in a Brut production, but succeeded in recruiting him as one of the company’s advisers. Moore was also instrumental in the making of A Touch of Class, the 1973 romantic comedy for which Glenda Jackson won her second Oscar.
His brief tenure as a mogul was abbreviated when he signed a three-film contract to play James Bond, a part which demanded no adjustment to the persona he had already established. Live and Let Die, an attempt to modernise the series with gritty blaxploitation trappings, still had its share of daftness; in one scene, Bond escapes across water using a row of alligators as stepping stones. Moore’s performance here and in his second outing, The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), was cool and confident.
But it is his third Bond film, The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), which is rightly considered his pinnacle. The writing, direction and production design were impressive, the action more than usually taut, and the balance of comedy and suspense acutely judged as in the iconic opening sequence in which Bond escapes falling to his death by opening a parachute emblazoned with the Union Jack. (The film was released in the Queen’s silver jubilee year.) Moore appeared relaxed but never complacent. He even came up with some of the movie’s nicest touches, such as the moment when Bond, emerging from an underwater drive, deposits a small fish out of his car window.
In between the Bond films, Moore moonlighted in other roles, including Gold (1974), a mining adventure shot in Johannesburg, the romantic comedy That Lucky Touch (1975) and the war movie Shout at the Devil (1975), co-starring Lee Marvin. But nothing came close to eclipsing his day job.
Outside the Bond series, he rarely deviated from action, appearing in quick succession in Escape to Athena (1979), North Sea Hijack and The Sea Wolves (both 1980). The Wild Geese (1978), a clunky, crypto-racist thriller about ageing mercenaries, was unusual in showcasing a more brutal side to Moore. Though he was seen pushing villains to their deaths in The Spy Who Loved Me and For Your Eyes Only (1981), nothing compared to the opening scene of The Wild Geese, in which he kills a drug dealer by forcing him to ingest large quantities of cocaine at gunpoint.
Moore devoted much of his time to being a goodwill ambassador for Unicef; it was for this humanitarian work that he was knighted in 2003.