15 June 2017
Event film critic Matthew Bond shows why no one did it better than Roger Moore
He had the sexiest girls, made a trio of 007 classics and even managed to look suave in a Seventies safari suit. Event’s film critic – the name’s Bond, Matthew Bond – pays tribute to the spy he loved the most...
When Jane Seymour described Roger Moore as ‘my Bond’, anyone who was born in the Sixties knew exactly what the Live And Let Die star meant. As a generation, we were too young to appreciate the authentic muscular authority of Sean Connery, but when Moore took over the role with Live And Let Die in 1973 we were ready, more than ready.
Moore had everything. He was handsome, terminally charming and, best of all, he could raise one eyebrow. It didn’t matter that the dreadful fashions of the day meant that, from time to time, he would be obliged to rush around dispatching baddies while wearing a safari suit or bleached denim, Moore had the presence and, more importantly, the wit to get away with it. This was a Bond who was funny; this was ‘our Bond’.
Over the next 12 years he would make the part his own, churning out an astonishing seven films over that period. True, they declined in quality, not just as he got older (he would be 57 when his last, A View To A Kill, came out) but as the Bond producers went through a period when they seemed to be running out of stories and creativity. But that trio of early Moore films – Live And Let Die, The Man With The Golden Gun and The Spy Who Loved Me – are among the best in the Bond canon.
He had the best Bond girls too – not just the lovely Seymour, as the unforgettable fortune-telling Solitaire, but Britt Ekland, Maud Adams, Barbara Bach, Carole Bouquet, Fiona Fullerton, Alison Doody… I could go on. Bond did, Moore did.
It helped, of course, that he seemed to have been auditioning for the role of 007 for virtually his entire career. Again, we children of the Sixties were too young to appreciate his stylish turn as Simon Templar in The Saint, but we’d seen the repeats and I’ve wanted a Volvo P1800 – Templar’s trademark car – ever since.
But far more important , at least to us, was his role as Lord Brett Sinclair in The Persuaders!, the extraordinary TV series that, for its all-too-short run (just 24 episodes in all), brought Champagne, Mediterranean sunshine and a bevy of beautiful girls to the dark days of the permanently strike-bound early Seventies. These days it would probably be branded as escapist, sexist nonsense, but at the time it was most glamorous thing I had ever seen. This, I confidently assumed, was what real life would be like. It helped that it had one of the greatest theme tunes the great John Barry ever wrote.
In a way that anticipated what Netflix is doing to television today, Lew Grade’s creation brought real film stars to the small screen, not just Moore – pitch perfect as the super-suave, immaculately dressed Sinclair – but Tony Curtis too, as his more uncouth American sidekick, Danny Wilde. Curtis had been in a film with Marilyn Monroe – Some Like It Hot – and was a proper Hollywood star. And if Curtis was, so was Moore. I set about growing my first pair of Roger Moore sideburns. Four decades later, I still had them.
Although Moore seemed to have been around for ever, Bond apart, he didn’t make a lot of films; not good ones, anyway. He was never anything like as prolific as his good friend, Sir Michael Caine. Two of the giants of British cinema, it’s a shame they didn’t work together more often or in better films than Michael Winner’s 1990 comedy, Bullseye!
But there are two non-Bond films I would definitely single out – The Wild Geese (1978), which may not be the best action-thriller you’ve ever seen but defines an era, both with its contentious subject matter – African despots, British bankers, freelance mercenaries – and its stellar British cast. If Richard Burton and Richard Harris provide the hell-raising danger, it’s Moore who – naturally enough – provides the class.
But, if anyone still does retrospective seasons, or you’re looking for an unusual tribute to watch on-line, keep an eye out for The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970), a strange psychological thriller in which the famously self-deprecating Moore himself thought he gave one of his best performances, and is absolutely typical of the psychedelic decade that had already turned him into a star.
One of my lifelong regrets is that I never met the man properly himself, although I did get close. A few years ago, I was flying down to the Cannes Film Festival when that instantly recognisable voice came over the Tannoy.
‘Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, this is Roger Moore recording a, er, recording...’ he managed, before collapsing into giggles. But once he’d recovered his composure he gave an eloquent and impassioned appeal for funds on behalf of Unicef, the United Nations children’s charity he had worked for tirelessly over a quarter of a century and which he regarded as his greatest achievement.
When he finally finished and emerged from behind the curtain, the whole plane burst into applause and small change – and I suspect quite large change – found its way to the front of the plane in a way it rarely does. Twenty minutes later, at Nice airport, I found myself standing beside him at the baggage carousel. He was heading to his home in Monaco; I was heading in the opposite direction to the glitz and glamour of Cannes. It was probably the nearest I will ever get to a proper Persuaders! moment.
But other members of my family did know him. My father, the actor Philip Bond, who died in January this year, made an episode of The Saint with Moore in 1962, while my sister, Samantha – Miss Moneypenny to Pierce Brosnan’s Bond, of course – met him at several 007-themed occasions and worked with him on the video that helped London secure the 2012 Olympics.
It was while filming the latter – outside MI6, where else? – that she plucked up the courage to approach him and tell him that ‘my father wants to send you his love’.
He paused, raised his left eyebrow and bought himself a few seconds with a hallmark ‘Ah, Moneypenny’, presumably while he did a bit of mental arithmetic and made the connections between real Bonds and screen Bonds.
Then he flashed a smile. ‘Oh, Philip, lovely man, do send mine back,’ before stopping her dead by naming the episode (The Elusive Ellshaw) the director, the writer and the date of transmission as if it was yesterday rather than four decades ago.
That was Roger Moore; that was my Bond. I’ll be raising both a martini and an eyebrow to him this weekend.
By Matthew Bond for Event Magazine
Published: 22:57, 27 May 2017