For many of us, Roger Moore entered our lives in the opening moments of 1973’s Live and Let Die, eyeing us up through a crack in the door, eyebrow raised to the position it would unceasingly remain for the next 12 years in his role as the world’s greatest spy, James Bond.
This would be his first of seven films for the franchise. While his predecessors never really caught up with the increasing absurdity of Bond’s world (culminating in Sean Connery’s uncertain performance in the overly campy Diamonds Are Forever), Moore duly noted the wackier villains, faster cars, and smarter gadgets.
The result was a much-needed sense of direction in the series, which Moore achieved by firmly rooting his character in its own sense of ridiculousness. Embracing the increasing unrealism of the role with a smirk, Moore’s Bond probably fired off more one-liners than bullets at his foes.
Paradoxically, the silliness with which Moore approached the role is the most cited reason his interpretation is rarely counted among the best. But with hindsight, it’s easy to see how he saw this as the way forward for Bond. Moore’s training ground was the swish debauchery of post-war spy fictions and cop show-era television.
If the generation-defying attraction of any Bond lies in the fact that each era is its own time capsule, then no one was better placed to carry him through the bell-bottomed, randy excesses of the 1970s than Moore.
An alumnus of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, he went on to fill the proto-Bond roles of slick criminal Simon Templar in hit thriller TV show The Saint, and as the high-class playboy Brett Sinclair in The Persuaders.
These shows alone succeeded in etching themselves into the face of classic television. His playful and flirtatious take on the hard-nosed masculinity of the time was refreshing for 1970s audiences: “I always said Sean played Bond as a killer, and I played Bond as a lover”.
By the time Moore was finished with acting, he was almost 60. In the next few decades of his life, he would give us a lesson on growing old with humility and good humour. Unlike the heavyweights who squirm at any mention of their most memorable roles, Moore was incapable of such vanity. Showing a fascinating (and often hilarious) aptitude for reflecting on his past, he became a favourite on TV guest spots and chat shows.
With the encouragement of his friend Audrey Hepburn Moore became a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in 1991. It’s easy to sneer at the cynical world of post-Hollywood philanthropy, but there was always a sense that Moore saw his work as a humanitarian ambassador, not Bond, as the role of his lifetime.
Actually, It’s a shame he isn’t more revered for the public-spiritedness of his later years. While he rode out the familiar extravagances of celebrity, he never dared to take any of it for granted. it’s worth noting his knighthood is for charitable services, not acting – though as the self-appointed ‘fourth best Bond’, this sat just right with Moore.
Moore always believed himself to be more of an entertainer than an actor, and was famously modest about his on-screen abilities. He attributed lifelong successes in TV and film to little else than his own genuine traits of charm, cheek and, like the bullet-repelling Bond, a knack for being in the right place at the right time. But if his acting range barely stretched further than his real-life personality, it was never any less exciting for it. In fact, it never needed to.