© Eon Productions
I feel slightly hypocritical to be paying tribute to Sir Roger Moore, the movie star and the third and longest-serving of the cinema’s James Bonds, who passed away yesterday at the age of 89.
As a serious Bond aficionado, especially regarding the original novels written by Ian Fleming, I was generally not impressed by the Bond movies Sir Roger made between 1974 and 1985, nor by the easy-going way that he inhabited the role. And during the five years this blog has been in existence I was frequently unkind to him, making cruel puns about ‘Roger Mortis’ and the Bond movies getting ‘Rogered’ in the 1970s and 1980s, and dismissing his acting ability with ungentlemanly comparisons to planks and floorboards and blocks of wood. Once, I even sniped that the makers of Guardians of the Galaxy (2015) should have hired him to play Groot the sentient alien tree rather than Vin Diesel.
However, two years ago, in a fit of remorse at my un-Rogerly ways, I posted a piece detailing all the admirable things about the venerable actor. I mentioned how his third Bond movie, 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me, was actually really good. I pointed out that he was surprisingly effective as a rich, smug businessman going to pieces while a mysterious, malign and unseen doppelganger invades and takes over his life in the creepy psychological horror film The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970). I also enthused about his 1971-72 TV series The Persuaders. To be honest, the show itself wasn’t much cop but the theme music, composed by John Barry, made for the best TV theme tune ever.
And I highlighted the amount of humanitarian work he’d done as a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, since 1991. And he didn’t just express good will towards humans – he’d “also been involved in the campaign by PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, against the gruesome processes used in the making of foie gras and he helped to persuade the department store Selfridges to stop stocking the stuff.”
© The Independent
One thing mentioned in Sir Roger’s obituaries that I hadn’t known about was his loathing of fox hunting. Despite the languidly aristocratic air he had both as Bond and as his real-life self, he slammed the brutal upper-class pastime with the declaration: “Sport hunting is a sickness, a perversion and a danger and should be recognised as such. People who get their amusement from hunting and killing a defenceless animal can only be suffering from a mental disorder. In a world with boundless opportunities for amusement, it’s detestable that anyone would choose to get their kicks from killing others who ask for nothing from life but the chance to remain alive.”
To be honest, if I hadn’t been obsessed with the Bond books and hadn’t formed some strong opinions about how Bond should be portrayed on screen, and if I’d come across Moore’s Bond movies at a younger age – I didn’t see any of them until I was a sullen teen of 14 or 15 years old – I probably would have really enjoyed them: all that funny, silly but exciting stuff with Jaws, Nick-Nack and Sheriff Pepper, all those laser-gun battles in outer space and gondoliers that turn into speedboats and alligators that can be used as stepping stones when you’re making your escape from Mr Big’s henchmen. (Indeed, Daniel Craig did something similar with Komodo dragons in 2012’s Skyfall.) As it turned out, millions of other filmgoers, less severe in their tastes than I was, really did enjoy them – and as I’ve admitted elsewhere on this blog, the Bond franchise was fantastically lucrative when Sir Roger played its title character.
I often wondered why the Bond producers cast Roger Moore in the first place. But recently I read a book called James Bond: The Man and his World by Henry Chancellor, which observes that Moore was first suggested for the role by the Supreme Being in the Bond-verse, Ian Fleming himself. According to Chancellor, in the early 1960s when the first of the Bond movies was on the drawing board – and before co-producer Harry Saltzman got his way and cast Sean Connery in the role – Fleming “initially suggested his friend David Niven. When it was pointed out that Niven was too old he suggested the young Roger Moore, who was starring as The Saint on television.” Ironically, both of Fleming’s suggestions would eventually get to play Bond, for Niven turned up as 007 in the ‘rogue’ 1967 production of Casino Royale, a swinging-sixties would-be comedy so dire and unfunny that it makes even the worst of Roger Moore’s Bond films look like masterpieces.