James Bond is like Dr Who: our favourite actor in the role tends to be the one we grow up with. But sometimes a Bond or Doctor from an earlier or later era will overcome the power of that first exposure. Sean Connery was always more popular as Bond than Roger Moore, even though Moore played Bond for longer and in more films.
Moore didn’t mind a bit. This veteran actor, who has just passed away at the age of eighty-nine, was always modest about his own acting skills. An interviewer once asked him: “Does it worry you that you’re hardly being stretched as an actor, playing Bond?” Moore replied: “Maybe it’s just as well.” He didn’t take himself or his roles seriously, saying that his success was 99% luck. But he was one of the most successful actors of his generation and was one of the most famous men in the world during his heyday as Bond in the 1970s and early 1980s.
He had been born in London in 1927, son of a policeman, and went into acting because people told him he looked good. He was tall, handsome and debonair, well-suited to the role of romantic hero or action lead. He signed a seven-year contract with MGM, perhaps the biggest name in Hollywood, but his early films were unmemorable and his route to superstardom would have to run through television before he returned to the big screen. He played Ivanhoe, the adventurous medieval knight created by Sir Walter Scott, then jumped forward several centuries into the modern era for a role as Simon Templar, the suave ladies’ man known as The Saint.
Then he teamed with Tony Curtis in The Persuaders!, the comedy-action series about two playboy-conmen about the Riviera. Curtis was a streetwise New Yorker called Danny Wilde, Moore the dapper British aristocrat Lord Sinclair. He carried the charm and elegance of that role to his next – the one with which he would be associated for the rest of his life. Sean Connery had retired as Bond; George Lazenby took up the mantle for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service; now it was Moore’s turn. He thought before he performed: he had to bring something distinctive to the role, because he knew he couldn’t complete with the Glaswegian Connery for toughness and grit.
So Moore played Bond with a twinkle in his eye. There were one-liners and sight-gags aplenty amid the chases and fights as Moore kept the franchise in healthy profit from his first appearance in Live and Let Die in 1973 to his last in A View to a Kill in 1985. In total, he played Bond six times, entertaining millions of people in almost every nation on earth. And that was it: he was type-cast. “James Bond” was always the first thing anyone thought when they heard his name or saw his face. Moore didn’t mind: “Being eternally known as Bond has no downside,” he said after he retired. He appeared in more films, often sending himself up, but the final decades of his life were mostly devoted to his role as a goodwill ambassador for Unicef.
He continued to make friends wherever he went and, unlike many other actors and celebrities, was always on easy terms with the media. The sense of fun and style he brought to Bond means that he will be remembered with affection and nostalgia by millions for many years to come. Many more skilful actors have enjoyed much less success, but Moore would have been the first to acknowledge that himself. “Luck, dear boy!” he would have said as he raised a glass of champagne. But there was more to Moore than that: he concealed a sharp intelligence behind the self-deprecation and he deserved every second of the success he enjoyed for so many years.