Decades ago, I found my six-year-old self reluctantly seated in a packed auditorium. The only item of interest was my pack of popcorn. But soon enough my attention was caught by a man in a black tux, who rather unexpectedly fired his gun making the screen blood red. The audience erupted into cheers and whistles, while a combination of intriguing visuals and captivating background score was more than enough to overwhelm me and whet my appetite for more. I may have dropped my popcorn, but I could be scarcely bothered about it.
As the film began, our hero found himself onboard a flight and in the arms of a beautiful girl when he was rudely interrupted by the pilot, with plans of an abrupt mid-air exit. In the ensuing fistfight, our hero is forcibly ejected (not to mention without a parachute) out of the fuselage, into the blue skies.
Nevertheless, he manages to land safely by conveniently taking over the pilot’s chute and mind you all this happens during his free fall. The plot of the film was simple; the villain had rather modest plans of destruction of the planet, eradication of human beings and the creation of a “new master race”. What the villain had not planned for was our resourceful hero armed with his wits and a handful of gadgets.
In a matter of hours, the sinister plan was thwarted, the villain was eliminated and our hero once again found himself in the arms of another beautiful girl, while his space vessel hurtled back towards the Earth. The film was eleventh in the James Bond series—Moonraker, with Roger Moore playing James Bond. This was my very first cinematic experience; it was love at first sight.
Moore’s first claim to fame was playing lead in the swashbuckling TV series Ivanhoe. However, global stardom was only achieved after the spy-thriller TV series The Saint, where Moore played the mysterious globe-trotting troubleshooter Simon Templar. The series ran for six years and played forever in re-runs. Bigger successes followed as Moore played the Bollinger drinking, womanising spy in seven, consecutive Bond movies.
Standing at six-feet two-inches, with a rich baritone voice and an uppercut English accent, Moore was always the ideal English gentleman despite his character’s obvious traits. Always impeccably dressed with the loveliest ladies in his arms, while continuously rounding up the most sinister villains, Moore was everyone’s dream.
Turning to Moore’s craft, it is best when natural and seamless. And Moore had certainly mastered this art. Roles that challenged his acting potential were rare; nevertheless, when an opportunity presented itself Roger Moore always rose to the occasion. He was not only exceptional while cast as a hero but was as convincing when cast in The Man Who Haunted Himself or the troubled psychiatrist in The Naked Face.
When asked to analyze his career, unlike most self-obsessed and narcissistic superstars, Moore was remarkably self-effacing acknowledging that his acting range was always something between the two extremes of “raises left eyebrow” and “raises right eyebrow”. He often said that he enjoyed being an overpaid actor. When asked about his acting technique he said that it was all about being prepared to “get up in the morning, say your lines, and not trip over the furniture.”
His memoir aptly entitled ‘My Word is My Bond’ is a chronicle of his journey from his humble beginnings to global superstardom. The memoir itself was witty and self-deprecating, devoid of any dirt dishing or mudslinging like Moore himself. This very sentiment continued when he embarked on ‘An Evening with Sir Roger’ tour that saw him regale audiences as he conversed with his biographer as much as his audience about his celebrated career.
Off screen, Moore was on a “more satisfying” mission as a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF. He was also a fervent advocate for children’s welfare. He traveled extensively to promote the importance of education, health care, sanitation and clean water. Moore also received numerous recognitions “for his work battling child trafficking as special representative to UNICEF”. Moore was also an animal rights’ activist. He personally financed a documentary against foie gras—food product made of the liver of a duck or goose—depicting the barbaric force-feeding of ducks to ensure enlargement of their livers. This documentary persuaded major UK stores to take foie gras off their shelves.
In recognition of his stellar career and his humanitarian work, Moore was conferred with numerous awards including the Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1999 and the Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) in 2003.
A few years back when I was holidaying in Udaipur, I met an elderly guide who narrated an account of a shoot in the city. It was Bond’s Octopussy, which was shot in 1982. During the shoot, overenthusiastic fans had descended onto the sets hoping to catch a glimpse of their favourite star resulting in delays and disruptions. To keep matters under control, a constabulary force was deployed, boundaries were painted with a stern ‘no trespassing’ warning.
It was during one such display of force that Moore walked over to the crowd, signed autographs and requested the constables to restrain themselves, saving the bystanders from the wrath of the constables on ground. He could never forget this act of kindness, the guide told me, while noting that many of our Indian stars aren’t too concerned if their fans are badly treated in similar situations.
The news of Moore’s sudden demise came as a shock to fans all over the world. Largely because his entertaining films were a significant part of our childhood during the 80s. With Roger Moore gone, a fun part of our life seems to be lost permanently.
Growing old is natural yet it seems so unnatural when it comes to our film icons like Moore, who have touched our lives in so many ways. Now what remains are memories of entertainment that Sir Roger brought through his films, books and appearances. Even more significant are the numerous lives he has improved through his tireless work of charity. Here’s raising a toast to a great life—both on and off screen.