By Roger Moore
336 pages, It Books (publisher)
Review by Hereward L.M. Proops
When Daniel Craig debuted in 2006’s Casino Royale, critics and moviegoers were in agreement that he made a great James Bond. With his chiselled features and raw physicality, he brought an icy, aggressive edge to the film series that has, amazingly, been going for over 40 years.
James Bond has undergone a number of transformations in those four decades. Before Craig’s thuggish assassin, Pierce Brosnan played the secret agent with a level of smugness that was almost unbearable. Timothy Dalton and George Lazenby both had brief spells in the role but neither seemed to fit in the tuxedo made famous by Sean Connery. Interestingly, the longest-serving Bond is also the most commonly derided by critics.
Roger Moore, the English actor and consummate “luvvie”, played a suave and charismatic Bond with his tongue planted firmly in his cheek and is for this reason often dismissed as the lightweight of the series.
This, in my opinion, is tantamount to blasphemy. Whilst Moore’s Bond strayed very far from Ian Fleming’s original creation, he brought some much-needed humour to the films and remains, for many, the quintessential Bond. I’m a huge fan of the Bond films and the 007 I grew up with was Roger Moore. From Live and Let Die to A View to a Kill, the movies starring Moore were jaunty, overblown and, most importantly, bloody good fun. Who can forget the amazing stunt at the start of The Spy Who Loved Me when Bond skis off a mountain only to deploy a parachute emblazoned with the Union Jack? Okay, so it’s easy to sneer at the fashion nightmares on display (safari suits, double-breasted blazers and -gasp- loafers?!) but it is hard to resist that arched eye-brow and the corny one-liners. A 2008 poll (on the moviefans.com website) found Roger Moore to be the “best Bond” with a whopping 56% of the vote. With such a loyal fan-base, it is understandable why Moore finally relented and penned his autobiography after years of refusing to commit pen to paper.
Starting, in typical biographical style, with his impoverished-but-happy childhood in East London, Moore takes us on an alarmingly frank and honest journey through his eventful life. Covering his years in repertory theatre and career in Hollywood as a fledgling television actor, he doesn’t pull any punches and is able to reflect on his experiences with the same pleasantly self-deprecating tone that has endeared him to so many. Happily aware of his own shortcomings as an actor, he frequently reflects on his good fortune to have achieved such a level of success. His casting as Simon Templar in the hugely popular 60s series The Saint made him a household name and a subsequent role in the equally lauded The Persuaders cemented his reputation as a global star.
Moore seems equally happy sharing tales of rubbing shoulders with Hollywood’s A-listers as he is in relating the numerous medical problems that (as a self-confessed hypochondriac) have plagued him since an early age. He is unswervingly honest and unapologetic when detailing his reasons for leaving the UK and living abroad as a tax-exile. Approaching his critics and detractors in a similar manner, Moore makes no effort to hide from his failures. He acknowledges when movies have been received poorly or performed badly at the box office but does not dwell on such criticism. Similarly honest about his failed marriages, Moore is able to reflect on his own foibles with humility.
The real charm of Moore’s autobiography is the way in which his natural charm comes across to the reader. His writing is uncomplicated and this simplicity lends itself to the largely anecdotal structure of the book. Reading it is akin to having a conversation with the great man himself, complete with digressions and lengthy, rambling reminiscences.
Whilst this loquacious style is certainly personable, it does not lend itself to the smoothest narrative as Moore doesn’t hesitate to skip forwards or backwards in time to relate another witty, yet ultimately inconsequential, incident. However, when measured against how entertaining the book is to read, this is a minor complaint. Moore is not a writer and has no pretences of trying to be one. This is not a work of literature and one would be mistaken for approaching it as such. This is a light-hearted trip down memory lane with an elderly thespian who is understandably proud of his life’s achievements. Expect lots of name-dropping; in his sixty-odd years in showbusiness, Moore appears to have met virtually everyone worth meeting on both sides of the Atlantic. Expect a large number of “colourful” stories; he’s the first to admit that he has a rather youthful sense of humour and Moore seems to take great pleasure in relating some of the more risqué incidents. That’s not to say that they aren’t funny, but those anticipating the sober memoirs of a mature actor are likely to find themselves picking their jaws off the floor.
Having led us through his acting career and his three marriages, the final chapters detail his philanthropic work with UNICEF. Above all his other laurels, Moore seems most proud of this charitable work. Indeed, it was his tireless efforts for UNICEF that led him to be knighted in 2003. He is not conceited or boastful about his labours, but humble about the opportunity he has been given to make a real difference to the lives of many in developing nations. This is the side of Roger Moore that I came to the book knowing least about but it is his passion and zeal for this work that will remain with me the longest. Clearly tired of pretending to save the world on the silver screen, Moore now does it for real and is loving it.
The greatest Bond? Undoubtedly. Greatest living Englishman? Quite probably.
Hereward L. M. Proops