Roger & Me – The Chap—
The first time I received a birthday card from Sir Roger Moore felt like the end of all presents, and the beginning of a serene unending gratitude to the mysterious forces who govern this orb of wickedness and wonder, known to many of us as Planet Earth. I’ve always been amazed by the human capacity for belief. Whether you choose to worship a deity, devote yourself to collecting relics from the last days of Diana Dors or are only truly happy when immersed in the syncopations and rhythm of cricket on the radio, you know what it is for something to enlarge the sphere of your mind. The first time I saw Roger Moore, the frontier of my face dissolved and I began to imagine a new path, one in which charm, empathy and generosity emerged as real contenders on the surface of aplenty shattered by one too many supremacy struggles. All I needed to do was grow a mole on my cheek and find out how to raise my eyebrow, and my journey into offering that little bit Moore could begin in earnest.
For Your Eyes Only was the first Bond film I saw at the cinema, in Bournemouth with my brother Will. It may not be Bond’s finest but to me that film is a sacred doctrine. I distinctly remember the atmosphere in the Odeon as I, an eight-year-old with a pudding-bowl haircut drenched in navy corduroy, began to realize that choices need to be made in this life. Is corduroy the answer? Could there be another fabric beyond corduroy? If that chap on the big screen who seems to know he is at best moderately good at his job, and happy to transmit this information to all but the sleepiest of us, could there be a way to seize this life and deploy one’s personality? Could that, in fact, become a professional occupation? You’ll have heard people criticize and praise Roger – and indeed Connery and Caine – for either being “the same” or “themselves” in movies, depending on our point of view. Either way, these three made a decent living dressing up and drinking, which seemed to me to be the best possible outcome to any scenario which didn’t involve winning the lottery, inheriting a castle or marrying Princess Leia. Since none of those options were immediately apparent, I became a devotee of the Moore Method. Embrace what little skill you have, deploy it appropriately with relentless dedication and hope for the best.
Little by little, I advanced. From learning to order a signature drink betraying no irony, such as my fabled Malibu and Pineapple years (many bruises), to my discovery that wearing a safari suit in teenage years, while repelling 95% of love-interests, had a rare 5% hit rate which I regarded as evidence that this dress code could yet blossom into the uniform of a nouveau Casanova. It wasn’t until I began to devise my own rare form of dress which invariably involved the clash of floral shirts with check jackets that things really started to look up and I found myself thrown out of fewer and fewer television studios. And as they looked up, disaster struck: Roger Moore collapsed on stage in New York in 2003.
He was my hero and I was beset with grief that I’d never had the chance to thank him for the inspiration. My friend, director and animator Dan Chambers, created a short cartoon ‘Roger Moore’s Requiem’ to assuage my grief. It tackled, in rather a Verdi’s Requiem sort of way, what may happen to Roger’s eternal soul in the event that he had the effrontery to check out from this grubby galactic pearl too early. By the miracle of the Internet, the Requiem reached Roger who declared himself “tickled pink”. It led to The Fly Who Loved Me, a short animation which Dan and I subsequently put together for UNICEF, in which Roger played the part of Father Christmas and I a fly who volunteers to pull the sleigh in place of his reindeer. I remember walking into the suite at the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo to record with Roger. The door slid aside, a bit part in this titanic meeting of worshipper and idol, and there he was, resplendent, genial, the self-deprecating 007 idol of my childhood, watching the French Open tennis. His first words? “Hang on lads, I’ll just turn this crap off”.
But here comes the twist. Within moments, the hero of my childhood became my hero for completely new and different reasons. Aside from his top tip of how get people to smile for a photograph (just before the click of the camera, murmur in your best Rogery-croon “witty titty sex”), he spoke with gentle determination to help tackle issues that blight the lives of children around the world, from goiter to HIV, and equal education for girls and boys. Compassion, empathy, action, these are the engaging tributes that linger as I reflect on the sad loss of my dear friend.
In the years that followed, Roger was always evocative, immensely engaging and never less than a force ten terrific gust of goodness. He once told me over lunch of his years before the war, remembering “the sun beating down on the dust and the scent of a bakery in the distance”. He revelled in language and his voice was the core of his presence and artistry. I remember meeting Roger backstage at the British Library to hear him read Rudyard Kipling’s If . His voice was astonishing in its richness – a never-ending carpet of opulence that slides deeper into eternity with every passing day. His comic timing, while used with considerable self-deprecation in the Bond films, is gently spectacular in The Persuaders and The Saint, always happy to let the scene, script and cast breathe gently and expand the life in the moment. His empathy and timing as an actor was one thing, but it was also a real tenet of his vastly generous spirit. Specifically, I recall his kindness in inviting my parents backstage at his recent touring show in Exeter when he declared to my Dad “Ha! You’re even more Olly than he is!” My daughters will remember wandering into my office to find me on a Skype call with him, believing me to be engaged in a top-secret communication with James Bond himself.
How to remember him? His signature recipe for The Moore Martini is a good enough start: add a teaspoon of Vermouth to a jug, discard. Pour in a bottle of gin, then decant into individual glasses placed in the freezer with a lemon twist. It has to be said, they do taste very Moore-ish, and of course he adored his food and drink. I remember lunching in Monte Carlo’s Café de Paris with him when a health scare compelled His Rogesty to eat steamed fish, but he insisted I ordered and devoured his favourite liver and bacon on his behalf. He ate it with his eyes. But his influence on me stretches far beyond food and drink. For years growing up I practiced curling my eyebrow in the mirror – even today my two daughters are remarkably adept at mimicking my quizzical stare over the breakfast table as I croon in my best Roger voice on the status of their homework.
Roger was unfailingly courteous, charming, funny and considerate. He adored his wife Kristina and his children, Deborah, Geoffrey and Christian, along with Gareth Owen, his friend and mine, biographer and beloved assistant. From drinking Jack Daniels with Sinatra to having his toenails painted by Peter Sellers, Roger’s treasury of memories is sadly lost, but their glimmer remains in those lucky enough to share his recollections.
I remember, for instance, discovering his love of Sancerre, as he regaled me over a glass or two with tales of a trip to the Loire Valley with Michael Caine and Leslie Bricusse. One can only imagine the high jinks.
I was on my way to record an interview with Sir Michael Parkinson when my brother Will Smith, also a devoted fan of Roger, texted me: “Have you seen the news? Roger has gone to the great ski chalet in the sky”. The day stopped along with my heart, but I was lucky enough to be able to share memories of Roger, a mutual inspiration, with Sir Michael. I was due to record a retrospective with Roger, an overview of his career to be broadcast on BBC Radio 2 this October, to mark his 90th birthday. It will still be recorded, as a tribute to His Rogesty, with a line-up of his friends picking out tracks to recall key moments of his life in service to keeping the British end up. The news of his death stripped me; the twinkle in his eye that never failed to dazzle, snuffed. They say you should never meet your hero. But in fact you must. If they don’t measure up to your expectations, they should never have been your hero in the first place. As far as Roger and me go, nobody did it better. I only hope there’s a guest room in the great ski chalet in the sky. With lashings of Sancerre.