In November 2005, Sir Roger Moore came to India as a UNICEF goodwill ambassador to promote – not a film – but iodised salt. A bit slow of gait and needing a bit of help every now and then, the man who played James Bond in the most films – seven – still retained his wit and charm and that famous incredulous style with which he played the character.
After Sean Connery had made five Bond films, he stepped down but his replacement, Australian actor George Lazenby turned out to be a flop in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Connery did one more (Diamonds Are Forever) and then the producers brought in Moore, who they had been pursuing. He was then already a well known actor in the television series The Saint, in which he played a suave, Robin Hood kind of character, who wore Saville Row suits and stole from the very rich. Moore carried the same coolness to the James Bond role—nobody wore a suit the way this quintessential Englishman did. (For the record, Connery reprised the character in Never Say Never Again in 1983 but it is not counted as an ‘official’ Bond film.)
Where Connery was all seriousness and ruthlessness with the occasional witty remark, Moore was frivolous and light hearted with the ability to suddenly turn serious. In an interview in 2005 to this writer, he said that Bond was an extension of his own personality. “It was a ridiculous piece of fun…nothing more than a comic strip, good for a laugh,” he had said-with a raised eyebrow, naturally.
The 007 character as played by Moore was unrelated to the one written by Ian Fleming, yet the films in which he acted, for all their over the top gadgets and girls, remain among the most entertaining—The Man With the Golden Gun can take its place among the best in the overall list.
There was more to Moore than just Bond. Born to a policeman father and a housewife mother, who was was born in Calcutta, Moore trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art but left after two terms. His early work was mainly in films that flopped but he took to television in a big way, acting in long running serials in the 1950s and early 1960s. It was The Saint, a mystery series (which eventually turned into a spy series) that turned him into a star.
Moore’s first film, Live and Let Die was a hit as were all the subsequent ones; the public in the 1960s and ‘70s seemed to like the camp flavor of those Bond movies–the outlandish plots and the larger than life villains such as Scaramanga (Man with the Golden Gun) and Jaws (Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker), with his teeth made of steel. He continued for 12 years, ending with A View to Kill, by which time he was a not-so-young 58 but still at it with the lithe Grace Jones.
Octopussy had brought Moore to India and among Bond buffs, it is considered to be one of the worst ever made, though the presence of Kabir Bedi and Vijay Amritraj in a cameo role aroused great interest among Indian fans. In 1979, Moore had also come to India to shoot The Sea Wolves in Goa, an adventure about Operation Creek, a covert attack on German submarines during the Second World War.
The character never left him and he acted in a few small films, such as The Fly Who Loved Me and The Revenge of Kitty Galore which riffed on his Bond films. He was always made fun of for his limited range of facial expressions but took it in his stride. Basically, as he said in the interview, “I played myself.”