The question of ‘who is the greatest Bond?’ is an argument that won’t be dying anytime soon. Each man has their quirks and experiences that they bring to the role; therefore it is difficult to determine who played it best. But if we’re going to consider the charisma and class of each actor, it’s not easy to surpass the legendary Sir Roger Moore. Furthermore, Moore was a man of pure class and elegance, admitting on various occasions that unlike James Bond, he was modest, humble, and reserved in his pursuit of women or the high life. Despite an issue or two regarding his personal finances and relationships, Roger Moore remained a stand-up man until his death in 2017. This is the legacy of his life, as Bond and beyond.
Roger Moore was born in London in 1927 to a policeman father and a housewife mother. Although his upbringing was quite traditional, Moore said he often struggled with his weight as a boy, which would often be pointed out by his father. However, Moore’s father would also cause the resurrection of his son’s boyhood confidence when (by coincidence) he was investigating a robbery at director Brian Desmond Hurst’s home. Young Roger Moore had recently been fired from his work at an animation studio and this fateful meeting began his acting career.
The future Bond played an extra in Hurst’s Caesar and Cleopatra in 1945 and quickly garnered a measurable female following. As a result, Hurst decided to pay for Moore’s education at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. It was during this time that Moore was conscripted into the Royal Army Service Corps and sent to West Germany in the wake of Hitler’s defeat.
Moore then spent the next few years steadily growing his renown as an actor and male model. He then moved to the US to further his career and signed to MGM in 1952. Moore steadily grew his personal brand, often portraying historical heroic figures, which was aided by his natural British accent and handsome features. It wouldn’t be until 1962, when Moore was cast as Simon Templar in The Saint, that Moore’s acting career indeed took off. His seven-year tenure on the show playing the suave antihero served as the perfect foundation for Ian Fleming’s Bond. Leslie Charteris, the writer of the original The Saint books, describes the character of Templar as ‘a buccaneer in the suits of Savile Row, amused, cool, debonair, with hell-for-leather blue eyes and a saintly smile,’ which serves as a near-exact interpretation of 007.
Before his first movie premiere as Bond, Moore had already gone through two highly-stressful divorces. Moore has stated that he suffered some form of domestic abuse from his previous wives, including an incident in which his second wife, Dorothy Squires, smashed a guitar over his head. Moore would go on to have one more divorce in his lifetime, before finally settling with his fourth wife, Kristina Tholstrup, in 2002 until his death in 2017.
Following a series of various commitments, including to The Saint and The Persuaders! TV shows (the latter of which paid Moore £1 million, making him the highest paid television actor of the era), the stars aligned for Roger Moore to play James Bond. The same factors that contributed to his success as Simon Templar won Moore the 007 role. Moore was finally cast for Live and Let Die (1973) by producer Albert Broccoli after the actor begrudgingly accepted to cut his hair and lose some weight.
It should be noted that although Roger Moore became the face of Bond for the next 12 years, it certainly didn’t stop the man from accepting other roles. However, Moore quickly became the recognisable new face of the series alongside key villains such as Christopher Lee’s Scaramanga and Richard Kiel’s Jaws. The success of each of Moore’s Bond portrayals varied; there was the experimental yet not so successful The Man With The Golden Gun (1974) to the critically acclaimed and well-received Spy Who Loved Me (1977). Moore’s calm, cool, and collected demeanour as Bond carried the Bond series through the 70s and into the 80s.
After he announced his retirement from the Bond character at the unusually old age of 58 in 1985, Roger Moore chose to take a break from the entire acting industry for five years to address his personal life as well as pursue works outside the realm of acting. It was in 1978 that Moore became a tax exile from his home in the UK, forcing him to move to various homes throughout Europe. This exile wasn’t such a harsh reality for Moore, who had homes in Monte Carlo, Switzerland, and the south of France.
Apart from his portrayal of 007, Roger Moor’s humanitarian work took up most of his time and passion. The actor became a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and as such, received his knighthood from the Queen in 2003 for his services in charity – dubbing him Sir Roger Moore.
A great actor, a great contributor to the charities of the world, and a great man. Although Moore certainly was not without his troubles (particularly in the financial and marital affairs of his life), everyone’s favourite Bond always maintained an air of calm and kindness, above all else. Perhaps one of the most compelling personal anecdotal testimonies to Moore’s measurement as a man is the beautiful story of this longtime Bond fan who met his idol once at age seven and again at thirty. You can read that story here.
From his personal struggles in his youth to living through the Second World War to navigating his way through the tests of Hollywood, the quietly charismatic and devilishly handsome Roger Moore will forever be at the top of the discussion when attempting to determine who the greatest Bond is. But the character that Moore dedicated his life to should not negate from the character the man was and reported to be by so many (who worked with or met him in passing) – humble, modest, and above all, kind. If you’re interested in reading about the Roger Moore story directly from the man himself, you can buy his autobiography here.
For a real-life British international man of mystery, see ‘History’s Finest: The Legacy of Lawrence of Arabia’, and for Moore’s signature fragrance, see ‘The Signature Scents Of History’s Finest Men.