Roger Moore: A Personal Memory
To Michael Caine he was a very close friend, saying ‘I am devastated at losing one of my oldest and closest friends ROGER MOORE, my world will never be the same again’. To me he was part of my TV & Film childhood popping up constantly in ‘The Saint’, ‘The Persuaders’ and the first James Bond film I ever saw ‘Live and Let Die’. Which from my cinema seat, I thought was fantastic. His constant on screen presence, was soon to become a reality; when beginning my own showbiz career.
My first agent rang. telling me to get down to a Leicester Square Hotel; where they were casting for acting soldiers for the new Bond film – ‘Octopussy’. At the audition the second assistant informed us all of the shooting dates, we did a quick improv routine, photos taken and the usual “let you know” phrase.
Much to my surprise (as I thought I was too short), the agent called saying they wanted me as part of the military background team. At the time I was also working as assistant director, in the West End show ‘Destry Rides Again’. Earning nowhere near what they were willing to pay on the Bond film; I got permission for time off.
The scenes were shot over about 3 weeks, under high security at RAF Northolt Airdrome. With one or two palm trees placed in the background and waiting for the sun between takes, made a convincing South American military airbase. The actual footage represented a mini story, which is placed at the beginning of nearly every Bond film. As a way to bring in immediate action and adventure to grip our audience, in anticipation of the main storyline; usually showing Bond finishing one mission and now starting another.
The constant jogging, army drills (with heavy packs on our backs) and lugging a replica M16 riffle around all day; convinced me if the career goes pear shaped the army was not an option. The set was constantly busy and time in filming represents a lot of money.
Just watching Roger Moore between takes, was a great example of how one should behave; particularly around other people. He had this marvellous quality of a well spoken, sophisticated film star. Smoking a cigar, laid back, but who behaved incredibly ordinary and down to earth. With a strong sense of humour, often self deprecating and incredible good looks. No wonder women loved him. Such personal qualities would have seen him get up a corporate ladder, as well as the top of showbusiness.
The most exciting time was when I was asked to arrest 007! He being Bond, on a mission to place a bomb inside a satellite dish. As the screens come down suddenly, poking an M16 at him, then being asked to come forward by the Director and to “get the gun right to Bonds head”. Rather surreal.
Roger Moore himself, would often send up his acting ability; which some felt he shouldn’t do, as people may start believing it. He chose his parts well, but never really pushed himself. To me his best work was the film ‘The Man Who Haunted Himself’ (1971) and was probably capable of more.
Taking It Easy
One afternoon, four of us (still dressed in full para army uniform) were sitting lazily on a grass verge, away from the main hanger, taking a break as we were not needed. Turning to my right, I saw Moore walking towards us in military costume; making his way to the next shot. Surprisingly alone, unaccompanied, with no assistant; but his path was going to take him right past us. This was an interesting situation. What is he going to do? Will he ignore us? Will he stop for a chat? Or will he just give an embarrassing nod?
I knew that in the next few seconds, I would learn plenty about the real Roger Moore, more than any publicity interview or magazine article. As he got nearer most of us were looking away, as he walked past we looked and he said humorously ‘Stand easy gentlemen’, and carried on walking. We all laughed, exactly the right thing to do and say. You knew this guy had charm, backed up by a sense of humour and never taking himself too seriously; which endeared him to many inside and outside the profession.
Not So Easy
Filming can be a very tiring business, with lots of waiting around and very early morning calls; then not actually on set until the afternoon! One has to learn to conserve energy, as it is all too easy to burn out. With intense conversations, with too much tea and chat with other artistes.
There is little glamour in the actual process of making the film; just boredom, work and plenty of reserved friction. After a full day there was one more shot to get. The second assistant sat in the back of Bond’s smart brown Range Rover, he was trying to get the attention of us, the soldiers, for the next shot. None of us were paying much attention and tensions were beginning to rise. Eventually we heard a loud car horn, blasting off from behind the Range Rovers driving seat. It was Roger Moore staring at us all, with a look communicating how we all felt. His face said “Look lads, I’m tired, your tired, let’s get this shot done then we can go home”.
Plane & Simple
The shot that seemed for ever to get and to finish, was the one with Bonds small plane trying to escape a missile entering the hangar and coming out the other side. Only for the doors to shut after his plane got through, which causes a massive explosion and takes us into the opening titles.
Being interested in all aspects of filming, an assistant camera explained to me the complication of the shot (for the time) and how they were trying to make it work. The plane was put on a Jaguar car, which raced into the hangar at top speed and out the other side; with us as army men running for cover. It went around again and again, action being called and another take was completed.
Roger Moore was only put in once, the rest was a stand in dummy. My thoughts entered if one of us should slip or fall over, in our attempt to escape the car (plane), we’re finished! Not much in the way of Health & Safety in those days.
The memories are very clear in my head. A time of learning and understanding, and with the arrogance of youth not fully realising at the time what one had experienced or indeed gained; until much later in life.
Matthew Willetts MA is the Director of Comicus who has over 35 years experience in television, film, theatre, and comedy club/cabaret entertainment, working as a performer, screenwriter, producer and agent. He lectured at Southampton Solent University in Comedy, Screenwriting, Television, Theatre & Radio. Matthew can sometimes be seen and heard on TV & Radio and often quoted in the national press and media publications. As well as speaking regularly at festivals and industry conferences, he has been a judge at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Montreux Television Festival.