Roger phoned me in a foul mood. ‘How dare they!’ he said. ‘What a nerve!’ ‘What’s happened?’ I asked, knowing he’d been awaiting a script from the BBC and it was all very hush-hush. ‘They’ve sent the scene. They want me to play an old fart in a club. With one line. One line!’
He immediately wrote an email to his agent, paraphrasing the one line (about an ‘intolerable Christmas pudding’) saying: ‘This is intolerable. You expect me to get out of bed, make a five-hour trek to London to say one frigging line? Stick your pudding up your bum.’ So the world never got to see one of our best-loved actors occupying the screen alongside Benedict Cumberbatch in a Christmas edition of the BBC’s top-rated drama, Sherlock.
Sir Roger Moore with co-stars Jane Seymour and Gloria Hendry in promotional pictures for 1973’s Live And Let Die
Roger turned down 99 per cent of the scripts that came his way in later years, on the grounds that they were either badly written or a waste of his time, and he thought this offer fell into the second category.
In the mid-Nineties I struck up a friendly relationship with Roger’s PA, Doris Spriggs, while working at Pinewood Studios. When Doris retired in 2002, she recommended me for her job. Roger was then 74 and he and his fourth wife, Kristina, divided their year between Switzerland and Monaco. Wherever he was, Roger would call the office every day.
When he phoned in for the first time, I told him there had been an offer that morning from an Italian chat show. ‘I hate Italian TV shows. They go on for ever,’ he said. The fee was twice my annual salary but he wasn’t swayed. I soon discovered Roger was in great demand for all things 007 and – Italian chat shows aside – he always enjoyed earning a few quid.
For example, when an ‘Ultimate’ edition of the Bond films was released on DVD, the studio wanted the original actors to do commentaries. ‘Would Roger be involved?’ came the question. ‘Would Roger be paid?’ was his response.
People used to say to me: ‘Surely he doesn’t need the money?’ He had certainly earned well while he was 007, but with two homes, three children and several grandchildren, there were a lot of monthly outgoings.
I’d see him whenever he was in London, and travel to him when required. He’d offer me the biscuits and flowers that would be left for him in TV dressing rooms, while ostentatiously pocketing luxury pens and other posh items from the goodie bags that came his way. He was the first to admit he loved anything for free. ‘I’m such a ponce,’ he’d boast, ‘especially if it’s worth a few quid.’
I was not long into my job when, as part of the celebrations around 2002’s Die Another Day, Pierce Brosnan’s final outing in the role, former Bonds were invited to be presented to the Queen at the royal premiere in Leicester Square.
The retired 007s subsequently took the stage, and the audience erupted when Roger walked on, awarding him a much bigger ovation than Brosnan received.
Afterwards, I asked what Roger thought of the new film. He was diplomatically evasive. I pointed out that he’d got more applause than Pierce. ‘Rightly ****ing so,’ he replied, with a raised eyebrow.
When Roger heard he was to be knighted in 2003, his first reaction was to wish his parents could have been alive to see it. When his name was officially announced a few months ahead of the ceremony, he joked: ‘I hope they do me quickly. I’m knocking on, you know.’
As a Unicef ambassador, Roger was conscious of his image, but he wasn’t averse to the idea of acting again. A Spanish production company once offered him $1 million for a couple of weeks’ work. ‘Would you read the script and tell me what you think?’ he asked.
The first scene had Roger’s character receiving oral sex. The next scene was an S&M sequence. I called and told him. ‘Don’t bother reading any more,’ he instructed. ‘Having a b*** *** on screen? Please!’
Roger certainly wasn’t a bitter man, but I believe he may have been hurt that, of all his old friends, only Michael Caine ever suggested him for a part during my time – in a 2008 film called Is Anybody There? It came to nothing, but I know Roger liked to be thought of.
Roger Moore as Beau Maverick in the American series Maverick, 1960. When Roger heard he was to be knighted in 2003, his first reaction was to wish his parents could have been alive to see it
He had left the UK for good and moved to Switzerland in the Seventies for tax reasons. There he could relax and be himself. In the summer, he enjoyed a non-stop social whirl of parties and dinners in the South of France with friends such as David Niven, Joan Collins, Michael Winner and Stefanie Powers.
Roger nominated me as his ghost writer when he decided the time had come to pen his memoirs, and we spent a week together in Switzerland chatting through his life while I recorded it. The publishers were keen that Roger spoke about his three earlier marriages, though he didn’t want to. ‘Just because I’ve been married four times doesn’t make me a good husband,’ he said.
He did tell me he married Doorn van Steyn when he was 19 because she had told him she was pregnant – though she wasn’t. Roger never suggested she had trapped him into marriage, but there was obviously a niggling feeling at the back of his mind that he’d married young because he had to.
His silence about some people was deafening – Ray Danton, Grace Jones and Jean-Claude Van Damme were just three of the co-stars he pointedly declined to talk about.
More volumes of autobiography followed, as well as UK theatre tours, with me in the role of the interviewer. Audiences loved his stories of leading ladies, gadgets, villains and his opinion of Daniel Craig – ‘the best Bond ever’, in his view.
Around Christmas 2016 we were working on a new book to mark his 90th birthday when a doctor found a cancerous lesion on his liver and something on one of his lungs. Without treatment, he had perhaps two months to live. When people asked him how he would like to be remembered, he’d always said ‘As the oldest person in the world’ – and I believed him. Nonetheless, on May 23, 2017, he slipped away in hospital, aged 89.
I miss him hugely. He was a big part of my life, first as an actor and cinematic hero, then for 16 years as my boss, my co-author and, above all, my best friend.
‘Raising An Eyebrow’, by Gareth Owen, is published by The History Press tomorrow, priced £20. Offer price £16, with free delivery, until February 25. To order call 01603 648155 or go to mailshop.co.uk