Roger Moore really wanted was to star with Morecambe and Wise…

Nobody did it better: He adored the fame (and money) that came with bond. but what Roger Moore really wanted was to star with Morecambe and Wise…

  • Gareth Owen was responsible for Roger Moore’s appearances and book signings
  • He reflects on his time spent with the actor who starred in seven 007 movies
  • One of Sir Roger’s regrets is that he never appeared with Morecambe and wise 
  • The star who was born in 1927, was nearly 90 when he died in May 2017 

BOOK OF THE WEEK 

RAISING AN EYEBROW: MY LIFE WITH SIR ROGER MOORE 

by Gareth Owen (History Press £20, 224 pp)

Sir Roger Moore, the sleekest and most humorous of 007s, was similarly pampered and jokey off-screen, his dulcet tones never wavering.

Grinning broadly, he thoroughly enjoyed the film-star trappings and never forgot ‘the wonderful good luck, happiness and fun that life had afforded him’.

A tax exile, he split the year between Switzerland and Monaco, where he mingled with Leslie Bricusse, David Niven and Joan Collins. He spent a month every summer at the luxurious Colombe d’Or Hotel, in the South of France, where it was fine dining all the way. Sir Roger was perfectly at home behind the wheel of Aston Martin and Lotus motor cars.

He had a secret, however, as divulged by Gareth Owen in this tribute. Sir Roger’s preferred vehicle was a Smart car, the size of a Lego brick, which he could park easily.

Gareth Owen reflects on his time spent alongside Roger Moore (pictured in Moonraker) in a fascinating book 

In the kitchen cabinets of his homes in the Swiss Alps and on the shores of the Mediterranean were hoarded tins of Heinz baked beans, boxes of Paxo stuffing and canisters of Bisto gravy. Sir Roger’s favourite foods were beans on toast with fried eggs and bacon. Cottage pie from the microwave was a huge treat.

Simple fare — and the man himself was unpretentious and uncomplicated. His philosophy was, ‘Why be negative when you can be positive?’

Unlike others who played 007, Sir Roger never regretted his association with the franchise (he starred in seven).

It was Owen’s job to organise Sir Roger’s book signings, talks at film festivals, appearances at red carpet receptions and black-tie dinners, and to field requests for newspaper and magazine interviews.

The star was generally amenable and tractable and Owen saw him get cross only once, when staff at the BBC were rude, demanding to see ID. ‘Driver,’ said Sir Roger, in his famous voice, ‘would you kindly take us back to our hotel.’

Owen accompanied Sir Roger to Norwich, where a thousand copies of his Bond memoir were autographed (‘a signed book is a sold book’), and he also facilitated Sir Roger’s one-man show, which toured to Malvern, Bournemouth and Basingstoke. The star only had to cock an eyebrow and say ‘The name is Bond, James Bond’ and audiences gave him a standing ovation. ‘Everyone loved Roger.’

Owen first met Sir Roger at Desmond (‘Q’) Llewellyn’s memorial service in December 1999. He was well qualified for the task of chief cook and bottle washer — or Personal Assistant.

He knew the business, having worked as a producer, sending out scripts, assessing budgets and sales forecasts, and had an expert knowledge of the British film industry, particularly Pinewood Studios, about which he’d published a book. Sir Roger retained an office at Pinewood, where he materialised daily to Owen on Skype. Owen ensured the star’s existence ran as smoothly as that of the Royal Family. He arranged the hotels and the flights, checked which chauffeurs were on duty, and alerted ‘the lady who always met him at the airport’.

He also had to handle work offers. A request for Sir Roger to appear in an Italian documentary came with a fee ‘twice my annual salary’. Sir Roger declined it.

The actor stared in seven 007 films, but one his few regrets is that he never appeared with Morecambe and Wise (pictured)

Nevertheless, what Owen realised was that his boss did actually need filthy lucre, as ‘he liked to be able to suffer in comfort’. The Bond merchandise, indeed, was big business, the signed photographs and memorabilia, the fans’ conventions and charity raffles. When Sir Roger wrote a book (Owen did the actual writing — the star burbled into a tape recorder), he’d keep asking, ‘What’s the print run? How much advance have they paid?’

If photographers came to Monaco or to the chalet in Switzerland, their magazines had to ‘pay hugely for the privilege’. There were accountants and lawyers to negotiate and invest the considerable income.

Owen admits he knew nothing about the financial side. ‘If he said he needed to go to Geneva for a couple of days, I’d never ask what for.’ His hours were full, in any event, trying to break into Sir Roger’s computer, as the star always forgot his passwords and needing to reset them.

Owen also had the task of fending off the mad women who kept coming forward, believing they were Sir Roger’s long-lost daughters, with Britt Ekland the long-lost mother. Lawyers were needed to make them go away.

RAISING AN EYEBROW: MY LIFE WITH SIR ROGER MOORE by Gareth Owen (History Press £20, 224 pp)

It was one of Sir Roger’s few regrets that he’d never appeared with Morecambe and Wise. He eagerly joined the cast of the stage homage, with Toby Jones, called The Play What I Wrote.

Unfortunately, in 2003 Sir Roger collapsed on Broadway and needed an emergency pacemaker fitted. This marked the beginning of the end.

Raising An Eyebrow is poignant about the star’s decline, his endurance and stoicism. Owen grew close to him, like a son, as Sir Roger started having funny turns and blacking out.

He was in agony from a kidney stone blockage, which led to a liver and lung cancer diagnosis, then double pneumonia. There were leg injuries, diabetes. It was hard to remember that Sir Roger, born in 1927, was actually so old — nearly 90 when he died in May 2017. He’d long seemed ageless.

As this book is a jovial, personal account, Owen is discreet with show- business gossip.

What we do learn, however, is that Sean Connery, ‘ever the careful Scot’, required a SAE if he was to reply to any mail, that Sir Roger was ‘really saddened’ when Dirk Bogarde never returned his calls, and that Christopher Lee would claim he’d ‘fallen in the bath’ if he couldn’t be bothered to turn up at an awards ceremony.

Sir Roger ‘would never allow people to think he was on schedule to attend if he had no intention of doing so’.

Though he’d wanted to be buried near Pinewood Studios, Sir Roger’s ashes are interred in Monaco, because ‘if it is proven that the intended resting place of an expat is on UK soil, then their estate is subject to UK tax’. Sir Roger had avoided contributing to our exchequer since the Seventies. I’m not sure what I think about tax exiles being awarded knighthoods.

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