SIR Roger Moore may have spent an afternoon talking to audiences elsewhere in Hampshire, but Basingstoke was privileged to secure what everyone really wanted – a night with the former Saint, Persuader and Bond.
And it wasn’t just any night, given that the London premiere of the latest Bond movie Skyfall was taking place as one of Bond’s former incarnations was delighting a packed Anvil house. It was one of the first things Sir Roger mentioned, quipping: “I know why most of you are here – you couldn’t get tickets for the premiere. That’s why I am here.”
All assembled were in 00-heaven as Sir Roger regaled delighted fans – and his wife and agent, who were also present – with tales of his rise to fame, his famous friends and his later exceptional work with UNICEF, which came about because of the gentle coercion of his neighbour in Switzerland, Audrey Hepburn. For a man who celebrated his 85th birthday on October 14, he was remarkably sparkly and on form, interviewed on stage by his assistant Gareth Owen – a fact most missed when Gareth’s microphone was not turned on until the middle of his introductory sentence.
The duo had clearly planned what stories to tell and in what order, but it never felt scripted or false, thanks to Sir Roger’s captivating delivery. He even made us laugh when he momentarily forgot himself or lost his train of thought by referring to an earlier joke he had told about amnesia. When Gareth asked if he had been to Basingstoke previously, Sir Roger said not that he knew of, but that as he was such a poor navigator when driving as a second lieutenant in World War Two, he “might have driven a convoy through!”
There were great tales to be savoured, including his encounters with Christopher Lee and his early experiences at RADA, where he was one of only four boys in the class. He remarked: “There were three other boys in the class, but they were... (he tailed off to much laughter). I didn’t learn too much about acting, but I did learn a lot about sex. ”
Speaking at length about his role in 1970’s The Man Who Haunted Himself, in which he played two versions of the same character, he was visibly moved when recalling the death of its director Basil Dearden. Mr Dearden was decapitated in a 1971 car accident at the exact spot where he’d filmed an accident for the film. On a much happier note, Sir Roger also hilariously discussed his great friendship with Tony Curtis, who he hand-picked to star alongside him in The Persuaders, and delighted all romantics present with several mentions of the debt he owes to his fourth wife Kristina Tholstrup, to whom he has been married since 2002.
Of course, the subject of James Bond was eventually raised, the legendary secret agent created by Ian Fleming who Sir Roger played in seven films, including The Spy Who Loved Me and Live and Let Die. We all enjoyed his revelation that he’d played a serial practical joke on poor Desmond Llewelyn, who played Q.
As he stood to savour the long concluding standing ovation, all present surely savoured their last few moments with one of the most unassuming and utterly charming knights of the realm that we’d ever have the pleasure to spend time with.