The saint of Stockwell

Roger Moore thinks we live in a different world from him, but he’s not sure which

Jewel of Radio 2’s At the Movies season is Roger Moore reading from his memoir My Word Is My Bond (starts Friday 24 April, 9.15pm). Opening with a burst of music that only approximated the 007 theme (“Problems with the rights,” the nation muttered) the actor launched excitedly into “Part One – The Story Begins!” (not exactly a catchy title that, Roger).

He started life, he said, at “23 inches and from Stockwell. I am quoting from hearsay, being much too young to actually recall the event.” Nice to hear an actor being accurate. The early years were lovely. Some days he would stand at the window of his parents’ second-floor flat, lathered up in his father’s shaving foam, smoking a pipe and hoping someone would look up. But the weekends were the best. “Oh, those wonderful trips to the Wandsworth Road,” he murmured, “to watch Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe.” All gone now, the picture palaces . . . turned into luxury flats . . . such waste.

Several moments passed while Moore bought firmly into the tragedy of the boarded-up cinema, clearly oblivious to the fact that 50 years on, the rest of us are literally praying for release from the moving image. But possibly Moore has never been forced to watch TV on the 73 bus.

Next came the war. “What evil. What slaughter.” Yes, Rog, it was a drag. One began to get the impression, from the way his voice frequently threw up little inverted commas around certain words, that Roger suspects that we all live in a different world entirely, but is unsure of which, hence he must remember to qualify certain things, flag up lingo that might come over as mysterious. For example, on one occasion some friends took him, he says, to a “pub”, where he opted for a glass of “bitter” and someone gave him a “cigarette”. What a fool! Oh, he got “drunk”.

Like Uncle Monty in Withnail and I, Roger had an agent four floors up on the Charing Cross Road and never a job at the top of them, until one day he was spotted in the crowd scene of a Vivien Leigh movie and asked if he would like to go immediately to Rada (“Yes, all right, terrific!”). But then everybody went to Rada in the 1950s. Three months later you were in rep, fingering your cold sore over an egg salad at the boarding house.

Roger confirmed that while on the boards he trod all sorts, from I Capture the Castle to Henry V by “Shakespeare”. Soon a blonde student caught his eye, a girl called Dawn who turned out to be Lucy from Streatham. “We became, as they say, an ‘item’.’’ Yes, they do say that, Roger.

Oh, thank God for Moore. Was there ever a man more likely to quote Betjeman while you peel the veg? I can just hear him reciting from Slick But Not Streamlined while I mutter discouragingly about the black bits in the carrots. His only low point appears to have been when Dawn said his face was too big to make it as an actor, but what the hell did she know? She’s clearly never stood behind Rufus Sewell at the post office. (Oh, Rufus, Rufus, with your head the size of a back of a chair! Please, my darling, take me to the “pub”!)

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 27 April 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Rise of the Geek