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Time and Place : Sir Roger

© Times Online - May 24, 2009

Sir Roger Moore recalls growing up in a south London flat, where he made toast on a coal fire, shared a room with a monkey and played Jerries and Tommies as bombs fell nearby.

From the age of seven, I lived on Albert Square. Not Albert Square as in EastEnders, but Albert Square in Stockwell, south London. They were big Georgian properties with four storeys and a basement. A few posh people had whole houses; we had a flat. We did have electric light instead of gas, though. A treat was to sit by the coal fire with a toasting fork and make toast with dripping. Great days.

 

You can tell that I’m a pig because my memories are all about food, taste and smell. Thinking of smells, there was a foul odour when the wind came from Vauxhall, where there was a vinegar and pickle factory. My parents’ bedroom was at the front, the sitting room at the back. I was the only child. Above the fireplace in their bedroom was a terribly embarrassing naked picture of me when I was three months old. If I brought a girl home, my mother would show her the picture. It was hand-coloured: blond curls and pink bum.

The bathroom was shared with two other floors. It had one of those penny-in-the-slot geysers and it was tuppence to get a decent bath. But we had our own loo. Luxury, luxury.

One corner of my room had a curtain hanging from a board near the ceiling; that was my wardrobe. I pulled on it one day and the whole damn lot came down. I knew my father would give me a clip round the ear, so I packed my suitcase — I think I was nine — and left home. I got as far as the cinema, realised I was hungry, and thought I might as well go back.

I had to share with Jimmy, my aunt’s rhesus monkey. My aunt moved out and left us with the monkey. He would go for walks on a long chain with my mother and hop along the railings. He hated cats, and would swoop down and whip them up by their tails. Jimmy was lovely, but he was a little terror.

We had him for two or three years. Then, after he stayed in kennels when we went on holiday, he didn’t trust anybody. He bit my mother’s arm rather badly, so we had to put him in Chessington Zoo. I disapprove violently of zoos now. But we took him nuts and bananas at weekends.

My father was a policeman, but I rarely saw him in uniform because he was a plan-drawer. When there was an accident or a murder, he drew up plans of the rooms or the roads. When the sun shone, he’d take me swimming, then work when I’d gone to bed. If people said, “What work are you going to do when you leave school?”, I replied: “I’m not going to work; I’m going to be a policeman like my father.”

The square was all trees and bushes, wonderful for playing cowboys and Indians or, as it was between the two wars, Jerries and Tommies. We used to have snow in London then, and we’d get slats of wood from tar barrels, tie them around our feet with string and pretend they were skis. Roller-skating was a big thing, too. I remember being circumcised at the age of eight: I came out of hospital with a sore lower region, but felt important because I had a bandage. Because I’d been good, my mother gave me a pair of skates. Unfortunately, I couldn’t put my knees together; I was trying to skate with my feet a yard apart.

The years between the age of 11 and 16 were mostly spent being evacuated because of the war, then coming back to London when it seemed quiet. There were quite a few bombs around us and we spent a lot of time in the Anderson shelter in the garden. We went out collecting shrapnel as souvenirs, and my father and I were swimming once when a dogfight took place above us.

You curl up with embarrassment when you think of the ridiculous things you said as a child. A friend once shot me in the leg with an air-rifle. I was on crutches. I remember a bus conductor saying: “What happened to you, son?” I was all of 13, and I said: “Jerry. Messerschmitt. Machinegunned.” What a fool!

I lived on Albert Square until I joined the army when I was 18. I’d been fired from my job in Soho as a lowly animator, making tea and getting Spam rolls, when some chums got me in the crowd scenes of a film called Caesar and Cleopatra. I was spotted, and it was decided I would go to Rada and become Stewart Granger. It was complete luck, but the minute I walked on the little stage to audition, I thought: “Wow, I’m going to be an actor.” Well, I’ve got a card from Equity that says I’m an actor. And I’ve got the bad notices to prove it.

I went back to Albert Square recently and it looked just as I remembered it. But Joanna Lumley lives there now, so it has definitely gone upmarket.

 

Interview by Caroline Rees

 
 
 

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