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Roger Moore - The Early Days

Roger Moore from 1972 - page 4

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I marched smartly down to the nearest telephone and called Hamburg to get hold of the C.O. in charge of Combined Services Entertainments. I already knew him; he was Colonel Sanders Warren (who had toured as Red Shadow in "The Desert Song"). I said if he applied very quickly for me he might get me. Almost immediately I was out of the bull and back with half of the people I knew from R.A.D.A. days. There was Sergeant Bryan Forbes, Joey Baker, Basil Hoskins, playwright David Turner, Charles Houston (who works with me a great deal now); comics like George and Jimmy Page.
One of my first chores was to take pay parade, which was absolutely hysterical. I was paying out A.T.S. girls who were chorus girls and soldiers who were ballet dancers. I remember one pretty little A.T.S. girl who came in, saluted smartly and I smiled up at her. She smiled back and the R.S.M. standing behind me yelled: "Don't smile at the paying officer!"
First I was in administration and then out on the road with the various shows we would put together. Rhine Army suddenly became responsible for supplying entertainment to Italy and Austria so we got around quite a bit. In my last few months of my three years in the Army they let me do a little acting, to get my hand in for demob.
This was very nice indeed. I did a production of "Shop At Sly Corner" which we toured. One thing I learned was that at most camps the welfare officers rather looked down on soldier actors and actresses. They were fine with the civilian performers who sometimes joined us. They were always trying to make the leading lady or the chorus girls. But they frowned on actors in uniform. To give me some parity with the welfare officers they made me up to Captain, which was very necessary.
We would arrive at some of the camps and their idea of looking after us would be to send in a bucket of tea, great wads of bread and a bowl of half-cooked sausages and say: "There's your rations." I stirred them up about this sort of treatment. It was probably the only time I ever flashed rank around in the Army. Many were the times I was pulled up by senior officers for failing to maintain some semblance of discipline amongst my performing soldiers. Once we were on a train going from Holland to Italy. My crowd had our own coach and during the trip we were all pals together.
There were no eating facilities on the train so we had meal halts at various camps where the Other Ranks were supposed to go to their messes and I was supposed to use the officers' mess. At one of these halts my crowd herded themselves into the officers' mess, in various states of disarray, and started tucking in. A major grabbed me and asked what all this was about. I pointed out that they were all E.N.S.A.
or civilians and chatted them all out of trouble. Back on the train I felt I had to give them some kind of token rocket.
"While we're on our own-fine," I said.
"But once we are off the train for Chrissake act like soldiers." There was silence for a moment, then one of them said: "Well, Roger, we thought what was good enough for you was good enough for us." That's the sort of discipline there was in Moore's Army. Then we had a regimental type of officer in Hamburg who put the squeak in for me with the adjutant. He thought it disgraceful that no one in my group ever seemed to salute me, that I was on first name terms with them all and they all called me Rodge.

Anna Neagle and Michael
Wilding in "Piccadilly
Incident". A crowd player
was Roger Moore - on leave from the
Army.

The Colonel gave me a lecture and said that in any public place we had to act like soldiers-or else. So after lunch, I'm walking down the stairs of a hotel in Hamburg with the very fellow who shopped me to the adjutant. In through the foyer comes one of my boys, Sergeant Joey Baker. He ifings down his kitbag, rushes up the stairs to me, flings his arms round my neck and shouts: "Roger, darling !" -and kisses me!
The regimental twit behind me almost became violent. So once again I'm up on the mat.
One of my jobs was meeting in visiting shows from London. Kay Kendall came out with a revue and I joined up with them on the train. The first vision of Kay looking so glamorous amongst all the dull brown of Army uniforms was a sight indeed. This was when she dubbed me "The Duchess" because of my shining buttons and gleaming leather of the uniform. I remember going into her compartment to tell her what the arrangements were and she looked up and said: "Blimey, here comes the bloody Duchess !" It stuck for a long while after I was out of the services. We had a lot of laughs but my mind was becoming increasingly preoccupied with whaf I would be doing when I got out. I had about five months left to do when I got what I thought was going to be my big break.

Even though I was married I was young enough not to worry too much about responsibility. At the same time I kept in close touch with the events back in London and nothing would have pleased me more than going back
to some kind of professional engagement. So I was naturally delighted when my agent Gordon Harboard wrote to say that I had been picked to test for the leading role in the film of "The Blue Lagoon." It was 1947 and the timing of the production was such that I would probably be out of the Army to do it. If I got it, which I didn't. Possibly they didn't think I looked rugged enough to survive on a desert island with Jean Simmons. But I was given five days leave to test for the part in front of the marvellous team of Frank Launder and Sydney Gilliatt. Testing the same day was Laurence Harvey. My test was made with Claire Bloom. Eventually, of course, it was Jean Simmons and Donald Houston who took the leading roles.
There was one exquisite side issue: Dennis Van Thai, who was executive producer of casting or something, asked me at lunchtime to keep Claire Bloom chatting in the studio bar because he wanted to introduce her to some other people. It was one of those social-cumbusiness chats and I was happy to assist. Two days later I received a cheque for 10 guineas "for expenses incurred," which was virtually a windfall on my Army pay.
Dennis is now my agent and one of my closest friends. But be was never more friendly than with that timely cheque. That was my first film test and I had failed. But Launder and Gilliatt recommended to Rank that I was a good bet as a contract-artist. This never materialised. I was advised that I would be better off getting some more practical experience. But Olive Dodds and Ronnie Walters, who were in charge of casting for Ranks, said they would circularise details about me around the studios so that I would get some kind of preference for any work that was going.
From that I was to get 30 days on "Trottie True" at Denham studios. All I did was to cough occasionally and say "What ho!" and "Rather!" in a very English voice. I shared a dressing room with Christopher Lee, Patrick Cargill and Charlie Houston (who had been in the Army with me) and we were all getting £7 a day each. Others in that crowd were D'Arcy Conyers, now a director, and Peter Dunlop, who became an agent. We were all stage door johnnies surrounding James Donald, Michael Medwin, Jean Simmons and Lana Morris.
But that was a good phase, financially, and it came a few months after I was demobbed. When I first emerged from the mob, resplendent in a demob suit comprising a nothing-green sports coat and a nothing-brown pair of trousers, all I could get was repertory work at The Intimate Theatre, Palmers Green. it was good for me, but there were lots of frustrations. I was told by my agent to go to many of my 22
interviews and auditions wearmg my Army uniform. Which was just as well because it was the only decent apparel I had. But I was going through a strange phase. Nothing fitted me properly. I was too big, too small or out of character.
They suggested me for a part in the film "They Were Not Divided" with Terence Young
-now a good friend, but not then! -but they said I didn't look like an authentic officer, which goes to show how marvellous it all is...
NAAFI beer had enhanced my shape somewhat, yet that was not the whole problem throughout that period. When I was up for the part of a Corporal they said I looked more like an officer; when I was up for an officer's part they said I looked more like a young, fat doorman. Nothing was ever right about me. I was always too tall, too thin, too fat. The Intimate Theatre at least gave me a haven. I think the first play I did there was Noel Coward's "Easy Virtue". The leading lady was Noele Gordon, now of Crossroads fame.
Jimmy Grant Anderson was the director. He was God at the Intimate, Palmers Green. But I was working and making about £10 a week. Better money than some rep. work pays these days.
MONEY was pretty tight in those first few months. Doom wasn't working and Christmas was lean that year. We were living in one room at her sister's home in Streatham. Yet we never bothered too much about being broke. We struggled along together and I always had a feeling that success wasn't very far away.
There was a little electric grill in the corner of our room, which I surrounded with her mother's paintings. To stop the fat spraying on to the wallpaper. There was one time when I thought I had a particularly good "in" with Herbert Wilcox. I was on leave from Officers' Training School and to swell my Army pay-about 5s. a day- I got a bit of crowd scene work on "Pii~cadil1y Incident" starring Anna Neagle-this was Michael Wilding's first big film.
You know how you sense someone is looking at you? Anna Neagle had seen me and I looked up and saw her talking to her husband Herbert Wilcox. He came over to me and said they had been discussing me. He asked if I was an actor or a real soldier earning a few bob on the side. I said I was both and he told me to come and see him when I was eventually demobbed. Naturally I took him up on it. But his cast-
ing director was convinced I was trying to con her and she didn't believe my story, so I never got near him. I wasn't very pushing and I didn't make too big an issue of it. However, Doom had a small part in another of those Wilcox spectaculars "Maytime in Mayfair" and I went down to the studios to have lunch with her. Choosing my moment I approached Herbert, at which point he turned away and went to the toilet. Grimly, I followed him in and, standing next to him, I said: "Hello Mr. Wilcox, do you remember me?" He looked at me as if I was a fruit, said "no", buttoned up and went out.
Then there was the time at the Intimate Theatre when I had a message to ring Al Parker, then the biggest agent in films.
After going through 16 secretaries I finally spoke to him. "My name's Roger Moore." "So what," he said. "I had a message to ring you; I'm an actor at the Intimate Theatre, Palmers Green." "I didn't ring you," he said, and hung up.
Then there was Buster Collier, who in partnership with Wesley Ruggles, made "London Town" with Sid Field and the very young Kay Kendall. Now this was legitimate, they asked me to go and see them. I did a small part for them in "The Paper Orchid" with Hy Hazel and Sid James and they said fine. It seemed a contract was in the offing.
1 was going to be groomed, even my hair was to be cut only by their own hairdressers. Every week I presented myself at their Hanover Square Qflices, each time hoping that this was when the contract would be signed. Then one week I arrived as usual and the commissionaire asked me who I wanted and I said either Mr. Ruggles or Mr. Collier. "They don't live here any more," he said. "What do you mean?" I said. "They've gone abroad." I didn't believe him. I pushed past him and opened the office and there was this big bare room. The commissionaire was right. And I was beginning to get slightly disillusioned about film people. I'm not suggesting anything was wrong with them. It seemed everything was wrong with me. Never knock a knitting pattern. Especially if you are being paid for it. That lesson was an easy one for me to learn in those early struggling days. A photographer friend of Doom's asked me if I would do modelling and although I wasn't at all keen at least there was some money attached. Soon I was doing a bit of everything: knitting patterns, where I tried to make my muscles bulge out a pullover, even w
omen's magazine work where I was the model for the handsome hero in those ghastly fiction stories where Nigel is ensnared by Dolores even though Celia Loves Him Truly.


Work like this started to flow in, so much that I even farmed some of it out to other actors and put up my own rates. I gave a whole new status to an unknown dimension-mainly because before me there weren't any male models! In fact later, when I was an understudy in the West End theatre, I even got some modelling work for some of the people I was understudying. In my modelling days I was the illustration of The Doctor in Woman's Own; and I was even David Niven. One of the women's magazines had bought the rights to David Niven's life story "Around the Rugged Rocks" and instead of using actual photographs they did illustrations of David Niven-and I was the model for the drawings. I did a lot of work for Dinah Sheridan's mother, Lisa, who had a photographic business. Funnily enough I was recently working with Dinah's daughter, Jennie Hanley-whose father was the actor and TVTimes columnist Jimmy Hanley.

 

 

 

 

 
 
 
 

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