Just over a week ago, we learned the sad news of the death of the great Sir Roger Moore following a short battle with cancer. During his illustrious career, he was best known for playing Secret Agent 007 and spy Simon Templar in the Saint. A more inconspicuous role he played however, was that of an officer for CSE while completing National Service in the British Army in the 1940s. At CSE, he took part in plays that toured bases in Europe, providing "a chance to get away from the daily grind".
Roger Moore hailed from a Military family, his grandfather being RSM William Pope of the Loyal Regiment and the Army’s Senior RSM during WWI. Graham Smith, a writer for Soldier Magazine, interviewed Sir Roger back in 1983 on the set of his final Bond film, Octopussy. Lucky Graham was regaled with the great man’s amusing tales of his military life. Here are some of the best bits from that interview:
“My call-up was in November 1945 and since hostilities had ceased, I allowed myself to be dragged away. I was doing a season of Shaw plays at the Cambridge Arts Theatre with a terrible case of yellow jaundice – brought on by too much Guinness."
"The Army took one look at my urine sample and passed me A1, which just goes to show how desperate they were.”
After completing his basic training with the Beds and Herts Regiment, he found himself posted to the RASC. While forced marches caused others to grumble about blisters, Roger’s problem was more often hoarseness caused by singing. His favourites were ‘Colonel Bogey’ and ‘The Rat-trap Encatchment Song’. That was until the fateful day when his section Commander bawled: “We seem to have got a bit of a bleedin’ Caruso ‘ere. Get up front lad and start singing ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’”, which he did for the next ten miles.
One day his Company Sergeant Major sent for him:
“Your papers show that you were a bit of an artist. Go and paint that f****** hut!”
In 2006, he spoke to the British Forces News about his time in the military:
After passing out as a Second Lieutenant in the RASC, he was posted to Schleswig in Germany and then on to Neumunster where he was involved in a serious accident:
“I woke up some time later in the Casualty Reception Station back in Schleswig and was then moved to a small Military Hospital in Hamburg where I was to stay for the next three months.”
He was discharged on the Saturday and was back in hospital on the Sunday with appendicitis:
“I had a lot of chums at the hospital who were delighted to see me again and there was an illegal party, when bottles were brought in. In the next room was a Captain, who at the age of thirty-five was being circumcised. When I came round from the operation, I was offering to service the nursing sisters from the matron down to a Scots orderly called Jock. This showed I had a great deal of emotion despite seventy-five stitches in my abdomen.”
Roger later applied to Colonel Bunny Warren of ENSA suggesting that he might arrange an immediate posting.
“I spent the last year of my Army career with ENSA/CSE in Hamburg among many people I had known at RADA, including Bryan Forbes.”
While in Hamburg, Roger and Bryan occasionally broadcast for British Forces Network (BFN) Hamburg. One of the most popular BFN programmes was called ‘The Adventures of Robin Hood’ with Corporal Nigel Davenport as Robin, Squadron Leader Cliff Michelmore as Little John, Raymond Baxter as Guy de Gisborne and Roger Moore and Bryan Forbes played Sherwood Foresters. His broadcasting debut did not impress the producer, Trevor Hill, who suggested that he should take up modelling sweaters. Years later when he had finished his first Bond movie, Roger wrote to Trevor a charming note that simply said: ‘Still can’t act, but am earning a living!’.
When his time in the Army ended in November 1948, Roger Moore remarked:
“In retrospect, it was all wonderful. I found I thoroughly enjoyed it and the training but I don’t think I’d go back to that diet – liver in a very watery gravy for breakfast.”
What a legend! RIP Sir Roger Moore.
Cover Picture: Allan Warren