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A View To A Thrill? Roger Moore, David Bowie, Grace Jones and the James Bond film that never was

In May I penned The Other Fellow; an 007-slanted obituary of sorts of Sir Roger Moore, who’d died the day before. The Bond memory-raker took us up to but not including 1985’s oft-panned A View To A Kill.

Despite a memorable opening sequence atop the Eiffel Tower in Paris, an extraordinary duo of villains in Christopher Walken and Grace Jones, along with an energetic, chart-topping theme song by Duran Duran*, the movie failed to put bums on seats like its cast would suggest.

Perhaps 007’s days were numbered.

They tore down Paris on the tail of May Day

Perhaps it was just that people were finally tired of Roger Moore — he certainly looked it. Shorty after the film’s unspectacular run at the international box office (it did end the year in Britain as runner up to Back To The Future), a 58-year-old Moore announced that AVATK was his seventh and final time as Bond. Indeed, he didn’t even make another film for five years.

You can’t help but wonder if Eon Production’s original casting of David Bowie as the nefarious industrialist Max Zorin would have helped. In truth, probably not. Though the thought of being denied the chance to see The Thin White Dame team up with the he/she-devil Miss Grace, who gives a brilliantly bizarre, barely human performance as May Day, the film’s vixen-like villainess, is one of those great ‘if only’s of modern cinema.

The men who fell from something

The deviant sexual dynamic between Jones and Walken would have been doubly mesmerising with The Man Who Sold The World in the role of the biological freak, that’s for sure. This was early 1984, when the double whammy of Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Bowie’s Let’s Dance and attendant Serious Moonlight tour of ’83 had just made these relatively old pros the biggest pop stars on the planet.

So certain were Eon of nabbing Bowie that in the spring of 1984 they even released a slightly self-congratulatory statement from Albert Broccoli, the film franchise’s owner announcing that “David would make the perfect villain. We plan to exploit his unique physical oddity – his different coloured and different sized eyes”

In recent biographies there’s been less talk of Bowie’s third eye than his third leg

Bowie came very close to formally accepting Broccoli’s offer but by the September of that year had quashed the idea, telling the NME’s Charles Shaar Murray: “Yes, I was offered that. After Sting? I rather think it was the other way around. I think for an actor it’s probably an interesting thing to do, but for somebody from rock it’s more of a clown performance. And I didn’t want to spend five months watching my stunt double fall off mountains.”

How wrong he was. Max Zorin eventually falls off San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, and Moore had already played the clown in Octopussy.

Trivia alert: for a week of the 1983 summer holidays I stayed with my aunt Julia in that bastion of English middle-class suburbia, Tunbridge Wells, catching Octopussy at the local Classic Cinema. I didn’t know it at the time but it turns out that this was the former Ritz picture house where Bowie’s parents had met just after the war, and freakily, at the time we were perusing Octopussy, the Broccolis were trying their damnedest to lure Dame David into playing the villain in the next instalment of the franchise. 

Alas, it wasn’t to be, and many years after the event, Bowie elaborated on his retreat from Bondage:

”It was simply a terrible script and I saw little reason for spending so long on something that bad, that workmanlike. And I told them so. I don’t think anyone had turned down a major role in a Bond before. It really didn’t go down too well at all. They were very tetchy about it.”

Sexcrime? This scene had people in my local cinema cringing out loud, though I was never sure if it was barely veiled racism or it just looked like granddad getting off with a teenage boy

Later, in a question and answer session at Hammersmith’s Riverside Studios in 2003, the Dame’s claim was “I was asked to do both [the film and the theme song], but to be honest I haven’t watched a James Bond film since Sean Connery was in them. I don’t really like them.”

There’s more than a hint of trademark disingenuousness from Bowie there, as he’d watched at least one Moore 007, having very publicly attended the world premiere of Live And Let Die at London’s Odeon, Leicester Square two days after killing off his Ziggy Stardust alter-ego. This was the summer of ’73, when his Aladdin Sane album – featuring the very Bond-ish Lady Grinning Soul – was riding high in the charts,  ironically having kept The Beatles’ Red and Blue compilations from pole position.

Bowie and Paul McCartney at the London premiere of Live And Let Die, 5 July, 1973 (Getty Images)

Secondly, I attended The Story of James Bond extravaganza at the London Palladium in October 2008, a glamorous star-spangled gala evening put together to celebrate Ian Fleming’s centenary, and, on the subject of the Dame‘s withdrawal, managed to quiz the now knighted Roger Moore himself, however briefly:

“David always insisted on seeing the script before signing off on anything. But Eon just couldn’t get it together in time. They were banking on the reputation of the series as a whole but it wasn’t enough for him…. I would have loved to work with him but it was not to be.”

Indeed, Grace Jones’ illuminating autobiography, I’ll Never Write My Memoirs (2015) backs up her erstwhile co-star’s account, confirming that Bowie “also wanted to see the script, and for a long time they weren’t ready. They then asked Mick Jagger, because they definitely wanted this to be a rock ’n’ roll MTV Bond.”

Actually, in between Bowie and Jagger they did indeed approach Sting, and then Rutger Hauer, both of them fitting the teutonic blond bomb-dropper image perfectly. Jagger, well, Jagger is Jagger. When has he ever been anything else?

Why Eon didn’t get that slave to the rhythm Grace Jones herself to perform the theme is one of the many mysteries that envelop a Bond film. And sadly, the haphazard last-minute approach seems typical of the 007 franchise as a whole, with Moore’s successor Timothy Dalton recently revealing that “On Licence To Kill, I think I saw the script about two weeks before we started shooting. You know, that’s not great, is it?” Perhaps it’s just as well it didn’t happen. The Moore era is already criticized for exploiting the fad du jour (blaxploitation, kung-fu, Star Wars), and an “MTV Bond” would have been the most blatant and shameless example of that, ever. It would have been hard to defend charges it was a naked cash grab on Broccoli’s part.

Perhaps Bowie wasn’t entirely absent from A View to Kill, though: there was speculation Zorin’s Aryan demeanour (a strange, icy hybridisation of Bowie’s custard-mop hair-do from his 1983 persona and Sting in contemporaneous sci-fi movie, Dune) seemed to be a homage to the singer, though it was more likely a characterisation already written with Bowie in mind.

Grace Jones could hardly have failed to notice either, going on to write: “The role was eventually taken by Christopher Walken, styled to be very Thin White Duke Bowie—lean, mean, blond, and suavely narcissistic.” And the first Academy award-winning actor in a Bond to boot.

What any good Bond villain needs, above even a cruel, dastardly scheme, is a rapport with our hero. It’s hard to know how the arty, elitist Bowie with his youthful peroxide pop idol aesthetic and the ageing, relentlessly poised Moore would have meshed on screen, but the contrast would have been a fascinating one to behold.

The Man With The Olden Gun

Like 007, Moore and Bowie were keen skiers on the Alpine slopes of Gstaad, and both had a close relationship with Switzerland. It was Moore’s children who first pressured him to move to Gstaad in 1978, after they had learned to ski. “Being a weak father,” he said, with his usual trademark self-deprecation, and having been “waiting for an excuse to leave England” – he agreed.

In 2010, I found myself at Chalet Gifferhorn, the Gstaad winter residence of Valentino (probably best you don’t ask). I couldn’t help but notice the celebrated fashion designer had the telephone numbers of both Roger and David in his address book that he displayed very publicly in the grand foyer. I wondered if the two almost-co-stars and would-be on-screen nemeses had been strangers that had met. Moore hadn’t said so explicitly and there was no mention of Bowie at all in his memoirs.

Moore could speak French and was a fan of mountain life. As was Bowie, who couldn’t speak French but, hell, that didn’t stop him attempting a version of Heroes in the language (“chante en Français”) anyway. 

Beau? Oui

Moreover, I recently received an advance review copy of a new biography by Dylan Jones, David Bowie: A Life. There’s an interesting tale of when The Dame befriended James Bond.

In 1976, 29-year-old David Bowie’s finances were in tatters. Indeed, in her book, Backstage Passes: Life on the Wild Side with David Bowie, his first wife Angela describes how he’d have had a hefty tax problem if he’d stayed in America. Returning to the oppressively high-tax UK was ruled out, so they decided instead to move to landlocked Switzerland, where Angie had attended private school.

With the help of a lawyer, Mrs B arranged Swiss residency for her and David in the canton of Vaud, coincidentally where Ian Fleming wrote that James Bond’s mother Monique Delacroix was born. The couple first settled in Clos de Mésanges, a large rented chalet in the commune of Blonay, a hillside locale in the district of Riviera-Pays-d’Enhaut near Vevey, which was home to another English expat, Charlie Chaplin.

In her book she describes Blonay as “a charming village above Lake Geneva near Montreux in the French-speaking part of the country.” She then goes on to say “The place I’d found was a commodious cuckoo-clock of a house très Swiss.”

Cuckoo, it’s Clos de Mésanges

In 1978, Bowie gave up his Berlin apartment and made Switzerland his principal residence, despite not knowing anyone in the country. But as luck would have it, 007 himself had just made the move to Gstaad, less than an hour away. Oscar-nominated scriptwriter and novelist Hanif Kureishi provided this anecdote for the book:

“One day, about half-past five in the afternoon, there’s a knock on the door, and there he was: ‘Hello, David.’ Roger Moore comes in, and they had a cup of tea. He stays for drinks, and then dinner, and tells lots of stories about the James Bond films. They had a fantastic time – a brilliant night.

“But then, the next day, at 5.30… Knock, knock, it’s Roger Moore. He invites himself in again, and sits down: ‘Yeah, I’ll have a gin and tonic, David.’ He tells the same stories – but they’re slightly less entertaining the second time around. After two weeks [of Moore turning up] at 5.25pm – literally every day – David Bowie could be found underneath the kitchen table pretending not to be in.”

Cuckoo, it’s Clos de Mésanges again. This time with feet

It’s a mildly amusing tale of a bloke attempting re-entry, but, alas, it doesn’t quite ring true for me. In fact it’s a rather weak retelling of Mel Brooks’ much-repeated story about Cary Grant. Ask yourself who would Kureishi have heard this story from? But of course, the Dame himself, a self-confessed pathological liar! Are we really to believe that Bowie had to resort to hiding under a table? This sizeable property had 14 rooms and was set back from the electronic by a long driveway, as I witnessed for myself above.

No matter. As I wrote in the Bowiestyle book I co-authored with Mark Paytress, Bowie was never one to let the truth get in the way of a good quote. Still, it’s interesting to speculate on what might have been. Coincidentally, Bowie and Moore were born in the same south London borough of Lambeth, and died of the same lung and liver cancers at 69 and 89 within 18 months of each other. Perhaps somewhere in the sky they’re making that movie after all.

Let’s hope it’s a good one.

Steve Pafford

UPDATE: On 21st September Roger Moore’s official Twitter account debunked the Bowie story. Ha.

*A View To A Kill was the last Duran Duran record to feature all of the original Fab Five until their reunion in 2004, whereby guitarist then became the only band member to part ways with the rest of the band twice; a fact that I felt some Loose Women might want to quiz the boys on…

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