You are here: Books Monthly » The Jerry Dowlen Column »
Roger Moore as Ivanhoe
The actor Sir Roger
Moore (1927 – 2017): His early television role as Ivanhoe, based on the epic 12th
century adventure stories by Sir Walter Scott.
Ivanhoe – The Saint – James Bond: What a splendid literary
trio of dashing adventurers, heroes and rescuers! And what literary giants
their inventors were! Sir Walter Scott – Leslie Charteris – Ian Fleming. Each
of them sold millions of books and gained mass fame and popularity.
There is of course one very famous and popular English actor
that links all three authors and their three fictional adventurers. In May 2017,
the death of Sir Roger Moore at age 89 was mourned by a generation of fans that
loved his suave charm and his polished good looks.
Fans would instantly nominate The Saint and James Bond as the
stand-out roles in Roger Moore’s superstar career. Less readily remembered now
is Ivanhoe, the television series that ran on ITV in 1958. Moore was an unknown
young actor when he was handed the lead role, but Sir Walter Scott’s epic novel
of 12th century adventure proved to be the launch pad that would
propel him to further and greater stardom.
Sir Walter Scott: Ivanhoe
A visit to the city of Edinburgh will quickly inform you
that Sir Walter Scott (1771 – 1832) is a foremost Scottish national treasure.
The main railway station in Edinburgh is named after his famous Waverley
novels. Emerge on to Princes Street and your eye is drawn to the imposing Scott
memorial, a giant 200-foot Victorian Gothic edifice erected in Scott’s honour
in 1844. Scott wrote many books that came to be regarded as classics: for
example Rob Roy, Heart of Midlothian; various tales of the Crusades; stories set in
France, Malta and Spain.
in 1819) was the tenth of the Waverley novels and was often singled out for
mention as a particular favourite with readers of every age. Scott set the
story in the year 1194 and essayed a long (three volume) series of adventures that
embraced the military and social history of northern England in that medieval
era: the divide between Saxons and Normans; the persecution of Jews; the
protection of land, castles and dowrys.
ITV follows Hollywood …
The ITV television series Ivanhoe was pitched as children’s entertainment. Clad in helmet,
armour and lance, astride a white charger, the tall, handsome young Roger Moore
was a stereotype Boy’s Own hero, while no doubt simultaneously capturing the
admiration of a young female audience as he bravely jousted and fought with
villainous opponents and he rescued damsels in distress. It was all in keeping
with late 1950s and early 1960s expectations that children’s television drama could
successfully adapt stories of legendary heroes in history. Similar series on
ITV in the late 1950s featured the adventures of Robin Hood and William Tell,
respectively starring the actors Richard Greene and Conrad Phillips.
It had nevertheless been rather bold for ITV to risk putting
on the Ivanhoe series in 1958, for
Scott’s knightly story had received the full Hollywood treatment just five
years earlier, in MGM’s swaggering colour production of 1953. The young and
then unknown Roger Moore on the small screen in black & white was following in some dauntingly famous
footsteps, for the big film had starred Robert Taylor, Elizabeth Taylor, Joan
Fontaine and George Sanders.
Sir Walter Scott briefly mentioned Robin Hood in his Ivanhoe novel of 1820. The folk-hero of
Sherwood Forest is sufficiently famous in English history that Scott would have
expected that his readers knew the legend. Scholars have looked long for
authentication of a real Robin Hood. Some have concluded that he may have
hailed from Yorkshire. Was he contemporaneous with King John who reigned from
1199 to 1216? Or – if Robin Hood existed at all – was he even earlier than
this, or later? Whatever the truth, Robin Hood in Lincoln green and Ivanhoe in
shining armour are real enough in public imagination to be paired as handsome
Sir Walter Scott: better enjoyed on screen than via the
‘It is true
that many readers today, especially among younger people, find a lot of the
pages of Scott’s novels tiresome to read. So often the vigorous action is held
up by long descriptions of scenery or of customs of the countryside of which he
That comment on Sir Walter Scott was printed in 1950 [by
coincidence, in an encyclopaedia published by The Waverley Book Company!] The writer mooted that a television fan of Ivanhoe encountering Scott’s book of the
story might soon learn to skip the long interludes between the exciting bits:
‘… For a “skipped” Scott is far
better than no Scott at all, if you are wise enough to wish to share the grand
adventures of characters that are as warm-hearted as they are warm-blooded’.
For mass audiences under the spell of the exciting new
entertainment medium of television in the 1950s Ivanhoe was easy and enjoyable fodder as packaged by ITV in
25-minute action-packed weekly episodes ‘drawn loosely from Scott’s novel’.
Roger Moore offered only two short paragraphs on Ivanhoe in his 270-page autobiography Tales from Tinseltown (Michael O’Mara
Books, 2014) – and then only a weak anecdote about the hairdresser in the
make-up department! But thanks to Ivanhoe
one knight in effect helped another: Sir Walter Scott (knighted in 1818) gave
Sir Roger Moore (knighted in 2003) a big early step in a showbiz career that
would eventually see the London-born actor become a household name as Simon
Templar on television from 1962 to 1969 and then seven big screen cinema
appearances from 1973 to 1985 as James Bond Agent 007 ‘Licenced to Kill’.
Previous articles by Jerry Dowlen in the Books Monthly Archives include:
Future Rock: Music and Politics in the 1970s
The New Love Poetry and London's 1967 Unforgettable Summer of Love
The author E.M. Forster (1879 – 1970) in books and films.
The novelist R.F.
Delderfield and his heroes who roam from home.
How The Wild West Was Written
Emmeline Pankhurst and Florence Foster Jenkins
Paula Hawkins: The Girl on the Train
H G Wells
In praise of the British Seaside!Girls Just Wanna Have Fun in 1963: Christine Keeler & Nell Dunn
Politicians, Pop Stars and Preachers - John Mortimer's Characters of 1986
Shakespeare's 400th Centenary
Gregory's Girl: Remembering the Hit Film
The Impact and Legacy of Fear of Flying by Erica Jong
A Tribute to Margaret Forster
Remembering Saeed Jaffrey
Old Wine in New Bottles - "new" books by Margery Allingham, Raymond Chandler & Agatha Christie
Remembering Ruth Rendell
Philip Larkin: His Maiden Voyage on The North Ship (1945)
The Catcher in the Rye and Billy Liar
Erle Stanley Gardner
Antony Sher: The History Man
Edmund Crispin, Crime Fiction Author
Computer Chess: The Imitation Game
P G Wodehouse
John Betjeman and Candida Lycett Green
Sherlock Holmes: The Seven Per Cent Solution
Muriel Spark & Jane Gardam
The Story of Edith Nesbit
Anthony Gilbert and Michael Gilbert
Rebels With A Cause
Inspector Winter: Gwendoline Butler's First Detective
The Carlton, The Commodore, and the Embassy - Orpington's Three Cinemas
The Bergerac Police Adventure Series
It's All In The Mind - Margery Allingham and Graham Greene
Berlin: Cold War Spy Thrillers
The Life and Centenary of Barbara Pym
D H Lawrence: The Sniggering Legacy of Lady Chatterley's Lover...
The small print: Books Monthly, now well into its sixteenth year on the web, is published on or slightly before the first day of each month by Paul Norman. You can contact me here. If you wish to submit something for publication in the magazine, let me remind you there is no payment as I don't make any money from this publication. If you want to send me something to review, contact me via email and I'll let you know where to send it.