WHEN I phone him in his summer home of Monaco Sir Roger Moore is everything you expect – charming, chatty and amusing.

The only regret is that I can’t see him and are unable to see if he’s employing his famous eyebrow acting technique.

Critics have not always been kind about the performances of this one-time James Bond and former Saint, but a nice line in self-deprecating humour has stood him in good stead during his long career. Taking the line that if you can’t beat them, join them he “invented” the Roger Moore eyebrow acting technique – a joke seized upon by those mischievous Spitting Image folk.

He’s only himself to blame. An exponent of the self-derogatory remark, he noted he had just three expressions – left eyebrow raised, right eyebrow raised and no eyebrows raised. “I remember at the time my agent said you must stop saying these bad things about yourself and I said, ‘But they’re saying them already’,” he recalls.

But how to address him? Certainly not Mr Moore as he’s a knight of the realm. Arise Sir Roger Moore. But he’s equally famous as James Bond from the 007 films, not to forget Lord Brett Sinclair from The Persuaders and Simon Templar, alias The Saint, in TV hits. Those with long memories might add two more TV roles, the title character in Ivanhoe and Beau Maverick in the western series Maverick.

Is there another actor who can claim to be known for quite so many and so varied roles on screens, big and small? Somehow he’s always remained his charming and humorous self. It’s a part he plays to perfection and has kept him in work from early days as a young actor in weekly rep and a Hollywood contract player to movie stardom, holding a licence to kill as James Bond between 1973 and 1985.

At 86, he has much to talk about which makes his theatre show An Evening – and on several occasions An Afternoon – with Roger Moore such a good idea. He toured the show in 2012 and 2013, and now has 12 new dates this autumn to towns and cities chosen, he claims, because his wife, Kristin, wants to visit them.

He’s a great joker and prankster. Film sets, you gather, are never dull when he’s around.

He’s heading to London to promote his new book, Last Man Standing: Tales From Tinseltown before hitting the road for his latest tour that comes to York Grand Opera House on September 24. He’ll be interviewed on stage by author Gareth Owen, who worked with Moore on his autobiography My Word Is My Bond and Bond Is Bond.

In truth, Sir Roger needs little encouragement to launch into another story taken from his life and career. For him every picture tells a story, often with a punchline at his expense. Although deliciously gossipy, his stories are never malicious. Writing his autobiography he made it a rule not to be horrible about people. “It’s not my style to put it in print, being nasty about people. It’s very unfair, particularly on people who are dead. Even worse if they are alive.”

He didn’t start writing his autobiography until the eve of his 80th birthday, in 2007. Why so late in life? “It took me a long time to learn to spell,” he replies. “It’s a bit like the tour and not having been in some of the towns since 1949 – I say I am back by popular demand,” he says.

Despite his great success on screen, theatre figured in his early career with his current tour not only bringing back memories of those days but also reminding him of the moment he realised it was to be an actor’s life for him. “The reason I like to wander around theatres from time to time is that feeling you have when you can hear the house chatting away, hear the bells go and the lights gradually diminish. You hear the swish of the curtain, take a deep breath – and you’re on,” he recalls with a temporary seriousness.

“It’s that feeling I love. Like that first time I did an audition for RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art) and thought this is really what I want to do. That’s the most wonderful thing about our profession. If you are working in a profession with the highest unemployment rate, then no actor is acting because he has to do it. It’s because he wants to do it. It’s a very lucky profession to be in. I can’t imagine what it would be like doing manual labour.”

Yet as James Bond, he was involved in his fair share of physical action, I suggest. “Oh, you mean the love scenes – they were terrible to do,” he says. “I got a few knocks and bruises when explosions happened before they should,” he says. Thankfully his main acting tool, his eyebrows, weren’t singed.

He knew the time had come to hang up his secret agent’s badge before playing Bond for the last time. “It wasn’t because of the physical stuff as I could still play tennis for two hours a day and do a one-hour workout every morning.

Physically I was okay, but facially I started looking… well, the leading ladies were young enough to be my grand-daughter and it becomes disgusting.”

Bond is just one of his repertoire of roles. Ask why his CV is so varied and this ever-jolly-Roger says, “People have kept giving me different roles to see if I could get any better”.

As a contract player to the big studios in Hollywood, he was required to play whatever role they allocated him. Some felt frustrated by the restrictions, but it wasn’t “too bad”, says Moore. “You were paid for 40 weeks work a year, which they spread over 52 weeks so you did three months work on and off. It was good. I enjoyed it, they were good years.

“The studios made stars. They were groomed.

Productions were picked for actors and if someone clicked and the film served for you, people became Clark Gable or Spencer Tracy.”

He tells of appearing in a live play on US television in which he began as a 96-year-old Scot and then, in flashbacks, had to play him at 30. “They made up my face to look old, stuck all sorts of things on with rubber cement. Then that had to be whipped off very quickly in 50 seconds so I could play him as a young man.

They took off my skin as well.

“I had one hand made up to look old and the other was the nice hand. I had to fight with nice hand so no one saw the old hand as that makeup couldn’t be taken off.”

As you gather from talking to him, fun is the keyword for happiness. “If you are not able to laugh at things and laugh at yourself throughout life, then life is unbearable,” he says. There is one subject about which he is serious – his work as an ambassador for Unicef (United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund) for the past 24 years. He was recruited by actress Audrey Hepburn who invited him to accompany her on a visit to an international children’s ward. “It was listening to her and her passion and her elegance on the subject of the children that intrigued me, that gave me the thirst for more,” he recalls.

“I am so grateful because it changed my life and I have been able to do things for Unicef. It sounds a bit po-faced and pompous but it’s doing something good in life apart from prancing around in pictures.”

  • An Evening With Sir Roger Moore: York Grand Opera House, Weds, Sept 24. Box Office: 0844-8713024 and atgtickets.com/ York