SIR Roger Moore was the son of a poor London policeman from the back streets of Lambeth who grew up to become James Bond and The Saint – as one of the most successful actors of his generation.

In later life, shocked by the poverty he saw in India, Moore became a goodwill ambassador for Unicef, the United Nations' children's fund.

More than a billion people saw him play Bond, making him one of the best-known British actors in the world.

He brought a casual air of dashing elegance, sophistication and a surprising iron streak of ruthlessness to his two most famous roles.

At 6ft 2in with pale blue eyes and fair hair, his debonair good looks were ideal for heroic roles.

But part of his success was due to the sardonic approach he adopted, as if winking at the audience to share a mutual joke.

His acting style was sometimes criticised for its lack of depth, yet he achieved huge success while happily acknowledging his limitations.

"When I was doing The Saint on television I had two expressions; as Bond I've managed to work up to four," he joked.

His luxurious off-screen lifestyle was a long way from his roots in south London where he was born at Aldebert Terrace, Lambeth, in 1927, the only son of a policeman.

Art was his best and favourite subject at school and he decided to leave at the age of 16 to take up a job as an assistant in a London studio specialising in cartoons.

He then tried his hand as a film extra on Caesar and Cleopatra at Denham Studios in 1944, where the co-director Brian Desmond Hurst noticed him not just for his tall good looks but for what he described as animal magnetism.

Hurst persuaded Moore's father to pay the 17 guineas a term for a course at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (Rada). But he remained for only three of the six terms because of the financial strain he felt he was putting on his parents.

At the age of 19, Moore married a girl he had met at Rada, Doorn van Steyn, and spent several years living with her in one room of her sister's house. He began a part-time modelling career to supplement his income.

In 1952 Moore met the singer Dorothy Squires at the peak of her career and married her a year later in the United States after divorcing Doorn.

He decided to try his luck in America and finally lost his cockney accent after Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios sent him to a dialogue director.

He made a number of fairly unimpressive films, including The Last Time I Saw Paris with Elizabeth Taylor, but it was television which made his reputation.

It began with Columbia's Ivanhoe series, followed by The Alaskans and then Maverick.

In a brief return to films, he agreed to co-star with Italian actress Luisa Mattioli in The Rape of the Sabine Women in Rome in 1961.

He fell in love at first sight and they set up home together. His marriage to Dorothy Squires was finally dissolved in 1969.

In 1962 Moore returned to television after he was picked by ATV boss Lew Grade for the part of Leslie Charteris's hero Simon Templar, The Saint.

It was the role he played for seven years and, with it, came fame and worldwide recognition.

The man whom one critic said would "never make an actor" was seen eventually in more than 80 countries.

He had been earmarked as the next James Bond when Sean Connery decided Diamonds are Forever was to be his curtain-call in the role of 007.

Connery was so much the embodiment of Bond that many sceptics feared Moore would lack the rod of iron behind the suave exterior.

But with the release of Live and Let Die in 1973 he triumphed with a performance which skilfully blended strength with humour.

Six more Bond films followed over the ensuing 12 years – The Man with the Golden Gun, The Spy who Loved Me, Moonraker, For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy and A View to a Kill.

At the end of A View to a Kill in 1985 he decided to hand back his licence to kill.

"I realised that jumping around with bullets and bombs in my middle-50s was really daft," he said.

His James Bond was light-hearted, and often portrayed 007 as somewhat of a playboy, with tongue firmly in cheek.

His life changed in 1983 when filming his sixth film as James Bond in India. Shocked at the poverty, he became interested in the Third World humanitarian effort. His friend Audrey Hepburn had impressed him with her work for Unicef and he became a Goodwill Ambassador in 1991.

Despite having made millions through his film and television career, friends stressed he was one of the most modest and charming actors in the business and all that really mattered were his wife and family.

In 1999, Moore was created a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE), and a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) on June 14, 2003.

The citation on the knighthood was for Moore's charity work and he said that the citation "meant far more to me than if I had got it for acting".