It’s been more than five decades since he twirled his chimney sweep’s brush, looped arms with Julie Andrews, and dazzled us with that megawatt smile – and dubious cockney accent.
Now, at the ripe old age of 90, Dick Van Dyke is as chirpy as ever. And he is more than happy to discuss the accent he’s been gently mocked for ever since his turn in the 1964 classic Mary Poppins.
Dick explains that his voice coach wasn’t even English, never mind being from East London. He says: “They only sent a coach to me once for that accent.
“And he was an Irishman – his cockney accent was not much better than mine.”
Dick became a household name in the 1960s after his starring roles in Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
And he’s still going strong. When I call him at his LA home, it’s 10am. He’s been up since six and has already spent an hour in the gym. Even his wife Arlene Silver – his “child bride” who, at 44, is 46 years his junior and one of the “secrets” to his continued good health – is not yet awake.
He says: “I get up on the right side of the bed, but my wife isn’t a morning person – I talk to her at 10pm!”
He seems irrepressibly chipper, but there is one person who can dampen Dick’s spirits – Donald Trump.
“He is scaring me to death,” he says of the Republican US presidential nominee.
“Why don’t people see through him? He has a following of millions of people.
He reminds me of Mussolini back in the 1940s. The other day he said, ‘I am the only one who can save you.’ That’s the line of a dictator or a tyrant. Not a democratic politician. He really has got me so scared,” says Dick.
“About 30 well-known psychiatrists came out and said, ‘This man is narcissistic and has delusions of grandeur.’
“They don’t think he’s fit – I don’t think he’s fit to be a leader of anything, really.”
And Dick’s opinion of the presidential candidate hasn’t changed much since he first met the tycoon, as a much younger man at a beach party in Malibu, California.
He says: “He had a shirt opened down to the waist with a bunch of chains on. I kind of passed judgment on him then. I don’t think he knew who I was.”
His laugh is infectious, and Dick, an American actor and all-round entertainer who grew up in Illinois, has made a career out of making people giggle.
Originally a radio DJ, he began touring as part of a comedy duo before making his Broadway debut and finally becoming a household name with The Dick Van Dyke show in the 1960s. Now he’s a nonagenarian he has lost none of his zest for life.
“I’m still singing and dancing,” he says. “I go to the gym in the morning and try and get in the pool three days a week.” He knows he’s lucky to still be so active.
“I do struggle with arthritis. I was doing Chitty Bang Bang and I pulled a muscle in my leg doing a dance number.
“The doctor said from the X-ray I was riddled from head to foot with arthritis – and predicted I’d be in a walker within five to seven years. But I’m still dancing!”
The only ill health he’s suffered was a bout of pneumonia in Vancouver two years ago when he was filming the comedy Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb with Ben Stiller.
He says: “I was struck with pneumonia and my lung collapsed. They told me I might have breathing problems but I don’t have any. I’m very lucky.”
Despite remaining healthy as he grows
COCK-ER-NEY CHAP Dick with Julie Andrews in the 1964 hit Mary Poppins TV SHOW With co-star Mary Tyler Moore CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG As Professor Potts with actress Sally Ann Howes