Michael Caine, that great exponent of 60s cockney cool, turned 84 this week.
It was merely coincidence that I was discussing him with a colleague, ruminating on his various triumphs, the peaks and troughs of his long career and the fact that he and Sean Connery were pretty much our only international stars during the mean years of the 1970s.
I say mean years because the British film industry ground to a standstill. International companies closed their London production offices and decamped back to Los Angeles and New York. It was a sombre time to be a British actor.
But Caine (and Connery) had evolved beyond home-grown status to be bankable Hollywood stars. They were A-listers of the highest calibre. Yet Caine is also the first to admit that he has made more than his fair share of stinkers – probably because he’s made more films than many of his contemporaries. On a 5-1 ratio he’s made some classics. So on the back of Educating Rita we can forgive him for dross like Ashanti and Jaws: The Revenge.
Then there’s the excellent
Little Voice, made by Bridlingtonborn Mark Herman and shot on location in an out-of-season Scarborough in the winter of 1997 with co-stars Brenda Blethyn and Jim Broadbent.
Caine’s memories of that time include trips out to a restaurant on the North York Moors where he, Broadbent and others would tuck into “the best steak and kidney pudding I’ve ever had in my life. I used to take all my lads – the driver, the dresser and all that – and it was great.”
He added: “Scarborough is a strange town but it’s a wonderful town to walk in. There’s a big bandstand there, on the front, and it was cold, wintry and empty.”
Mark Herman’s is just one of the names on Caine’s cinematic CV. Over more than 60 years – he made his film debut in A Hill in Korea in 1956 – he’s worked with everyone from John Huston to Christopher Nolan, who seemingly acquired Caine as a talisman in the Batman movies and beyond.
Like his buddy Connery, who was a Scot even when he played a Russian, a Norwegian or an Egyptian, Caine has resolutely played a variation of himself. The London timbre of the Elephant & Castle may have been toned down for the career soldier in Zulu but it reappeared regularly over the next 50 years. Only the critics criticised; audiences loved it.
I last saw Caine a few years back for the release of Interstellar, Nolan’s sci-fi epic that offered hope for the future. Caine’s reaction: “I’m 81, so I’m positive!”
You can’t say fairer than that…
Caine is the first to admit that he has made more
than his fair share of