Caine’s still able

Sir Michael Caine beside the Blue Plaque commemorating his first acting role at North Runcton Sch

Sir Michael Caine beside the Blue Plaque commemorating his first acting role at North Runcton School. - Credit: Eastern Daily Press, Archant

From young wartime evacuee in Norfolk to Hollywood superstardom, Sir Michael Caine reveals he has no intention of retiring, writes Rachel Buller and Fergus Ewbank

From the cocksure demeanour and glint in his eye to that unmistakable voice and stylish look, there is no denying that Sir Michael Caine is still very much the main man.

He might be 82 years old, but there is no chance of him slowing down - indeed he co-starred with Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel and Rachel Weisz earlier this year in the film Youth.

“I feel like I want to make every day interesting and live as full a life as I can manage. Sometimes I worry when friends die or become ill and it makes me more aware of my mortality, but that just makes me more determined to stick around,” he says.

Sir Michael, who has been married to wife Shakira for 46 years, has a career which spans seven decades and has seen him star in more than 100 films and win countless awards. But it was his time in Norfolk as a wartime evacuee – when he was still Maurice Micklewhite - which first introduced him to the stage.

He arrived in the west Norfolk village of Runcton, near King’s Lynn, as a seven-year-old in 1940, swapping the urban, suffocating sprawl of south London for fresh air, freedom and country life. Sir Michael has always talked with genuine affection for those years, describing it as “the happiest time of my life”, and that fondness is reciprocated. In 2003, a commemorative Blue Plaque was placed in the village simply saying “Sir Michael Caine – made his first stage appearances here as a wartime evacuee, 1940 – 1944”. That stage debut was as a 10-year-old in the annual village pantomime – playing Baron Fitznoodle in Cinderella.

While there he made friends with children in the village who taught him about pheasants, foxes and farming. He wrote in his autobiography of the sharp contrast with his life in south London: “Here was a chance to run free in fresh air, away from soot laden fumes and get the sun on my face instead of the shade of the dark buildings. For children like myself the war was lucky. We were taken out of our rotten environment and given a chance for a healthy life.”

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He attended the Hackney Downs School, which had been moved wholesale from London to west Norfolk - to Downham Market, Upwell and Outwell, and eventually to King’s Lynn where the pupils and staff were based until just after the war. For young Maurice and his family - his mother, Ellen, was working as a cook for the English family at The Grange in North Runcton and they had moved into the servants’ quarters there - peace meant a return to London.

Maurice joined the Royal Fusiliers, before returning to East Anglia – this time to join the repertory company at Lowestoft Theatre where his acting career began.

Although Sir Michael made his name as the cheeky, immaculately coiffed bachelor boy of the 1960s – thanks to his most famous roles in Alfie, The Italian Job and Get Carter, the majority of his well-known roles, including in Hannah and Her Sisters and The Cider House Rules for which he won Oscars, have seen him portray damaged, complex yet compelling figures.

“I never wanted to play saints,” he shrugs. “They’re usually pretty boring kinds of characters. I’d much rather play a criminal who’s flawed and a rogue with a bit of charm. I’ve always enjoyed making those kinds of characters seem more interesting and appealing than the typical kind of hero.

“I’ve been willing to adapt as I’ve grown older. At one point you’re no longer a movie star, you’re an actor. One day a producer sent me a script and I told him I didn’t want to do it because the role was too small. Then he told me he wasn’t offering me the part of the lover; he wanted me to play the father. As I’ve said many times, I don’t get the girl anymore, I get the part.”