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Thursday, September 16, 1999 Published at 09:30 GMT 10:30 UK


Entertainment

Crawford comes clean

Ghosts from the past: The many faces of Michael Crawford

By BBC News Online's Gareth Herincx

Superstars don't come much more self-effacing than the multi-talented Michael Crawford.

In London to promote his autobiography Parcel Arrived Safely: Tied With String, the 57-year-old entertainer is almost apologetic about the book which he says "rambles on".


[ image: Child star: Crawford aged 12]
Child star: Crawford aged 12
The reality is quite different. It's not just a resume of his near half century in showbusiness, but a candid look at his life's ups and downs.

"I don't feel that there's anything there that I'm embarrassed about or I'm ashamed of," he says.

Crawford's biggest mistake - and regret - is the break-up of his marriage to Gabrielle - the mother of his two grown-up daughters, Lucy and Emma. The couple separated in 1972 - the result of his infidelity.


Michael Crawford: "I'm as lazy as the next person"
"I've made mistakes in my life and I'm of an age when I realise that everyone makes mistakes. When you grow up you feel very guilty about mistakes."


[ image: Crawford with Some Mothers co-star Michelle Dotrice]
Crawford with Some Mothers co-star Michelle Dotrice
To many people in the UK, Crawford's best known for his role as the naïve, accident-prone Frank Spencer in the hit 1970s BBC sitcom Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em.

He's in fact one of Britain's best-known international stars - his career spanning four decades in radio, television, film and on stage.

He's also worked alongside some unforgettable names, including his hero Gene Kelly, Steve McQueen, Buster Keaton, Frank Sinatra and John Lennon.

Born Michael Patrick Dumbell-Smith in 1942 on the Isle fo Sheppey - he later changed his name to Crawford after spotting an advert for Crawford's Biscuits - he was the result of a one-night stand between his mother and a fighter pilot.


[ image: Howzat: Crawford and his friend John Lennon]
Howzat: Crawford and his friend John Lennon
He began his career as a boy soprano in Benjamin Britten's Let's Make An Opera, before moving on to make hundreds of radio and TV appearances.

He made his big screen debut in two 1958 Children's Film Foundation productions - Soapbox Derby and Blow Your Own Trumpet.

More films followed in the 1960s including The War Lover with Steve McQueen, The Knack and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum which also starred screen legend Buster Keaton.

He also acted alongside his friend John Lennon in How I Won the War, before playing opposite Barbra Streisand in 1969's Hello Dolly! - directed by Gene Kelly.


[ image: Oh what a circus: Crawford in Barnum (1981)]
Oh what a circus: Crawford in Barnum (1981)
The 1970s were dominated by his work on Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em, along with other films including Michael Winner's The Games in 1970.

The 1980s saw Crawford move into musicals. He won an Olivier award for the physically gruelling performance in Barnum, before winning more acclaim as The Phantom of the Opera in London, New York and Los Angeles.

And it's on the final night of Phantom in 1989 that self-confessed perfectionist Crawford finishes the first instalment of his autobiography.


Crawford on the Phantom film: "I would love to do it"
The possibility that the title role in the forthcoming Phantom movie might go to Antonio Banderas or another actor has led to the launch of a pro-Crawford campaign by a group of his biggest fans.

Crawford says he'd love to make the film and is flattered by the campaign, but is philosophical about the outcome, adding "what will be will be".


[ image: Phantom duo: Crawford and Sarah Brightman]
Phantom duo: Crawford and Sarah Brightman
However, one comeback he won't be making is as Frank Spencer in another series of Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em.

"I think it would be rather sad if he was still making the same mistakes 25 years later, so I don't think we'll ever revisit Frank at the age of 50."

For the moment, Crawford's happy to carry on touring the world with his concerts and continue making best-selling albums and US TV specials.

"I may go back and do another musical," he says. "So far it's been my choice to turn down the opportunities to do more mainly because I've had three very, very long runs and I'm not sure I want to be in any one place for any length of time.

"Maybe the next step is another career change. Every 10 years I tend to get involved with something that has changed my life."

Parcel Arrived Safely: Tied With String is published by Century, priced £16.99.



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