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Friday, 16 June, 2000, 21:21 GMT 22:21 UK
Sir Michael: In from the cold
Sir Michael
Sir Michael has remained staunchly independent
By the BBC's Andrew Walker

Sir Michael Caine's knighthood comes after 45 years as an actor, with roles in more than 100 films. It is also the third in a series of triumphs for him this year.

First came his second Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in The Cider House Rules - the first was awarded for Hannah and Her Sisters. It was followed by a Bafta fellowship for lifetime achievement.

Sir Michael Caine
Sir Michael winning the second of his two career Oscars

But these honours have not come his way without controversy. Pro-life activists mobbed Sir Michael at awards ceremonies for having played an abortionist in The Cider House Rules .

Then, in April, he used his Bafta acceptance speech to get a few things off his chest.

In an outburst which shocked many in the audience, he said: "I've made a lot of spy movies but I never made The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, although I should have done because I never really felt like I belonged in my own country in my own profession.

"I think of myself as a loner. All the way through, I have felt on the outside.

"It has been cold out there," he added, "maybe I feel a little more welcome in my own country than I have up to now."

Humble start

Throughout his career, the man born Maurice Micklewhite in South London on 14 March 1933 has resolutely done his own thing.

Cider House Rules
Sir Michael courted controversy as an abortionist in Cider House Rules

His father was a fish-porter and his mother a charwoman and the young Sir Michael's first job was that of a meat porter.

Proud of his humble roots, he clung on to his working class accent at a time when, as an actor, it was considered both unfashionable and unwise.

He did not attend stage school and still believes that those who look down their noses at him for not doing so are snobs. And he has never shied away from taking on a B-list movie role - if the price was right.

But this does not mean that Sir Michael was and is a poor actor.

Many would agree that his unaffected presence blew like a breath of fresh air through British cinema in the 1960s.

The Italian Job poster
The Italian Job is considered one of Sir Michael's finest movies

Roles like the cockney Lothario Alfie and the anti-hero spy Harry Palmer were just as central to the "Swinging Sixties" as The Beatles, Mary Quant and E-Type Jaguars.

Indeed, television re-runs of classic films like The Italian Job and Get Carter - a classic British gangster movie - have elevated Michael Caine to near icon status.


His urbane but self-cultivated style, plus the directness both of his acting and accent resonate in the new classless Britain.

Broadcaster Chris Evans cites Sir Michael as a major influence. Actress Kate Winslet calls him "a living legend".

Even though critics, most notably fellow actor Richard Harris, berate Caine as a limited performer, his track record speaks for itself.

Get Carter
Get Carter: A classic which defined Sir Michael's early image

He has chilled audiences in roles such as the evil gangster Mortwell in Mona Lisa.

He has thrilled through his performance as the disillusioned German officer Kurt Steiner in The Eagle Has Landed.

But roles such as the suave conman of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels also show he is just as capable of raising a laugh.

With his knighthood Sir Michael can look back at his career with some degree of satisfaction.

He knows that even with his "awkward voice and a duff accent" he has achieved a level of success about which most in his profession can only dream.

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See also:

11 Jun 99 | Entertainment
Get Carter: Original and best
09 Jan 00 | Entertainment
Michael Caine turns novelist
07 Oct 98 | Entertainment
Caine gets lifetime award
09 Apr 00 | Entertainment
Kubrick and Caine honoured
16 Jun 00 | Entertainment
Entertainment honours led by Michael Caine
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