Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

TV WATCH; off Set: Michael Caine TCM

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

TV WATCH; off Set: Michael Caine TCM

Article excerpt

Byline: VICTOR LEWIS-SMITH

Caine was almost beaten - not a lot of people know that

THERE are few sadder sights in life than a British car owner with more money than sense, giving way to the impulse to acquire a personalised number plate.

The US registration system allows American drivers to be imaginative in their choices (like the dental surgeon with CME 4DK, or the urologist with 2PC ME), but the UK authorities won't issue plates that they consider controversial (they won't allow J1 HAD, for example), so Brits are left with pathetically obvious choices, like Paul Daniels with his MAG 1C, or Jimmy Tarbuck with COM 1C.

More pitiful still are the cheapskates who don't want to fork out for the proper expensive plates, and instead purchase cheap ones with numbers that "look a bit like letters" (ie "not at all like letters"), such as the priapic moron I once saw proudly displaying S5XY on his shiny red sports car. And as for Bill Roache (Coronation Street's Ken Barlow) buying his wife Sarah a number plate that read S4RA R, that's so tight-fisted as to be TRAG 1C.

I seem to recall reading that the number plate on Michael Caine's old Mercedes used to read ZULU from a distance, though closer inspection revealed it to be 2ULU. However, in his case, purchasing a "nearly" registration was an act of homage, not of vanity, because as he divulged in last night's Off Set interview, that 1964 film turned him from a struggling actor into an internationally famous movie star, even though "I was cast completely against type as a very upper-crust officer".

Until that point, he'd only dared to audition for workingclass cockney roles that reflected his own background, and he'd landed so few of those that he'd come close to abandoning his cinema career, before it had even started. "My friends would tell me, 'You're never gonna get anywhere', even my own agent told me so," he recalled, then added brightly, "but she dropped dead, and I got a new agent." So for him, that was literally a stroke of luck.

Shown as part of TCM's Crime Wave season (and immediately after the 1971 classic, Get Carter), this presenter-less interview allowed Sir Michael to trawl freely through his 52-year acting career. Caine (especially in Alfie mode) is the personification of Swinging Sixties London, and he certainly led a charmed life in that decade, sharing flats with young unknowns such as John Barry, Vidal Sassoon (Siegfried's brother) and Terence Stamp, and when he opened his first restaurant, the painter hired at random to draw the logo was the then-obscure David Hockney.

Working-class talent was bursting out everywhere, it seems, so much so that when Stamp's brother, Chris, came back from the pub one night and said, "I'm going to be a rock 'n' roll manager", Caine warned him that "you'll need a group," and the brother replied, "I've got a group from the pub - they're called The Who. …

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