When the actor formerly known as Maurice Micklewhite wrote his first autobiography, What’s It All About?, in 1992, he thought his career was over. The star at the epicentre of the swinging sixties was by then in his sixties, and iconic roles in films like Alfie, The Italian Job and Get Carter were decades behind: ahead lay made-for-TV movies, Blue Ice, and a single hit, A Muppet Christmas Carol, in which he ceded top billing to a frog made of felt. Caine, the self-styled “best actor from The Elephant and Castle”, retired quietly to the Surrey countryside, celebrated his 25th wedding anniversary, and prepared for his latest role: as a grandfather. Then came his second Oscar, for The Cider House Rules. A knighthood. A series of commercial and/or critical hits (Miss Congeniality, Austin Powers in Goldmember, The Quiet American). And, just after his 70th birthday, a plum role in Batman Begins. Forty years after Alfie, a new generation would come to know Sir Michael Caine as Batman’s batman, Alfred.
Rather than picking up where What’s It All About? left off, Caine’s new volume re-tells his entire story, from conception to Inception, describing with easygoing charm, how he survived poverty, rickets, the Blitz, the Korean War, malaria, the Swinging Sixties, the Hollywood threshing machine, his friend Terence Stamp turning him into the old bill – and Jaws: The Revenge. Despite Caine’s reputation with the “birds”, he’s much too coyly gentlemanly to kiss and tell, but there is no shortage of star-studded anecdotes – enough to make you wish his editor hadn’t trimmed his manuscript from 1,000 to just over 400 pages. Along the way, south London’s finest shares his favourite films and recipes, offers cookery and gardening tips, and concludes by revealing what it’s really all about: not fame and fortune, but family.
Lacking the literary ambition of a David Niven or a Terence Stamp, Caine’s style is more like a fireside chat, his oft-imitated Cockneyish tones ringing out so strongly from his anecdote-packed autobiography, there’s no need to download the audio version.