Royal Albert Hall Jonathan Ross hosts an evening of pure A-list reminiscence heaven, featuring music from the LSO and anecdotes from the man himself which, on occasion, bring the house down
Arnie’s done one. So has Sly. But Michael Caine’s live in-person show was an altogether classier and more celebratory event: hosted by Jonathan Ross in front of a packed crowd of Caineophiles at the Albert Hall, featuring loads of celebs and the London Symphony Orchestra playing soundtracks from Caine’s greatest hits.
It was like a special Michael Caine populist prom, combined with This is Your Life with Ross wielding his clipboard like Michael Aspel’s big red book.
Caine himself was a joy, uncorking anecdotes new and old and all of them vintage. He recalled triumphs like The Man Who Would Be King and disasters like his hokey killer-bee thriller The Swarm, but treated those impostors just the same. (Of The Swarm, he remarked, forgivingly: “I still eat honey.”)
He was entirely relaxed, charming, faintly bemused by the fuss and sometimes cheerfully vague about names. Yet however beautifully distinguished the LSO was – conducted at certain stages by none other than Quincy Jones, composer of music for The Italian Job – I could perhaps have done with a bit less music and a few more straightforward clips of Caine himself to go with the chat, actually acting and doing the legendary dialogue.
And I also felt it a shame there wasn’t more about his classic turn in Educating Rita. But you can’t cover everything – and what an evening.
Perhaps inevitably, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon introduced the proceedings from high up in the gallery, doing a Statler-and-Waldorf-type quarrel about who does the best Caine impression. (Has the comedy community forgotten about Paul Whitehouse’s surreal impression of Caine as a nosy neighbour?)
The man himself told us that despite his cockney icon status, he began his screen career as a posho metrosexual whose image was continually under scrutiny. He was turned down for the cockney corporal in Zulu but, on an impulse, the American director Cy Endfield asked Caine if he could play an upper class officer. The repertory-trained Caine answered stoutly in the affirmative and history was made. Caine made a point of reminding the Albert Hall crowd that Endfield was an American and a class-bound Brit director in those days wouldn’t have let him play against type.
But then he revealed that the US moguls were unhappy about his British accent and general style. In The Ipcress File, they noted his downbeat spy Harry Palmer “wears glasses … shops at supermarkets … cooks for women … this guy’s too gay.”
We were in pure A-list reminiscence heaven as Caine recalled making The Italian Job (“I had the most incredible evening with Noel Coward at the Savoy Grill”) and working with Laurence Olivier on Sleuth: the great man had written a formal letter to Caine saying that it was quite in order to address him as “Larry”. During the shoot, Olivier’s performance only took off once he put on a false moustache. “I can’t act with my own face,” he told Caine crisply, to which the younger man replied: “I can’t act without mine.” His deadpan delivery took the Albert Hall roof off. It was like eavesdropping on an uproarious late lunch at Langan’s in the mid-80s.
When Caine arrived in Hollywood, he brought his mum and she marvelled at all that “hysteria growing up the wall”. On another occasion, he recalled calling at the LA home of fellow expat Brit David Hockney, who had also brought along his mother. Caine turned on a full Yorkshire accent for Mrs Hockney looking around and saying, wonderingly: “All this lovely sunshine, and no one’s got any washing out!” This gag more or less broke every window pane in the building.
Caine modestly said he was doing more gardening these days, but actually he’s working as hard as ever, acting for Italian auteur Paolo Sorrentino on his new movie Youth. He saved most praise for Christopher Nolan, for whom he played Alfred the butler in the Batman movies, and also acted in Inception and the forthcoming Interstellar, and whom he called the “new David Lean”. His praise encouraged a would-be director to come out of the audience and interrupt the show for some minutes while he gave Caine a script and stammeringly explained it – Caine seemed amused and intrigued. He emerged, as ever, as a class act.