One of the best known actors of his day, Michael Caine has become well known too for originating in Rotherhithe. Michael was born Maurice Joseph Micklewhite in 1933 in St Olave’s Hospital. (The hospital was closed in 1985 and the site redeveloped as Ann Moss Way, between Lower Road and Southwark Park.) His parents were Ellen Frances Marie (nee Burchell), a cook and charwoman and Maurice Joseph Micklewhite, a Billingsgate fish market porter. His mother was Protestant and father – with roots in Ireland – Catholic; Michael was brought up Anglican. (Near the end of The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992), he passes by a store called “Micklewhite’s.” in honour of his family name.)
Michael already had a half-brother David William Burchell who was eight years old at his birth; sadly David suffered from epilepsy and lived in psychiatric hospital his whole life. For more than forty years, his mother paid periodic visits to a “cousin” in a mental hospital. It was only when she died in 1989 that Michael learned that the cousin was really his elder brother, David. When Michael was only 3 – a full brother Stanley Micklewhite arrived to complete the family. (Stanley went on to appear in at least three of Michael’s films: Billion Dollar Brain (1967), Play Dirty (1969) and The Italian Job (1969). In 1940 when the Second World War came to London, Michael then seven was evacuated from the vulnerable docks of inner London to North Runcton near Kings Lynn in Norfolk. Michael says that his ability to cry on cue is made possible by thinking of a painful childhood memory.
When Michael’s father was demobilised, the whole of Bermondsey had been shattered by German bombing. During the Blitz in 1940-41, many properties had been destroyed through explosion and fire. The family was re-housed in Urlwin Street in Walworth SE5. Michael attended the John Ruskin School and then the family was settled in a prefab (prefabricated house) in Marshall Gardens near Elephant and Castle SE1. At the age of eleven in 1944, Michael passed his eleven plus and went to first Hackney Downs Grocer’s School and then after a year, Wilson’s Grammar School in Camberwell SE5. Michael is quoted as saying, “Be like a duck, my mother used to tell me. Remain calm on the surface and paddle like hell underneath.”
Michael Caine has always been proud of his heritage in the working class of South East London, though – at his agent’s suggestion – he took his stage name from a marquee that advertised the film The Caine Mutiny. (He still uses his real name in his private life living between Leatherhead in Surrey and Miami, Florida) Many of his parts have played on his distinctive Cockney accent. He says, “In England I was a Cockney actor. In America, I was an actor” and “People always told me “you can’t be an actor, you don’t talk posh.” And I said, “I’ll show you how to be an actor without talking posh”. And I did it.” Later in his career, he has also been able to play mentors and father figures to younger characters. Nominated in each decade 1960s to 2000s for an Academy Award, he has won the Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role twice – once in 1987 for Hannah and her Sisters and again in 2000 for The Cider House Rules. He won Golden Globes for Educating Rita, Jack the Ripper and Little Voice. He has been awarded the BAFTA Academy Fellowship in 2000 and a Special Award from the Evening Standard British Film Awards in 1999. In 2000, Michael Caine was knighted for his contribution to cinema. He stars in the sci-fi action-adventure Interstellar due to release on 7 November 2014.