Continuing his series of columns, Melbourne radio legend Doug Aiton recalls his interview with Michael Caine.
Michael Caine made himself available for a pre-record because he couldn’t make the show during the afternoon. He arrived with his publicist one morning at 3LO, reluctantly polite but clearly not wanting to be there.
So I started with “welcome to Melbourne” to which he replied “thank you very much” and I was immediately enchanted by his Cockney accent.
We went on to have a conversation about the accent and its role in British cinema. I demonstrated that I was familiar with his work by quoting him from, I think, Funeral in Berlin, or maybe it was The Ipcress File.
Anyway, he warmed to the conversation when I recalled him coming down the stairs of his flat to greet his girlfriend who was making breakfast. He had the gramophone on a Beethoven piano concerto, to which he said “…why is that bloke playin’ the piano with his elbows.”
I said this demonstrated that not only was he a Cockney who appreciated classical music, but also one who actually criticized the work of classical pianists. This was hardly the role of cockneys in British cinema.
I don’t know if that was the plan in the film, but anyway Michael Caine laughed as though the thought had not occurred to him.
From there we discussed that matter and I further said that he was one of three examples I could think of where the accent of the actor did not matter. That is, the Cockney was no longer a figure of fun.
The others I quoted were The Beatles and Michael Parkinson. The Beatles had prominent Liverpudlian accent, Michael Parkinson was a Yorkshire man. BBC films and television featured only classical upper-class accents among their heroes.
Caine laughed again and clearly liked the idea of the accent, Cockney in his case, changing its place in the whole world of cinema.
From there, we got on very well throughout the interview. We warmed to each other and I saw his teeth for the first time because his mood changed to wearing a permanent smile.
He clearly liked the notion that I was familiar with his work, and he further warmed to the idea of the Cockney no longer meaning “the fool”.
When we finished the interview Caine said to me “What time do you go to air with this?”
“Oh, it will finish about 6pm,” I said.
“Oh, it’s too late for me,” he replied.
“Why?” I enquired.
“I thought you might have time to buy me a beer,” he said.
About the Author
Doug Aiton was the Drive time Presenter at Melbourne’s 3LO from 1987 – 1997.
He has a combined past of newspapers and radio including a weekly column for the Sunday Age for about ten years. He is married to Judy and has three children.
Now in his 70s, Doug still presents a regular program on The Pulse Geelong.