Caine’s Generation


I’ve just delivered the new Bryant & May novel, ‘The Lonely Hour’, along with my last new short story, specially written for crime editor Maxim Jacubowski’s possibly final collection, and before I go back into a new draft of my medieval epic I need to restock my brain, so I’m catching up with stuff I should have read or seen, one of which is the film ‘My Generation’.

This is a cinema documentary featuring Sir Michael Caine going around his old London haunts and discussing the 1960s with the movers and shakers of the times. I’d worried that it was going to unearth lots of new information that I could have used for ‘Hall of Mirrors’, so I’m quite surprised that it didn’t.

This is the fault of Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, a writing team I’ve always found rather pedestrian. They scripted Caine’s observations for the film, but they’re all very obvious generic remarks. What makes the film fascinating is some of the footage and editing. Cutting between Caine in ‘Alfie’ and on the same street now is lovely stuff.

What surprises most is the fact that so many working class talents like Caine, Twiggy and David Bailey could make it big while being penniless – would that happen now? Caine, the son of a charlady and a Billingsgate fish porter, points out that without the internet or mobiles, they all went around each other’s flats and talked about ideas, creating new projects from scratch.

A lot of it was having the confidence to believe that the old rules could be broken and a new world beckoned – it ultimately faded because while London was swinging, the country’s balance of payments was in serious trouble and the slide into debt that ruined the seventies had begun.

The film has some lovely touches, though – Twiggy and Woody Allen discussing philosophers, and Paul McCartney pushing back against a muckraking reporter who is trying to push the greatest Beatle into talking about taking drugs. McCartney points out that he’s honestly answering the hack’s question, and it’s the press’s responsibility to either disseminate the truth accurately or falsify it – something that rings true now, when the US has a president who deliberately and repeatedly lies.

There’s too much emphasis on music for my liking – no mention of art or design – but it’s a fascinating glimpse of a city which had seemingly overnight become a young people’s mecca; the Baby Boomers had a fair chance of making their mark early. I only worry that the film might be a kick in the teeth to anyone who’s young, working class, talented and trying to make it now.

4 comments on “Caine’s Generation”

  1. Roger says:

    “What surprises most is the fact that so many working class talents like Caine, Twiggy and David Bailey could make it big while being penniless – would that happen now?”

    Grants for further and higher education, ease at getting and changing jobs which were better-paid, comparatively speaking, and widespread official and unofficial adult education were very important factors, I think. Could someone from Caine’s background afford to go to drama school today? A friend who became a professional photographer a few years after Bailey said the most important thing was the number of cameras and opportunities to learn by taking photos his art school gave him.

    I’d guess the Great Wen is probably much more dominant now. Forty or fifty years ago “provincial cities” weren’t provincial but regional centres. Now – not just in the arts, but in the whole social and economic structure that enables people to make careers in the arts – London both dominates and swallows in a way that it never did before. One reason for the rise in Scottish nationalism over the last few years is because Scotland can – and needs to – emphasise its separateness.

  2. Denise Treadwell says:

    My dad loved London, got dragged around it, my Dad never used the underground .

  3. John Griffin says:

    Joe Boyd, in his memoir “White Bicycles”, opines that the 60s began in 1956 and ended in 1973, and peaked in 1967. This gels to some extent with the Caine film – there was a period when anything was possible, curtailed by economic chaos (unleashed partly, as now, by the USA). Poor working class kids, like me and many mates, got to university and climbed out of poverty, others made it in the arts and literature. We could not easily do this now.

  4. Ken Mann says:

    It is a standard feature of rock autobiographies that the author throws away a remark about moving into a flat in central London with a peppercorn rent. It takes a moment to recover sympathy with the “struggling young artist” after that.

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