Obituary: Sir Michael Caine

IN AN unlikely liaison, the three worlds of Michael Caine were never far apart. Agro-business (a corporate buzzword he hated), the continent of Africa in all its manifestations, and the Booker Prize for Fiction were his life.

Even in retirement from 1993 his tall, gangling figure, a cigarette rarely far from lips or fingers, was a familiar landmark at the Booker Prize's annual dinner at Guildhall in London. For almost two decades, while at the helm of the prize's progenitor, Booker plc, he had presided over its development into the world's foremost fiction prize. At each year's dinner Caine would rise and make a speech. Some chairmen, with a stammer as bad as Caine's, would have asked a fellow director to deputise. Caine, however, persevered year after year, to the enormous admiration of his audience.

In 1969 founding a literary prize seemed an unlikely venture for a public company that as a colonial business at one time accounted for around 35 per cent of the gross domestic product of what was British Guiana (now Guyana). But in the early 1960s the company, in the process of re-inventing itself as a UK-based conglomerate in food, engineering and the marketing of rum, took advantage of a loop- hole in UK tax law also to invest in authors' copyrights, beginning with Ian Fleming (then at the height of his fame as the creator of James Bond) and at one time boasting a portfolio that included Harold Pinter, Dennis Wheatley, John Mortimer, Georgette Heyer and Agatha Christie.

Although after Bedales and Oxford, where he read Modern History at Lincoln College, and a postgraduate year at George Washington University in the United States, Michael Caine chose a business career at Booker, at heart he was an intellectual. A Booker director from 1964, 12 years after he joined, he totally approved of the notion that had been put to the Booker board, that Britain deserved a literary prize as prestigious and as influential as the French Prix Goncourt. With Booker making a substantial return from its authors' division, might it not return a little of its profit by way of sponsorship?

If he was disappointed that in its early years the "Booker" failed to take off in public perception he never lost heart. Some ugly publicity in 1972 when that year's winner, John Berger, not only accused Booker of exploiting colonial labour in the West Indies, but chose to give half his pounds 5,000 prize money to the Black Panther movement, did not prevent Caine (by now Booker's chief executive) from renewing the company's sponsorship after its initial seven years, even though there were fellow Booker directors who thought the investment was not doing the firm any good.

Caine's faith was soon to be fully justified. In 1980 the Booker at last made front-page news when it was portrayed as a battle royal between two literary heavyweights on the shortlist, William Golding and Anthony Burgess. After that there was no looking back. Caine watched with pride as the prize finally achieved its original aim of recognising artistic achievement while encouraging wider readership of the best in literary fiction.

The prize also gained Booker a level of corporate publicity that rapidly became the envy of its rivals, although Caine never encouraged Booker to cash in on the column inches. Some managers would have used such heightened awareness to develop not just the company's businesses, but in particular to market the Booker name. Caine preferred to see sponsorship fulfilling the vision of his first boss, Jock Campbell, that corporations have wider responsibilities than the pursuit alone of profit.

In 1992, with the support of the British Council, Caine gave the Booker imprimatur to a Russian novel prize. Commercially he could justify this expansion by citing Booker's business interests in the country, but he also confessed a lifelong admiration for Dostoevsky, Pushkin and Gogol. One felt that he hoped that a Russian Booker might find a late-20th-century equivalent.

On his retirement Caine only handed over the chairmanship of the prize management committee with some reluctance. It was a fiefdom that he had ruled as a benevolent autocrat. At each meeting he would listen to the views of committee members on how the prize should be conducted, but invariably his own judgements prevailed. And with the standing of the Booker Prize as high today as it has ever been, who's to deny that more often than not he got it right.

Michael Harris Caine, businessman: born Hong Kong 17 June 1927; director, Booker Bros, McConnell & Co (later Booker plc) 1964-93, vice-chairman 1973-79, chief executive 1975-84, chairman 1979-93; Kt 1988; President, Royal African Society 1996-99; married 1952 Janice Mercer (one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved 1987), 1987 Emma Nicholson (created 1997 Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne); died London 20 March 1999.

Arts and Entertainment
Jude Law in Black Sea


In Black Seahe is as audiences have never seen him before

Arts and Entertainment
Johnny Depp no longer cares if people criticise his movie flops


Arts and Entertainment
Full circle: Wu-Tang’s Method Man Getty

Music review

Arts and Entertainment
When he was king: Muhammad Ali training in 'I Am Ali'
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game