Alfie is a film, starring Michael Caine
, made in 1966. It tells the story of a cockney cad's sexist dealings with a series of women. It originates from a radio play
by Bill Naughton
called Alfie Elkins and His Little Life
, first presented on the BBC
Third Programme on January 7th 1962. Audience Research by the BBC found that some people found the play offensive, not surprising really given the time it was aired in
. However, a majority of listeners claimed to have a high opinion of the play, and it scored an appreciation index rating
of 73, well above the average of 63 for Third Programme
features. After many radio critics
gave it their stamp of approval, Naughton was prompted to adapt it for stage production
. It was considerably expanded and re-titled
. John Neville
played the lead role
, which Glenda Jackson
and Gemma Jones
in supporting roles
, and it ran for over a year. The play also ran on Broadway
, this time with Terrence Stamp
in the lead role, but closed affter only twenty-one performances. Stamp attributed this to 'A devout Catholic critic
who was reputedly offended by the abortion
scene but, too smart to mention the fact, found other ways of making the play seem unwatchable
', while fashion model Jean Shrimpton
pointed out that 'the audience did not understand the Cockney rhyming slang
; in fact they did not understand the play at all'.
In light of the short-lived run of the play in New York, Stamp declined Lewis Gilbert's offer to make a screen version. Instead, Michael Caine took the role, and the film finally settled his star status. The film was also turned into a novel published to coincide with the film's release. It was an instant bestseller. Cilla Black reached the Top 10 with the spin-off song, Alfie, written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, while Cher covered it for the American market. Cher's version was also dubbed over the final credits for exhibition in the states, which helped the film secure an oscar nomination for 'Best Song' at the 1967 Academy Awards.
Alfie is often cited as an example of progressive liberalisation on the part of the film censors. Despite many parties objecting on moral grounds to the abortion scenes, the BBFC felt it acceptable in context, since it makes a valid point against abortion. They did ask for the scene not to be made 'too harrowing' and asked for some of the sexual innuendo elsewhere in the film to be toned down. They also offered some helpful advice that had nothing to do with censorship concerns: 'I am doubtful whether you can get a train from Waterloo Station to Forest Hill Station. I would have though that Victoria was more likely'.
As Arthur Marwick notes, 'a running battle between the advocates of permissiveness and tolerance and those of purity and censorship was joined... That battle in itself... served to publicise the fact that change was indeed taking place.'
Alfie can be classified among the British New Wave films of the sixties. It challenged traditional moral attitudes towards marriage with its portrayal of Alfie's promiscuity. It was also the first film to feature a cockney as a main character, and to have a character delivering monologues to the camera.
At the time the film was made, abortion was illegal. Alfie, and similar films such as Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and A Taste of Honey, showed that these things did in fact go on, whether people liked them or not, and raised the topics for discussion.