Michael Craig has an amazing career spanning over 40 years and worked with some legendary names. Born Michael Gregson in 1928, he had to change his stage name in deference to John Gregson, then an established star. Michael Craig began his acting career 1930’s in a small town weekly repertory company in England.
In 1949,after five years in the Merchant Navy, he left the sea and worked as Assistant Stage Manager at the Castle Theatre in Farnham, Surrey. He soon graduated to playing small parts and moved on to other repertory companies which included York, Windsor, Worthing and finally to the Oxford Playhouse on 1954 where the Director was the Young Peter Hall, later to become Sir Peter Hall.
It was while he was at the Playhouse that he was seen by an Arthur Rank talent spotter who signed him to a seven year film contract. Michael made somewhere in the region of nearly thirty films for Rank, Romulus, ABPC, Fox, Columbia and also for some independent companies in Italy, Yugoslavia and Spain. Dirk Bogarde was the impossibly handsome hero of most British films at that time, but if he wasn’t available, the part would usually go to Craig. And whereas Bogarde – and Gregson, Granger, Stewart and many, many others – are all dead, Craig is still vigorously alive and grumbling that he doesn’t get enough time to play golf better. From his first, uncredited role in Passport to Pimlico (1949) he has made more than 60 films and TV series.
He once made a film in South Africa called Nor the Moon by Night. The other principals were a beautiful actress called Belinda Lee who died very young and a good young actor called Patrick McGoohan. Belinda had a tempestuous love life and took off to Rome and the next they heard she has tried to commit suicide. Back in South Africa, McGoohan had smashed up his car and himself and Michael was left alone for three weeks with a film crew and a lot of monkeys.
With a young family to support Michael took on whatever was offered and work often took him to Italy, one of the first films he made there was with David Niven. Michael remembers him as a lovely man and a great mentor, very generous and funny. Perhaps the most important thing he told Michael was to hang back on shooting the last scene until he’s been paid!
Michael remembers being directed by Luchino Visconti and working with the stupendous Claudia Cardinale. There are memories of the equally voluptuous Diana Dors , Stanley Baker, Richard Attenborough and Laurence Harvey. He worked in London with Bud Tingwell in Emergency – Ward 10 and stunned the public with his work on the screenplay for the social conscience film The Angry Silence. The script was nominated for an Oscar in 1960.
In 1963 he spent a season with the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford and the Aldwych Theatre in London, playing Bolingbroke to John Neville’s Richard II, and Horner to Judi Dench’s Pinchwife in William Wycherley’s The Country Wife. He worked with Dame Peggy Ashcroft, who was a real icon but also mad on cricket,” Craig says. “We were doing the Wars of the Roses and there was a Test match on at Birmingham, so we decided to have a cricket match: the Yorkists and the Lancastrians.
“Sir Leonard Hutton captained the Yorkist side and Cyril Washbrook, who was a great Lancastrian and English opening bat, captained our side. I came on to bowl and Leonard Hutton spooned one up and Peggy caught it and there it was on the score board: ‘Sir Leonard Hutton, caught Ashcroft and bowled Craig’.”
Other co-stars of his film and stage careers were Sir Michael Redgrave, Charles Bronson, Oliver Reed, Christopher Plummer, Terence Stamp . Michael played Nicky Arnstein opposite Barbra Streisand in the 1966 London stage premiere. He starred opposite Susan Hayward in STOLEN HOURS, Julie Andrews in STAR, Jean Simmons, Carole Baker and Pier Angeli.
He visited Australia for the first time in 1971 with J.C. Williamson’s production of MOVE OVER MRS MARKHAM with Honor Blackman, where he met his wife, Australian actress Sue Walker. His best remembered television work in Australia is as the senior doctor in the ABC series GP, – he was recently voted “Australia’s most trusted man”! While his most critically acclaimed writing credit is for The Fourth Wish, a beautifully crafted 1976 TV miniseries about a man with a terminally ill son. John Meillon played the grief-stricken father; Craig the doctor with the bad news.
Michael’s returns to UK at the age of 80 to perform in “Trying” by Joanna McClelland Glass (opens 17 March) where he plays an elegant but cantankerous 81 year old Francis Biddle – who was one of the judges of the Nuremberg trials and he was attorney-general of the United States under Franklin Roosevelt.
He has performed the role in Australia to great reviews and is delighted to be working back in the UK.