On National Service

23rd October 2023

Film still/clip from © IWM (MGH 2395). On National Service, 1951. 

Is this the earliest known surviving appearance of Michael Caine on screen?

Following the recent announcement of his retirement after the release of The Great Escaper, we spotted the teenage Caine in our 1951 film, On National Service. The film was made to show young men what life was like and some of the opportunities available in the conscription service which operated in the UK from 1947 to 1960, although the last conscripts were demobilised 60 years ago in 1963.  

Caine, now 90, has often spoken about his experiences during National Service. After being called up in April 1952 he joined the Royal Fusiliers and was stationed in Germany, before choosing to go to Korea and fight in the Korean War.  

Michael Caine had already had small acting roles when this film was made and although he appears only briefly in the film in a non-speaking role, this is a fascinating addition to the screen history of one of Britain’s best-loved actors.  

Other famous faces in the IWM collections include Peter Sellers, who before achieving global fame was in the Royal Air Force, performing in entertainment units known as Gang Shows. 

Find Out More

We are delighted to have licensed images of French wartime posters as set dressing for the flashback scenes of The Great Escaper, where Michael Caine plays a D-Day veteran escaping from his care home.

View more films in our collection about National Service.

Contact the licensing team for further information and help with archive research.