Michael Crawford – actor, singer and entertainer – made his West End debut on 27 February 1962 as a 19-year-old, opposite seasoned performer Bob Monkhouse in the London premiere of Neil Simon’s Come Blow Your Horn.
Little did audiences know then that this teenager would go on to become a stage and screen sensation. In later life he would become better known as the hilariously accident prone Frank Spencer in sitcom Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em and the far more ominous and less laughter-inducing Phantom Of The Opera.
Come Blow Your Horn was not Crawford’s first foray into professional stage work. A talented soprano as a youngster, he performed at London’s Scala theatre in Benjamin Britten’s Let’s Make An Opera and for the English Opera Group in Noye’s Fludde. At this point in his life he was known as Michael Ingram, taking the surname of his re-married mother’s new husband. On the advice that there was already a Michael Ingram performing, he chose the moniker Crawford.
Though Crawford performed in other drama productions, including The Anniversary and No Sex Please We’re British, it is for his musical appearances that London audiences know him best. In 1974 he took the lead role in Billy, the musical adaptation of Billy Liar, and in 1981 he put his acrobatic prowess to good use as the American showman Barnum, but it was in 1986 that Crawford secured his place in Theatreland history, originating the role of The Phantom Of The Opera.
His performance was described by Jack Tinker in the Daily Mail as “surely one of the great performances not only in a musical but on any stage in any year,” and secured Crawford his second Best Actor in a Musical Laurence Olivier Award. His first came for his earlier performance in Barnum.
Now a rarer sight on London stages, Crawford’s last return to the West End came in August 2004 when he donned a fat suit to play Count Fosco in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Woman In White.