By all accounts, Michael Winner was a terrifying driver. He drove with the reckless abandon of Mr Toad in The Wind of the Willows. In the Daily Mail, his friend Roderick Gilchrist described a hair-raising journey to Winner’s old college at Cambridge University, with the former film director, who died last week, weaving in and out of traffic, on and off pavements, “careering through red lights and plunging on to the hard shoulder screaming: ‘Out of my way, peasants’”.
Just off the M25, they smashed into a BMW. A large, fit, angry man got out “primed for a fight”. Winner also jumped out, raised his hands in surrender and declared: “I know, I know, I’m an idiot. Whatever it costs, I’ll pay. You can trust me, I’m Michael Winner.” What Gilchrist describes as “a furtive conversation” then took place and Winner got back into his car. “Phew! That was close,” he said. “He’s a Scotland Yard police officer on his way to a Territorial Army meeting.
If it gets out I’ve been driving dangerously, I’ll lose the insurance commercial.” Winner, at the time, was starring in the ‘Calm down, dear’ TV advertisements, worth half a million a year to him. The accident cost him £10,000. “Cheap,” he said.
It’s a typical Winner story. He was “a crazy old fool, but I loved him”, says Giles Coren in The Times. “And I also hated him.” He relished shocking people, boasting, for example, that “he always drove in the bus lane ‘because they don’t give you a ticket, you see dear, and the fine is only eighty quid, so it’s a f***ing bargain!’”
Coren found him “baffling” and “exasperating”. Reading his restaurant columns, he wondered: could Winner really be that awful? “Was he making it up? Did he truly sit in the Connaught and order a steak, then telephone Claridges, where the chips were better, and have them sent over?”
Winner was brought up in London as an only child. His father made money out of property and his eccentric Jewish mother, says The Daily Telegraph, who never paid him much attention, suffered a lifelong addiction to gambling.
At his Bar Mitzvah she threw a poker party; he spent the evening answering the door and taking guests’ coats. She was a regular at the Monte Carlo Casino, where she lost more than £3m. “She used to pawn my father’s oils,” said Winner, “and she stole and sold the deeds to my penthouse to pay her debts, but what can you
do? You can’t sue your aged mother.”
Chaotic, sexist and rude, yet often kind, Winner was also, surprisingly, house-proud to the point of obsession, employing a staff of nine to polish every surface daily in his 46-room Holland Park house. Sometimes he would spend part of an evening dusting the tops of doors; sometimes he would garden late at night, under floodlights; sometimes, on solitary evenings, he would cut and glue table mats, another hobby. Obituarists, he joked, would probably call him a “table-mat maker”, adding “film-maker” if there was space.
Tabloid money… Don’t um and ah, Eric, take a vow of silence
• “Communities Secretary Eric Pickles is umming and ahhhing about the number of Bulgarians and Romanians who will move to the UK when nearly 30 million of them are free to work and live here at the end of 2013,” says Tony Parsons in the Daily Mirror.
“Pickles should take a vow of silence. Because he can’t possibly know – and neither can anyone else. It was estimated that 14,000 Poles would come. It turned out to be quite a few more. And Bulgaria and Romania are far poorer countries than Poland. How much of a strain will this put on housing, the NHS, schools, roads, benefits and the jobs market? Nobody knows. Even when we do know, there will be nothing that can be done about it. Suck it up, Britain. This is what happens when you surrender control of your borders.”
• Nancy Doolally-o has been seen “arriving at a mediation meeting with former lover Sven Goran Eriksson to try to thrash out a financial deal over his £2.7m flat she is refusing to vacate”, writes Jane Moore in The Sun. A friend says Eriksson has “‘humiliated her by putting her through this’. Not as much as she has humiliated herself by claiming to be a brainy, independent-minded ‘lawyer’ while continuing to sponge off a man whom she has never married and split up from six years ago.”
• “I feel very sorry for all the people who’ve lost jobs at HMV,” says Carole Malone in The Sunday Mirror. “But what kind of company allows its customers to spend hard-earned cash on gift cards knowing the firm is in trouble and they could be worthless? Trevor Moore, the boss of HMV who let this happen (he used to run Jessops, which has also gone bust… coincidence?), insists the company will be back. Hopefully not with you at the helm, sunshine…”