The Way I Was: Mummy's little pride and joy: Michael Winner talks to Nicholas Roe about his youth and his career as a precocious columnist

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Indy Lifestyle Online
THIS IS a very typical only-child picture, in my view. It's a little too precise, everything is a little too right. I can recall the atmosphere of great attention being lavished upon me and the whole image is one of someone who is a pride and joy, who's been carefully coiffured and placed.

I had a happy childhood, but from the age of five I went to a boarding school, which was necessitated by war. And from then you have the exact reverse - you had to fend for yourself completely. I went to a Quaker vegetarian school in Letchworth, in Hertfordshire. It was quite pleasant, very pretty, lovely countryside . . . but I soon began to realise that it was a very poor school.

I was there for 11 years and then they threw me out because they thought I was out of touch with the school's principles, which I was. I thought it was a school with very few principles, actually. I learnt to judge it early.

I used to pay people to do my cleaning. In fact, the chap who works for me now used to get two shillings a week to clean my room. The headmaster had him in and said, 'You mustn't do this for a junior boy', but he didn't care, he wanted the money. Today he's a co-director of my company now.

I was extremely shy. Anybody who knows me well knows how extremely shy I am to this day. I couldn't talk to girls. I couldn't deal with it, I just ran. Now I look at the photos of myself as I was then and find I was extremely good-looking for a period, but I didn't realise it. I'm hideous now.

From the age of 14 I had a column in 30 newspapers: Michael Winner's Showtalk. I used to interview all the stars of the day - Louis Armstrong, Dean Martin, Bob Hope, Jerry Lewis. . . I'd been running a school notice-board doing film reviews, then I did one column that was printed in the Kensington Post, which was part of the Westminster Press and Provincial Newspapers group, and I went on to do the weekly syndicated column. It got me into all the plays and films free.

They never paid me, but what did I care? I was getting the best seats everywhere. I did it for seven years, and when I was at school I would stock up and do five or six extra, then do more at half-term. Nowadays, every child of 14 has written three novels, been on drugs, played in a band. But in those days children were adjuncts to adults. They were absolutely nothing. A child of 14, having a column in 30 newspapers, was, I say myself with no modesty, quite remarkable.

Yes, it was difficult to talk to Bob Hope or whoever, but I had to because if I didn't talk to them I couldn't write the column and I wouldn't be there next week. It was personal need, and the need to have a girlfriend was not as great as the need to talk to Bob Hope. Not till I was about 18 anyway. Long wait.

Change? I would have been more daring. I was restricted by shyness. I would have had more affairs. I wish I had been educated better, I wish that I had read more - although I went to Cambridge I was not properly educated in my youth, I scraped through exams by doing just what was needed to pass. I thought the people at my school were dull, it wasn't comforting there, so I can't look back and say, 'Well, I was having all these conversations with so and so and he became a great writer or gardener . . . ' - you know what I mean?

When I look back on it I become more annoyed. I was let down by my school. But this picture is before school, and everything was possible.

In that photo I had yet to discover disappointment. I hadn't yet joined the world. . . .

Michael Winner's latest film, 'Dirty Weekend', based on the book by Helen Zahavi, is due to be released in October.

(Photograph omitted)