With its 47 rooms and 3,000 light bulbs, Michael Winner's home was almost big enough to accommodate his ego. But after the death of the 77-year-old film director on Monday, questions are now being asked over its future.
The problem, as always, is money. Five years ago, in a typically grandiose gesture, the director of the Death Wish movies announced he was to leave the west London mansion to the nation, as a museum to his life's work. But boring details got in the way, and talks with Kensington and Chelsea council fell through when it decided the cost of maintaining the house in Holland Park would be prohibitive.
In 2011, Winner announced he was selling up. This came two weeks after another shock announcement: Winner had got married for the first time, aged 75, to his long-time partner, Geraldine Lynton-Edwards. In an interview, Winner said his wife was keen to move, as "she wanted somewhere new for a new life. She has always thought that the house was a bit forbidding".
Winner's father paid just £2,000 for a 17-year lease on Woodland House in 1946. When Winner put it on the market, the asking price was a staggering £60m. If anyone were to pay that, it would make it one of the most expensive houses in London.
The problem now is the "if". A buyer has yet to be found, and experts say the house is worth only a fraction of Winner's figure. Henry Pryor, a London property expert, yesterday put its value at closer to £20m, and stressed it needed a lot of work.
"I would be amazed if it was worth anywhere near £60m," he said. "Michael Winner clearly had a vivid imagination, and while that helped his film career, I suspect the guide price came more from him than his professional advisers."
An added complication is that Winner owned only a leasehold, which expires in 2046. He did not inherit the house from his father, but bought a new lease once he had made his fortune. Prospective purchasers would probably be given the option to acquire the freehold, which belongs to the Ilchester estate, but that could cost a further £15m.
When the house was first marketed, Winner complained he would have to pay £28m in tax if the asking price were achieved. Now, there is the added headache of death duties: inheritance tax is currently 40 per cent. Winner had also taken out a £9m loan. If the house were to raise no more than £20m, this would leave Mrs Winner with considerably less than previously thought.
The new owner will at least get plenty of bang for their buck. The Queen Anne-style mansion on Holland Park is a labyrinth of staircases and swagging. It was built in 1875, to a Norman Shaw design, for Sir Luke Fildes, the painter. It has a swimming pool in the basement, a private cinema and a triple-height ballroom, which, in typically extravagant fashion, Winner used as his bedroom. There is also a large garden and a garage block, where Winner kept his Rolls-Royces.
Winner was 11 when, in 1946, he first peered through the iron railings. Big houses were cheap after the war, and his father divided it into flats and lived in part of it. After making films starring Charles Bronson and Marlon Brando, Winner used his fortune to restore the house to its former splendour, albeit in his characteristic garish taste. It housed his extensive art collection, including original drawings of Winnie-the-Pooh, some of which he sold at Sotheby's last month for more than £1m.
Peter Blond, the Sotherby's agent who is handling the house sale, says there has been plenty of interest from the UK and abroad. "It's a magnificent house," he said. "It shouldn't be too hard to acquire the freehold. It needs a bit of work, but nothing too serious."