If you ask me, I was much saddened by the news of Michael Winner’s death, as I adored him, as did most journalists, mostly because whenever he opened his mouth what came out was “good copy”, and you didn’t have to sit there all bored, as you often have to do with, say, those actors who are so dull that whenever they answer a question you can sense the tumble-weed rolling through town. I met him on two occasions for this newspaper.
Once in 2004, when he came to my house for dinner (“Winner For Dinner”) and again in 2010 when I took him to lunch at McDonald’s in Wood Green, known locally as Hood Green, for all the prowling hoodies. I thought it would be amusing to take him outside his comfort zone and away from Sandy Lane or dining with his many celebrity friends (ie Michael Caine). But the thing about Michael Winner is that you couldn’t take him out of his own comfort zone, as he was his own comfort zone. He could not be discombobulated. And although he always had the look of a homicidal Jewish grandmother, he made me laugh. Constantly. “Lovely,” he said, after McDonald’s. “Shall we book it for New Year’s Eve?”
When he came to my house, he came in his Suzuki rather than the Bentley because “I wouldn’t bring the Bentley to Crouch End, darling. I don’t know what they might do to it here.” We talked films. He loved Kes and hated Brief Encounter – “They just sit in a railway station like a couple of old farts” – and didn’t do humility. OK, some of his films didn’t make money, “but then neither did Citizen Kane. Not a penny”. I made a chicken soup which he appeared to enjoy greatly. “You must know it’s good, dear, because look, I’ve slopped it down my shirt.”
At McDonald’s he was dismayed to discover it was self-service – “A disaster! I never carry money!” – and, on hearing we’d been told not to photograph inside, immediately instructed the photographer otherwise: “Just take the bloody picture. What are they going to do? Shoot you?” He was frail then, having fallen desperately ill in 2007 with a bacterial infection contracted after eating oysters. He had spent seven months in The London Clinic – “It cost me a million and five, darling” – and had been in terrible pain. I asked if the experience had changed him. “I wasn’t changed,” he said. “God didn’t speak to me the five times I was near death.”
One thing I know for sure: I bet God is getting it in the neck now. “I called five times and you didn’t speak to me. Un-fucking-believable. It’s beyond belief!” I shall miss him.