There are many things for which we'll remember Michael Winner, and which were all, in their own way, central to the creation of his persona: making "Death Wish" I,II and III, turning down an OBE, staying single for 75 of his 77 years, his work for a car insurance company, and - possibly as a result of this - being named the 38th most annoying person in Britain last year. But what was especially remarkable about Winner was that he managed something many have tried, and very few have managed: total re-invention of himself.
It may have happened more by accident than design, but one day he was a naff, brash director of schlock movies, and the next he was a highly respected restaurant critic with a huge following and a reputation as being the people's champion. Where once his showiness - the 46-room mansion in Kensington, the vintage Bentley, the obscene cost of his Caribbean holiday - was regarded as crass, it came to symbolise a man who took pleasure in his own good fortune, who stood uncompromisingly against political correctness and, in contrast to many in public life, told it how it was. (Those of us who have heard him dismiss some of the best-loved people in film and beyond with a single, short, well-after-the-watershed word can vouch for this.)
Winner had a singular approach to reviewing restaurants which chimed with his readership. For most of us, food is only part of the dining out experience: there are many other factors, from service to ambience to price, that determine whether we've had a good time or not. Winner made no secret of the fact that he knew very little about food, and didn't spend much time discussing the fricassée of spring lamb with a velouté of wild rosemary. But he knew his onions, so to speak, about the dynamics of restaurants, how they operated, how customers were being treated. And, notwithstanding the fact that he numbered London's most successful restaurateurs among his close friends, he was unafraid to call a swede a swede.
But Michael Winner was no freedom fighter. Standing up for the rights of diners in the world's most well-appointed establishments didn't exactly make him a latter-day Wat Tyler. But he applied his knowledge and experience and his judgements were usually on the money. Famously, he complained that the chairs in the restaurant of the Hotel Splendido in Portofino - one of his favourite venues - had been squeezed too close together, and to prove his point, ostentatiously got a tape measure out in full view of his fellow diners. I'm not sure how important a contribution to global culture this was, but in a variety of small ways - inch by inch, in the case of the Splendido - Michael Winner changed things, invariably for the better. He was fortunate that his career as a restaurant critic - he began his column in 1994 - coincided with the emergence of eating out as a number one pastime for the middle class. It gave him the chance to indulge himself, eating well and having his picture in the paper every week. His was a truly original, authentic voice. It's hard to believe it has been stilled.Reuse content