Journalist and film director Michael Winner passed away today aged 77. He was a popular diarist in the pages of The Spectator, with his most recent offering appearing in January 2010. In that column, he described the filming of his TV series ‘Michael Winner’s Dining Stars’, and mused about what might happen if it flopped:
There’s a nasty Hollywood crew saying about artistes: ‘Bring on da puppets.’ That was largely the attitude of the production team. I’d have fired most of them. I know I’m not Leonardo di Caprio, Johnny Depp, Meryl Streep or anyone near the top of the star tree. But courtesy would have been appreciated. It was a great experience regardless. I loved the warmth, consideration, and sometimes confrontation, from people who hosted me for dinner. I adored meeting people on the streets, not as a professional smiler, but as me. Mr Walton may not be a genius at organisation but he’s a particularly nice person with a great sense of humour. At an early meeting he asked one of the most intelligent questions put to me in 60 years in the entertainment industry. He said, ‘What do you want to get out of this, Mr Winner?’ I answered ‘Fun. Fun for me, fun for the audience, fun for everyone involved.’ It was fun. I hope you find it so when it reaches your TV in February. Think: if it’s a success I can be a monster. If it fails I’ll go back to being a bum. No problem there. I’m used to it.
Being not so much an A-list celebrity, more a Z-list celebrity, turning up for book signings is a hit-and-miss affair. Some are massively attended. Some not. The dopiest was when I was sent to Brent Cross shopping centre on a Friday evening. This is the time that Jewish people, who largely inhabit that area, start their sabbath with a special dinner and prayers. So we only sold 20 books in an hour. I desperately tried to encourage giggling girls, Asian families, anyone, to buy. The bookstore manager said, ‘You know, Mr Winner, the most successful signing we ever had, we didn’t sell one single book while the author was here.’ ‘How could that be a success?’ I asked. ‘The author signed 250 copies of stock and they all went in the following two weeks,’ was the reply. There’s a saying in the book trade, ‘A book signed is a book sold.’ Since hearing that I’ve been rushing round signing anything, Jeffrey Archer, Enid Blyton, Proust. Wha’do I care!
In a 2006 diary he detailed his battles with the tax man, and his guilt at childhood naughtiness:
I was very naughty when young. I stole from my schoolmates’ pockets as they played games. I stole from Woolworth’s. And probably more places. As responsibility entered my maturing soul, I tried to make amends. I advertised for those at school whom I might have made poorer and paid back many times the amount to the only one who turned up. I sent a cheque for £500 to the chairman of Woolworth’s for about £1.50 of nicking. He asked if he could put this in his staff newspaper as he got many similar donations.
He returned to his haggling with the tax authorities in 2007, arguing that the Tyne and Wear team he had been dealing with ‘should be put to useful work such as road-sweeping, knitting cardigans for pensioners or basket-weaving’. You can read his four columns below. We’ll miss his witty contributions.