Five Minutes with Michael Winner

ANNIE RAFF is charmed by producer and director Michael Winner.

director Film journalism Katie Price Liz Jones London Marlon Brando michael winner Rachel Johnson Sofia Loren Union Varsity

Michael Winner has eaten. He and wife Geraldine grabbed a bite at Hotel du Vin before his talk, in case you were wondering. The food was OK but the host led them to the worst possible table in a room with 40 empty places.

“Why do they do that?” Winner asks. Or maybe it was: “why the fuck do they do that?” given his preference for expletives, which litter most of his anecdotes. Winner is not lacking in substance to back up his ostentatious story-telling though. After all, he has directed Marlon Brando, Sofia Loren and Burt Lancaster amongst others.

The charming Mr Winner 

Going to university in Cambridge was a bit of a low point for him really. In fact, when he was here he used to drive off to London as often as he could to watch press screenings of new films. His tutor (an “unpleasant idiot”) used to tell him he was spending too much time at the movies and too much time on the journalism – the two areas in which he went on to have success.

Just as I am wondering how he could afford to have a car in Cambridge, let alone have anywhere to park it, Winner reads my mind and informs me that at that time all members of the Cambridge Yachting Club got a car. So what did he do? He became a member.

This cheeky chappy behaviour is characteristic of the director cum restaurant critic, who recounts stories of Burt Lancaster “trying to kill him” twice as well as Sofia Loren phoning him up complaining the tabloids had taken pictures of her topless.

“Did your tits look good” he asked her.

“Yes,” she replied.

“Well, send them a thank you note then.”

No surprise then that Winner approves of Katie Price for working her way up to the top, “a strong woman” he says, although he doesn’t know her personally. He is in regular contact with Rachel Johnson, on the other hand (who debated against Price at last week’s Union debate) and Winner says he has advised her to “start job-hunting.”

Liz Jones, he says, is a “good interviewer,” and OJ Simpson was “a nice man for a double murderer.” OBEs are a waste of time, apart from the one given to his good friend Michael Caine and Midsummer House, Cambridge’s only Michelin starred restaurant, is “full of pretension.”

At the end of my five minutes, Winner asks me to remind him which newspaper I am from (he edited Varsity). “The Tab” I tell him. “Oh,” he says. “If they had made another newspaper in my time I would have made sure they all got killed!” He really is quite the charmer.