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Bit of a giggle

Published 29 May 1994
Style Magazine
48th article



Debonair ways: Michael Winner at a deb dance in the 1950s with one of the more spectacular debutantes, Miss Lola Wigan

I have never understood what the Season was; and nor do I much care. It affected my life briefly in the 1950s when, thrown out of the house and threatened with disinheritance for being in the movie business, I found myself out of funds and employed on a strange column on the Evening Standard called In London Last Night.

Those were the days when you could get a three-course meal for two with wine at Charco's near Sloane Avenue for £1.50. I understood it had recently reopened so I phoned to ask the owner's name. I was told Val O'Donoghue. That's what it sounded like. I asked how it was spelt and a very rude employee told me O'Dondghoie! I rechecked this twice! Unless the owner has the most unusual name ever, I don't think this bodes well for the restaurant.

In 1956 the Season meant something. Every night the climax to cocktail and dinner parties were immense dances with everyone in evening dress. Bored girls wearing tiaras sat disconsolately round tables laden with goodies, while roped-in deb escorts loaded their Morris Minors with champagne, food and anything else they could nick. In the gardens of lavish homes, giggling and other noises could be heard from the darkened greenery. It was obscenely stupid, but not without a tiny bit of style.

My extremely beautiful receptionist, Miss Elisabeth Dermot-Walsh (her father starred in my first-ever feature film) came out a year ago. It sounds much depleted now. Some 50 drinks parties shared by various girls, about eight real dances, also shared, and not a tiara in sight. Elisabeth thought it much nicer when she was invited for a week of American debbery. There she got two male escorts for every social occasion, a military one and a civilian. After that, working for me must be a terrible let-down.

In the 1950s richer debs would adjourn to Rico D'Ajou's Casanova Club in Grosvenor Street. There the lavish cabaret always outnumbered the guests. Roast duck in cherries was Rico's speciality, preceded by mounds of beluga caviare on blinis. Rico was a terror for us humble journalists. He would point to a passing taxi, hit his liveried doorman and say: "Who's in that?"

The benumbed doorman had no idea. "Princess Margaret," Rico would scream, "and the King of Greece, they've just left my club." The doorman would nod bravely and some were taken in. I loved old Rico. When I started going to the Casanova he'd say, "No good to-night, Michael. Only Jews in." As it dawned on him that I was Jewish he became rather agitated. One night he dragged me from the marble hallway to the gents' toilet. There he insisted on revealing his circumcision to show, as it were, his true colours! Sadly, Rico is now in the great nightclub in the sky, having gone spectacularly bankrupt first.

I did touch on the Season eight years ago when Terence Stamp invited me to Wimbledon. We waited all day with rain and no play and then drove into town with the sun coming out and the radio saying tennis had commenced. Three years ago, the only amusing Swiss chap I ever met, Dieter Abt, owned the firm doing Wimbledon's catering (which also went broke!) and he asked me to the finals. We had the mandatory salmon and strawberries in a tent and jolly nice, too. Unfortunately, shortly thereafter, Herr Abt was arrested on various fraud charges. I have no doubt he is innocent. Anyone as delightfully dopey as he could not possibly work out how to deceive anyone.

Craig Brown is obsessed with me, poor thing. He never stops writing about me! But he's a naughty chap, telling porkers in his food article last week. He made great play of the non-fact that I disliked Fulham Road Restaurant. In fact, I wrote: "I can recommend Fulham Road . . . the food's fine." Delighted to confirm it.

And what about that advertisement The Lanesborough took! I love a good cartoon attacking me, I've even kept a few of them. But, oh dear! The Lanesborough's was poorly executed, dreary, heavy and pointless. Just like their food, really.



Letters

Having just returned from a long weekend visit to La Voile D'Or in St Jean Cap Ferrat I am surprised that Michael Winner found anything to criticise, although he does admit that his visit was an "off-day". My feuillantines de langoustine aux graines de sesame were absolutely perfect no sogginess in sight. I thoroughly agree with him about the Grand Marnier souffle one of the best ever. Sitting in the garden there, overlooking the harbour, is one of life's treats. The hotel is one of the consistently efficient and friendly hotels of the world.
Jean Jones, Shrewsbury, Shropshire

Some friends and I recently dined at Aubergine in Park Walk, Chelsea. We all agreed that it was one of the most delicious, enjoyable meals ever experienced. The food itself we found to be, in a word, perfection, and the service and ambience faultless. With Gordon Ramsay now in the superchef league, I would say fight for a table, before the remarkably low prices must surely rise.
Jackie Marinetti, London W14