Published 10 August 1997 Style Magazine 214th article
All systems slow: John Blezard, Elizabeth, Michael Winner, Pamela, Ron Purdie, Michael Harvey at the Snail
The location reconnaissance is standard procedure in motion pictures. You go around looking for real places in which to make your movie. I have location-searched from the Australian bush to the Bronx, from Paris to the London suburbs and beyond, between and around. You drive along checking what a location manager has already found, or knocking on doors saying: "What a lovely house. I'd love to film here." You meet a marvellous variety of people.
The best day for this is Sunday. There is less traffic to hold you up and people are more likely to be at home to answer the doorbell.
An essential is lunch.
"Ah!" I hear you say, "I bet with Winner they get well fed."
Forget it - they don't. Lunch is a necessity, not a luxury: something to fortify you so you can carry on the job, spending as little time eating as possible. You can't book ahead as you know not where you may be; you just travel and at the appropriate time say, often desperately: "Where shall we stop for lunch?"
I have eaten more lousy food on location recces than anywhere else. Only rarely do you get lucky. On a recent occasion we had turned off the A3 and were cruising through Cobham, Surrey, on the way to points south. There was me, my associate producer Ron Purdie, my assistant producer John Blezard, and my location manager Michael Harvey.
We passed the Snail - no, not good enough. On the right was the Copper Chimney.
"That looks nice," said Mr Purdie, who was driving. But it bad gone by. Facing us was the Vermont Exchange. We pulled into the parking area. It fell to me to check it out, rather like they sent canaries down the mines to see if there was air: if they came out dead, there was not; if they lived, it was safe for others to follow.
The Vermont Exchange did not take my fancy. Loud Muzak, interior neon signs. I got into the car and we headed back up the A245. We would have to make do with the Snail. Outside, it was rather pretty - fake tudor with a lot of plant pots on the eaves; a wheelbarrow full of flowers up there, too.
"This definitely has a better class of parked cars," I observed as we pulled to a halt. Once again, I scouted the situation. Not posh, ghastly Muzak, but beggars can't be choosers.
"Table for four," I said to Pamela, a pretty dark-haired girl wearing glasses. She indicated a round one.
"How about that?" I asked, pointing to a table for eight.
"That's all night," she replied. I went and beckoned my gang inside.
We sat down and Pamela took our drinks order.
"Can we do the meal?" I asked. "We're in a rush."
"I'll be with you in a second," said Pamela.
"You mean you don't do the food?" I queried.
"Yes, but I need another pad," she said, before returning with a blackboard menu.
"Is the soup made here?" I asked.
"It's fresh, sir, but it's not actually made here. It's made in Belgium."
That I couldn't figure at all. I chose the soup of the day - asparagus. If that was made in Belgium, it's a very good reason for leaving the European Union. Mr Blezard and Mr Harvey pronounced their Thai soup excellent.
Mr Purdie was eating prawns. "Slightly overcooked," he said. "Difficult to peel."
Another very pretty girl, a blonde, came over. Her name was Elizabeth. "Are you the manageress?" I asked.
"I'm not old enough," she said.
"How old are you?"
"Seventeen," was the reply.
One thing's for sure: the waitresses looked better than the food. They were highly efficient and charming, too.
My main course was fillet steak with sauce diane, medium rare, with vegetables, £12.95. The steak was just okay, the sauce unbelievably awful: brownish muck with funny mushrooms floating about. Mr Harvey had chosen fish mornay. He declared it tender and tasty. I'd also ordered some rabbit with prunes. The rabbit tasted of jelly, no firmness or substance, revolting. My roast potatoes had a rubbery skin - you chewed for ever and nothing much happened. Mr Purdie had duck.
"How is it?" I asked.
"It's cooked to exactly the right consistency," he said, then moved his hands in a circle over the plate as if he was going to levitate it. "Lacks flavour," he added.
None of us dared try a dessert. The coffee was all right.
The real manageress asked: "Everything okay with your meals?" and wisely moved off before I could answer.
Quite honestly, if this is how the other half eats, I'd rather not know about it.
At the beginning of last month, we visited Arundel in West Sussex, and decided to have a quick lunch at the Norfolk Arms hotel. Our decision to try it was largely based on the RAC, National Trust, Egon Ronay and AA accreditations displayed by the front door. We ordered drinks and some beef and horseradish sandwiches. When the latter arrived, they consisted of gristle and fat with small pieces of meat attached. They were inedible and were returned to the kitchen. Fifteen minutes later there was no sign of any substitutes, so we left. The cost of the sandwiches was refunded, but the value of the aforementioned food guide accreditations is seriously diminished when displayed in places that are apparently not as concerned about the quality of the food they put before their customers as they should be. What they need is the Winner touch to remind them that customers matter.
M Lennon, London
Poor Michael Winner. To quote: "Clecy appeared on no maps. Not even a very big one of Normandy" (Style, July 20). I am surprised that Mr Winner is unaware of the Michelin Motor Atlas covering France at a scale of 1:200,000. Clecy is quite clearly shown. It is situated on a main road and underlined in red to indicate that it appears in the Michelin Hotel and Restaurant Guide. Both books would cost a mere £30.
D R W Wood Orpington, Kent