Published 28 December 1997 Style Magazine 233rd article
The director's cut: Michael Winner with John Engleman and Felicity Kendal in J&J's mobile kitchen on Parting Shots
However much you may have eaten over Christmas, however stuffed you may feel, take it from me, it is nothing compared to a normal day on a British film set. We are proud of saying, jingoistically, that we have the finest film crews in the world. I will not get into that, although I have employed people from one or more of the main show business unions every single day for the past 43 years. I sign cheques for them every week right now. They are all wonderful human beings. But boy, can they eat!
Take a typical day on my last movie, Parting Shots. It would start with breakfast on arrival. This included, but was not limited to, as they say in legal documents, bacon, eggs, hash brown potatoes, baked beans, black pudding, haddock, sausages, bubble and squeak, and, of course, mundane things such as toast, fried bread, tea, coffee, etc. A very few hours later, well before lunch, comes the morning break. This consists of sausage rolls, bacon rolls, boiled eggs, beefburgers, toast again, tea, coffee, whatever. Although nobody theoretically stops work, you do notice a large amount of the crew are getting food for others or are simply not on the set.
Shortly thereafter comes lunch. And, like the other food, excellent it is, too. You may find soup, melon, pate, grapefruit cocktail, followed by roast beef with all the trimmings, grilled river trout and almonds, stuffed aubergines, saute chicken supreme, fillet of plaice with white Wine sauce . . . I could go on. Oh, then there are the desserts. Cherry sponge, strawberry gateaux (fresh cream), Dutch apple pie, strawberry crumble, baked jam roll and custard and so on.
To follow, there is fresh fruit, cheese, biscuits, yoghurts, french bread, tea, ground coffee - and there is more to come. At 3.30pm on a normal day, tea is served. I don't mean tea and biscuits - that's available all day. I mean a real, whopping tea. A mass of assorted pastries. I particularly go for the fairy cakes: white or orange with icing at the top and on three sides, sponge, with a layer of cream in the middle. There is a mind-blowing variety of cakes, jam rolls, tarts, wrapped choccy bars and, of course, sandwiches. Not nasty things in plastic, but enormous trays of freshly made ones. Salmon, watercress and egg, cheese and chutney, tomato and salad and thus onward and onwards yet again.
What workforce in the world has this much food available to them during a working day? None, I bet. Please don't get me wrong, I love it. My only regret is that I hardly ever stay for lunch. Not because it's no good - it's superb - but because I do not have a caravan. All directors have caravans. In the Directors' Guild of America contract you must have a caravan provided. I get a waiver. I'm not on a camping holiday; my job is on the set. But come lunch time there is nowhere for me to eat, except in the crew dining bus - a bit busy for a delicate soul like myself. So most days I go off to restaurants. On my return my associate producer, Mr Purdie, tells of the treacle sponge pudding I've missed and I feel green with envy.
There are many location caterers. They turn up with mobile kitchens, and for an amazingly cheap price. All four meals listed above, plus staff and the kitchen come for a mere - wait for it - £12 per person served. I can think of no better value in the world. For years now I have used J&J, caterers to the film and television industry. John Engleman and John Lane worked in the catering department of Pinewood Studios before setting up on their own 16 years ago. In the 1960s, there was a wonderful firm called Lewis and Clarke, run by two elderly ladies who baked all their own cakes, scones and pastries. They were totally historic.
John and John do a great job. Not without its dangers. We were filming once in Notting Hill Gate. In his mobile kitchen, parked under the Westway, John Engleman was preparing lunch. Suddenly there was a bang and all the electricity vanished. Thieves had attached chains to the generator supplying the kitchen, their revved off in a high-powered vehicle, snapping the wires. John saw his generator disappearing down the street. Even in a posh Brighton square, things were not safe. We went round the corner for only a minute to film. When John returned, his two urns for tea and coffee had been swiped from the trestle tables in broad daylight. Thank goodness he hadn't left the fairy cakes out. If those had gone I really would have been upset.
I was interested to read Michael Winner bemoaning the crowds during his Christmas stays in Barbados (Style, December 7). He should visit in February, when it is much more relaxing, easier to get bookings in restaurants and has the added bonus of being able to sit on the terrace of Sandy Lane hotel in the afternoons while Pavarotti practises his skills in the lounge.
Edna Weiss London NW11
Michael Winner recently referred to the Ritz Hotel as overlooking St James's Park (Style, November 30). In fact, the Ritz overlooks Green Park. I only mention this to prevent readers confusing the Ritz and Buckingham Palace, which does, indeed, overlook St James's Park, and where requests for lunch and tea are unlikely to be appreciated.
RF Newell London SW4
I recently visited Sir Terence Conran's new restaurant, Orrery. The food and service were perfect; in fact, even better than I had expected. However, the evening was completely spoilt by a party of four at the next table who smoked throughout their meal. Michael Winner would no doubt have caused a fuss, but my party of five were too meek to do so. Why we should be subjected to air pollution during an expensive meal? I can see no reason why smokers and nonsmokers should not be separated. I pointed this out to the manager, who was unsympathetic. He requested that we give Orrery another chance, but I shall not be visiting again while the current smoking policy remains in place.
L Lowenthal, London NW3