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Coast with the most

Published 20 August 2000
Style Magazine
371st article

Water feature: Michael Winner at Hallsands, with Dave Grantham and his boat (Georgina Hristova)

I was heading for Hallsands South but the signposts were confusing, so I ended up in Hallsands. Hallsands South, on the Devon coast, is where I shot The System with Oliver Reed. It was the film, massively praised by leading American critics, that broke me through into Hollywood. In 1963 Hallsands South was just shells of stone cottages stuck up on rocks. I used it in my next movie, I'll Never Forget What's'isname. Both are available on DVD classic collections with a special soundtrack in which I talk right through them.

Hallsands consisted of a bay, a sandy beach, cliffs topped with rolling fields and, at one end. a cabin offering ice cream and cold drinks. High on the far cliff was the Hallsands Hotel - a cross between Anthony Perkins's place in Psycho and a run-down turn-of-the-century English house. I climbed many steps, arriving at a side terrace with two wooden tables and benches overlooking the beach. The owner, Carol Light, told me Hallsands South had suffered damage to the cliff and was fenced off. I could either drive there, climb over the fencing and hope for the best, or walk along some large, wet rocks with the tide coming in.

I chose lunch. There was a large menu, from which I selected a crab roll and Georgina chose cod and chips. "Do you make your own chips?" I asked, assuming they were bought in, as they are in many posh London restaurants. "We make them here," said Carol. "You mean you take a potato in your kitchen, cut it up and fry it?" I persisted. "Yes," said Carol.

I sat down and admired the view. A man walked from the hotel carrying two pint glasses of beer. As he stepped carefully down the steep road, I shouted to him: "There's a man in yellow oilskins on the beach with a boat. Would you tell him he'll be rewarded if he takes me to Hallsands South?" The man with the beer kept his eye on the glasses in case they spilled, but indicated he'd deliver my message.

The food arrived and a nice family from Essex came to the other table. My crab roll was excellent. There was white and brown crabmeat, very fresh, very tasty. The roll itself was long and white and of a type of bread I'd never seen before. But it was excellent. The shredded lettuce and tomato were first rate, too.

Georgina's fish was exquisite: cooked to perfection and with a superb batter, which she meticulously peeled off. I ate bits of it. It was as good as you could hope for. The chips were the best I've ever eaten. She also had some very nice cucumber.

On the beach below, the beer man was talking to the yellow oilskin man. I drank a rather strange Coca-Cola, ate my crab roll and enjoyed the blue sky and the sea view. Then Dave Grantham, the oilskin man, arrived to say he'd take me to Hallsands South. I decided ice cream was essential before such adventure, particularly as the boat seemed incapable of getting onto the beach. "How am I to go aboard, Dave?" I asked. "Do you have shorts?" Dave responded. "Of course not!" I said. Dave left.

The ice cream was good. "It's called Prize," Carol told me. "It's made locally. Salcombe Dairy ice cream is the best round here, especially their blackcurrant one. But it's quite expensive." I also learnt Carol was selling up to go to the Gambia to help run an orphanage she'd raised money for.

To get on the boat I had to walk into the sea in my exquisite Bally suede shoes. They were hand-made copies of ones I'd bought on Madison Avenue, New York, in 1974. I've worn that style every day since. I dried them out later. Their sea experience did them good. Dave told us Damon of the pop group Blur lived behind the hotel, and that I was in a rigid inflatable boat, 217 horsepower V8, category 3, licensed to carry 12 passengers. He also said he'd once driven a famous actress who I knew was a total monster. "How did you like her, Dave?" I asked. "Horrible," he said.

Hallsands South was still picturesque, but two of the houses had been tarted up, which diminished it somewhat. Then Dave entered choppy water and went very fast. The boat lunged up and down. I hung onto a rope. "I do not require an adventure holiday!" I said sharply, so Dave slowed down. When I paddled ashore he refused to take any money. Nice people, these Devonshire types. And an excellent meal. What more could you want on a seaside outing?


I feel compelled to write after reading Mr Winner's column on his experiences at the Palace Hotel, Gstaad (Style, August 6). Once again, we were subjected to a sickening display of the man's arrogance. I refer to his complaint that there were occasions when he was denied access to the hotel lounge area due to weddings or other such functions being held there. Can you imagine his reaction had he hired the hotel for a private function and had "uninvited" guests wandering in and out at will? I feel the Palace would not have had such a favourable review if this had been the case. That said, Mr Winner's column is still the first thing I turn to every Sunday, despite his unerring ability to enrage me.
Jason Benskin, by e-mail

The Palace, Gstaad, isn't the only hotel where the lounge is often off limits to residents. I asked for a pot of tea at the Ritz, London, and was refused service because I "hadn't booked" and was told it could only be served in my room. I insisted on seeing the manager and eventually a table was found for me. Not the happiest of experiences. Would they have refused Michael Winner service?
Pat Coates, by e-mail

Your column on the Mason Arms (Style, July 9) omitted to reach the inevitable conclusion that, because of the exclusive way in which Mr "Individual" Stonhill runs his establishment, the ordinary residents of South Leigh have now lost their sole remaining amenity, our village pub. As you can imagine, we neither choose, nor indeed are welcome, to socialise in an inn that is dedicated to food for the exclusive helicopter-and-carriage trade.
A South Leigh resident, by e-mail

My wife and I recently stayed at the Palazzo Sasso, Ravello. The restaurant, Rossellini's, has a young Italian chef, Antonio Genovese, who has just been awarded a Michelin star, and is well worth a visit. Altogether, this is an amazing hotel with an exceptionally high standard of service. And, yes, we have stayed at the Splendido.
Peter Duff, Thriplow, Cambs

My friends all think Michael Winner is an obnoxious old git, but they just don't understand that this is a measure of his greatness as a food and restaurant critic. I would love to see him sort out some of the restaurants I have to inhabit. And talking of obnoxious gits - could he send me a list of restaurants that ban smokers?
Chris David, Vale of Glamorgan

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