Published 10 October 2004 News Review 587th article
Michael Winner, Colin Marshall and Sue Steel at the Borough Arms (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)
I wouldn't normally go to dinner in Newcastle-under-Lyme.
Nor would I take a return-trip helicopter at more than £3,000 for the privilege. But after years of angst, romance and joviality I've written my autobiography, Winner Takes All, subheaded A Life of Sorts.
It details my unusual childhood, my eccentric mother, my rise to Hollywood fame, many tales of movie stars and girlfriends and things about me you'd never have guessed. It was published on September 21 and is selling so well it's about to be reprinted.
My first publicity appearance was at the Booksellers Association small business forum dinner at the Borough Arms hotel.
"Rather bizarre, this room," I dictated into my tape recorder. Acoustic tiles on the ceiling housed bright lights. It was like being in a public toilet. Except there was a bar at one end and two panels of reproduction Breughel paintings of 16th-century Dutch peasants up to no good. It also had a little dance floor, mercifully unused.
The chairs were tacky metal with pinky-brown covering on the seat and the back, but very comfortable. I liked them.
The first thing I tried was the bread roll, which was surprisingly good. In fact I'd say very good.
It was crisp, fresh tasting and of excellent texture. Better than in far more salubrious establishments.
Geraldine sat on my left. On my right was Marcus Leaver, the chief executive of Chrysalis Books group. He told me I should visit Chez Marcel, a Lebanese restaurant behind Olympia. Mother cooked in the kitchen. I liked the sound of it.
Opposite me was Colin Marshall who was the president. I'm not sure what of, but certainly not America. Unless something's been going on I haven't heard of.
A lady named Sue Steel sat next to him. "Are you his wife?" I asked. "No," said Sue. "Are you the wife of the fellow on your left?" I continued. "No," said Sue.
"Where's your husband?" I asked, Scorpios being vastly over inquisitive. "I haven't got one," said Sue. That brought my line of questioning to a close.
The first course was smoked trout fillet served on mixed leaves with wholemeal bread. This was absolutely terrific. Smoked trout used to be a staple item in the 60s. I invariably enjoyed it. It could be dried up but this was moist and very tasty. I resisted the non-temptation of the wholemeal bread. Far too healthy for a man of my indolence.
On Geraldine's left was Iain Corlett who had two bookshops in the Wirral where my receptionist Dinah May lives. Next to him a lady who had a literary dating club.
People were matched according to their book preferences. Since the only book I've read in years (and greatly enjoyed) was Walter the Farting Dog, which topped The Sunday Times children's bestseller list, I hate to think whom I'd be matched with.
I noticed many people had taken off their jackets because of the heat. There was no air-conditioning.
"I wouldn't like to be here in summer, we'd all be dead by now," I observed to no one in particular.
I turned to President Colin Marshall. "What paper do you read on Sunday?" I asked.
"Saturday's Guardian," he replied. I was getting nowhere fast. So I concentrated on the main course: poached breast of chicken and asparagus and mushroom sauce.
Marcus said, "We're on the rubber chicken circuit." He was right. I left 95% of mine. The potatoes, carrots and beans were fine. It was all efficiently served by girls in black trousers with white blouses.
At this point there was a bit of a brouhaha. There had been a long delay following the main course. I wanted to be back in my helicopter by 10pm. It was parked on a sports field at Keele University in adjacent Stoke-on-Trent.
The question arose as to whether I should speak now or after the dessert, a trio of profiteroles served with warm chocolate sauce. I decided to perform at once rather than risk upsetting the helicopter pilot. Although I say it myself, and with extreme modesty, my speech was, as always, extremely witty and well received.
After that I signed a lot of books thinking, "None of them paid for these, they were all provided free by Chrysalis." I noted about a quarter of the booksellers didn't ask me to dedicate an inscription to anyone. "I bet they'll use them as stock and flog 'em," I murmured to Geraldine. "Why shouldn't they?" she said. She was right. They were all very nice people.
As I got up to go, Marcus observed, "You must try the profiteroles, they're absolutely awful." That's a major inducement if ever I heard one.
Copies can be ordered for £14.36 plus £2.25 p&p from The Sunday Times Books First on 0870 165 8585. or at www.timesonline.co.uk/booksfirstbuy
You look like the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland. With complexion darkening, receding hairline and ever-narrowing eyes you're in danger of disappearing from your photos altogether, leaving nothing but a smile. Perhaps the result of enjoying too much cream.
Jacqueline Grace, Lincolnshire
Like you last week I left La Petite Maison in Nice without paying. I asked for the bill. Twenty minutes later, no joy. My companions, ready for bed, left. I said I'd stay to settle up. After a further three requests and 20 minutes of plastic, napkin and hankie waving I decided they didn't need my money and went. That woke the waiter up! He found he could spare time, and relieved me of my cash.
Shaun Power, Bedfordshire
You wrote, "I pressed £500 of euros into the breast pocket of the passing waiter." This sort of show-off, brash behaviour can set a precedent. When we've eaten at La Petite Maison the waiters have been impatient, very rude and our dinner cost nowhere near £500.
Rosemarie Saunders Guernsey
Our experience at La Petite Maison was nothing like Mr Winner's. It was almost a total disaster. An evening spoilt. The food was just fair and the service non-existent. Nicole Rubi asked if we'd enjoyed the meal. I replied, "five out of 10".
Harvey Castle, London
I read last week you made a documentary on the aircraft carrier HMS Victorious in 1957. I had to land my aircraft on Victorious in 1958 when I couldn't find HMS Eagle. I always wondered where that big dent in the deck had come from.
David Gunn, Gloucestershire
Interesting that Michael worked on a documentary in 1957 aboard HMS Victorious. Presumably this was in lieu of national service. Did he get a medal?
Gordon Harrison, Coventry
On HMS Victorious I was the pilot given the job of keeping Mr Winner out of trouble and away from restricted areas. It was believed we had atom bombs on board. I showed him around and tried to be helpful. We all remember the Christmas card he sent to the wardroom showing Michael holding a shotgun with one foot on a dead Father Christmas.
D C Fawcett, Oxfordshire
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