Published 23 November 2008 News Review 801st article
There used to be only one restaurant in Bridge Street, Cambridge. It served Indian food. Every Friday in the mid-Fifties I'd dine there with George Webb, a wonderfully ebullient cockney who owned the specialist Rex cinema, and his manager Leslie Halliwell who became a famous writer of books on movies.
At one such dinner I planned on (and later succeeded in) getting Marlon Brando's film The Wild One, which was banned by the British film censor, passed by the Cambridge council. So it received its first showing - and the only one for many years - at George's cinema.
At the Cambridge Union Society I recently delivered a light-hearted talk: My Life in Movies and Other Places. The Union president, Adam Bott, led me along Bridge Street, now wall-to-wall restaurants, to Brasserie Chez Gerard for dinner.
At 6.16pm the lights dimmed. I complained. The waiter said, "Should I put the lights up?"
I said, "No, turn down that blaring music."
A student, Lucas Fear-Segal, said, "How can it be darker here than it is outside?"
"Probably so people don't see the food," I suggested. For the rest of the evening the lights went up and down like an electrical yo-yo.
"I think we should order," I told Adam. "I don't trust waiters."
"They're integral," explained Adam.
"Integral, but not to be trusted. Particularly with the delivery of food," I cautioned. The Chez Gerard waiters were walking so slowly I was amazed they made it from one table to another.
"We can do starters," proclaimed Adam.
"If we do, forget dessert," I said, knowing I was due to speak at 8pm.
They were out of tiger prawns and tartes provencale. Five tartes were listed on the menu. I ordered "gravadlax, slow-cured salmon with dill and a mustard and cucumber sauce".
As we waited for our first course, candles were put on the table.
"It's very rare you go to a restaurant where the candles give out more light than the halogen bulbs in the ceiling," observed Mr Fear-Segal.
"Better watch out for him," I thought. "He's witty. Might be after my job."
I told them how sorry I was my friend OJ Simpson was slumming it in jail. A student said I could have got a guest room for the night at my old college, Downing.
"I'm extremely annoyed with the college master," I said. "I feel like killing him."
"Get OJ to do it," suggested Lucas Fear-Segal.
"I'd have to break him out of prison,"
Then my gravadlax arrived. It was over-salty, dry, awful. The aftertaste was ghastly beyond belief. I followed with "merguez sausages, three authentic spicy Moroccan lamb and beef sausages simply grilled and served with frites and minted yoghurt". It read better than it tasted. Accompanying it were very tired green leaves.
Geraldine assured me her vegetarian tagine was "delicious". She tends to be more enthusiastic than me.
The first course arrived at 6.50pm, nearly an hour after being ordered. A student, Chris, didn't get his lemonade. For his main course he got fries instead of mashed potatoes. The bread, dry and weary, came after the first course. It's normally before. At the other end of the proceedings, service had been so slow, there was no time for dessert. Everything, except the company, was below mediocre.
I'm a fan of Pinewood and Shepperton studios. I shot my first feature film at Pinewood in 1962, my next at Shepperton. I've used Shepperton for my commercials.
So it's sad to see part of the empire failing so hopelessly. It's the Pinewood Photographic Centre. I used it for more than 45 years. It printed some pictures that graced this column. It was beautifully run by a man called "Lofty" Rice, who was, unsurprisingly, very tall. Assorted people took over. With the arrival of a lady misnamed Joy (first name Vicky) things began to slip. Prints turned up with a strange colour bias.
I mainly use Boots the chemist in Kensington High Street. It is far more consistent, cheaper and better than Pinewood. For specialist work I go to Metro, a splendid professional lab.
One of my Pinewood reprint orders came back washed out, colourless, dreadful. Like Minsk 1934. Although I'm not quite old enough to have seen Minsk in 1934. I wrote to Ms Joyless saying it was "the most disgracefully inept printing of any photograph I've seen in my life".
Joyless never even saw the print in question. Nor did she ask to. On receiving my critique she simply suggested I never darken their doorstep again. Very petulant.
Any Hollywood lab would have checked the print, then apologised.
I wish I'd kept all my complaint missiles. They'd have made a great book: The Rude Letters of Michael Winner. A bestseller for sure.
PS: I use negative film. Better quality -and no slaving at the computer. A non-zoom "hard" lens on my old Leica Minilux does the trick. I bet you've noticed.
You may think you invented Moishe Pippick, but he did exist. I saw a TV programme which showed a New York band in the 1930s called Moishe Pippick and the All Stars. I just fell about laughing.
Susan Altbach, Hertfordshire
The apoplectic, humourless and over-the-top Mike Stallwood may not be interested to know that Hymie Pockle and Moishe Pippick are related by marriage. He may, however, get some street cred when he passes this information on to his chums at the club.
Michael Ross, North Yorkshire
Your correspondent, Mike Stallwood, suggested your Ritz article reached rock bottom in terms of rich boy boasting. You've been much more tasteless, self-aggrandising and shallow in the past. I'd be bitterly disappointed if that was rock bottom. You need to get your finger out before you really do allow standards to rise and thus run the risk of becoming respectable.
Tony Fenlon, Ayrshire
A guaranteed way to build up the much-criticised Ivy would be for them to employ Hymie, Abe and Moishe to run the place. It could then be re-named the Oi-Vay.
Ian Lineker, Worcestershire
Is Winner actually paid for his weekly dollop of folie des grandeurs, or, as I suspect, does he hire the space to interminably inflict on us his increasingly unbecoming features?
Charles Baccanello, Cannes, France
Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org