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Calm down, we're only back where it all began

Published 14 December 2008
News Review
804th article

Michael filming outside the house in Willesden where he lived as a baby (Murray Close)

Poor boy from Willesden returns. To celebrate, a quiz. Caterers on my new esure "Calm down, dear" commercials drove their portable kitchen to Willesden to provide breakfast of scrambled and fried eggs, bacon, sausage, black pudding, vegetable sausage, hash browns, mushrooms, beans, tomatoes, toast, jams, butter, porridge, assorted cereals, yoghurts, tea and coffee. What price per person? Answer: £3.60.

The mid-morning break was doughnuts, biscuits, danish pastries, chocolate mini-bars, tea and coffee. Followed by lunch: typical main course, roast leg of lamb or grilled pork chops with bramley apple sauce or mushroom vol-au-vent, all with roast or new potatoes or chips (or all three), peas, cabbage, french beans; then pudding of spotted dick, passion fruit gateau, fresh fruit salad, cream and custard, cheese and biscuits, coffee and tea.

For afternoon tea: cakes and assorted sandwiches, tea and coffee. How much for all three - morning break, lunch and tea - per person? Answer: £15. It wasn't Gordon Ramsay. Just good, simple English fare. Where else can you can find value like that? Food came from "J & J, caterers to the film and TV industry".

The company has done my movies and commercials for years. It was started in 1979 by John Lane and John Engleman, who'd previously worked at Pinewood studios, the place with the hopeless photo lab.

My new ads air from January 1, before and after weather reports on ITV1 and Channel 4. They're extremely well written (I say through gritted teeth) by esure's advertising executives Chris Bowden and Lee Crawley.

The first esure commercial I created propelled the company to public recognition in 2002. The ads continued for two years. Then Peter Wood, chairman of esure, fired me. My replacement was a ghastly computer-generated mouse that spoke no known language.

Peter employed me as a consultant. I wrote and said: "Here's some advice - shoot the mouse." The rodent eventually expired and I returned to front an esure ad that ran through 2006. Then I was fired again. I'm the only person I know who scrapes a living out of being fired.

Now Peter has announced: "After Michael's initial success we tried a number of different advertising routes, but whereas form is temporary, class is for ever. So we're back with Winner again." Then he'll fire me.

The new vignettes were shot in the road where I lived for my first five years - Alexander Avenue, Willesden, north London. My opinion of north London folk was restored by the people I met when I knocked on doors to find the locations. My favourites were Sigi and Terry Faith, a mild-mannered, charming couple.

Sigi was recently photographed with Prince Charles at the 70th reunion of the Kindertransport refugees. In 1939 Great Britain refused to accept Jews, even though, left in Nazi Germany, they would have been slaughtered. As a "kind" gesture the UK let in 10,000 children of parents who were inmates of concentration camps.

Sigi, then aged 10, was one of them. His parents eventually escaped from Germany. They had to wait in Shanghai eight years before being reunited with their son. Shanghai was the only place that let people in without documentation..

Hilda Both, who lives opposite, rented us her house for dressing rooms. She walks her Hungarian vizsla dog each day for three hours. We halted filming so she could come and go.

There was Selina and David Hehir - pronounced "hair" in case you meet them. They live in the house I inhabited as a baby. I took them photos of me romping in the garden. The house features as background for one of my ads. Our photo shows me in front of it.

Among other nice people who welcomed me were Brij Jain, Ismail Mohamed, Azim Tario and Mosen Khoeli. Luckily I didn't meet the ghastly woman from north London who harassed and swore at me in the Wolseley. She couldn't have come from Alexander Avenue. Everyone there is delightful. Nor did I bump into Hymie Pockle, Abe Schwonz or Moishe Pippick. They live further north.

There's nothing better than getting to a movie location, having risen at 5am, to be greeted by a cuppa and a toasted fried-egg sandwich. Now I'm starring I have to go straight to make-up. No grub for me. Instead I drink hot water, lemon and honey all day to keep my voice from rasping. Kiri Te Kanawa taught me that. Forty years of smoking Montecristo No 1 Havana cigars damaged my vocal cords.

I had my usual movie crew, plus a new technician replacing regulars who weren't available. Everyone was first rate. I enjoyed roast beef and yorkshire for lunch, and spotted dick, and a blackberry and apple crumble consumed in a tent we put up in the car park of the Willesden sports centre. A delight. Hope you enjoy the ads.

  • PS: I directed two ex-girlfriends, two young actors, Ford, Suzuki and Toyota cars and an icicle. Also ducks and fish. A duck nearly killed me. The fish just gawped. Didn't say a word.

    Michael's missives

    Last week you tried to emulate the Beatles' Abbey Road pose on the zebra crossing. Who were you trying to be, John, Paul, George or Dumbo? Michael Joseph, Manchester Please do name and shame Mrs X, the lady who harassed you at the Wolseley. We're all dying to know. She sounds like a right scrubber.
    David Jensen, Ibiza

    Week after week Michael strikes brazen poses of raw machismo, then complains about the unwelcome attentions of Winner groupies and stalkers. He should contact George Clooney for guidance.
    Ian Lineker, Worcestershire

    As we say up north, "If you can't take it, don't give it." Mrs X was only giving you back the medicine you hand out to restaurants and anyone you don't like.
    Stuart Matthews, Nottinghamshire

    You've had a full-time stalker for years? In these credit-crunch times can't you downgrade to a part-time stalker? Martin Langley, Surrey Having lunched with the convicted John Myatt and OJ Simpson, who will Winner be dining with next? Gordon Brown? John M Keynes, Surrey Now Michael's friend OJ Simpson has been incarcerated, I look forward to the master's opinion of the grub served in Nevada's state prisons.
    Tony Pike, Surrey

    Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST or e-mail michael.winner@sunday-times.co.uk