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All very quiet on the western front

Published 14 March 2010
News Review
869th article



Michael in Kingsand, Cornwall with Joan and Dinah (Nic Guttridge)

Kingsand, the location for Friday's Michael Winner's Dining Stars, is a beautiful coastal village in Cornwall. Fishing used to be its main occupation. Now there's only one fisherman left.

He helped me judge the two final contestants before the winner cooked for a genuine celebrity dinner party in my house. So did a lovely 96-year-old lady who'd just finished her home-cooked lunch when I butted in; another man I picked up in a tiny supermarket; my ex-receptionist Zoe, who lives nearby; a lady from a cafe; and the lady who cooks in Kingsand's Devonport Inn. You think I'm picky, watch out for these locals. They were fantastic, clear, lucid, knowledgeable about food-all things I am not. They were also far more critical than I am.

In my efforts to find people, I knocked on door after door. What had been village residences were now holiday homes. Hardly anyone about.

James Hetreed, landlord and host of the Devonport Inn, has long white hair, a beard and a moustache, a gold necklace and wears a sort of black jerkin. When I asked James if the curry was bought-in he stormed off and his wife, Vanda, appeared.

"How dare you say that. I'm deeply offended. You're stupid," she said severely. Right in all directions, Vanda. She later joined me to judge the contestants' cooking.

Joan, my make-up lady, asked for a dry sauvignon blanc. She got a screw-topped bottle of Willowglen chardonnay. Dinah had some other screw-topped wine. "From Chile," advised Joan.

Dinah lifted her mobile phone and said, "No signal. If I put it on the table it's got a reception of three."

"I'll have to lie on the table, then," I responded.

James looked like a 1960s disc jockey. He played a lot of 1950s and 1960s music.

"I'd like to hear Johnnie Ray," I said.

James put on Just Walking in the Rain, sung by Johnnie, who had one of the greatest singing acts ever. I vaguely knew him. He's warbling in the clouds now.

Vanda assured me her curry was not hot. "If this isn't hot, I don't know what is," I said. But it was perfectly good.

The place had great atmosphere: old posters-the Titanic, the Guinness Toucan ads.

Next door was a cafe, the Old Boatstore, where I had the worst Cornish pasty ever. It came from a local bakery. By the time they'd re-heated it, the pastry was soggy. "Actually revolting," I dictated into my faithful tape recorder. To compensate I had a very good lemon cake, made by the owner.

In another pub two splendid local musicians were playing and, in a sea-front cafe, little vials of crumbs left over by famous people were displayed in plastic cones. The main attraction was a Prince of Wales leftover. A museum of the ridiculous. I like eccentricity.

As my TV series ends I appreciate your very positive response. I was dopey to shoot my mouth off about how terrible the food was in the north. A number of restaurant owners there reminded me I'd given them a good review.

The series producer, Mark Leslie, chose the music superbly. It was melodic, ironic and humorous. The director was good. I greatly liked him. But he had a nutty moment early on and later went bonkers during the editing, when he stormed out, slamming the door on three of the most important executives in television. Then he threatened to quit. If I'd done that I'd never have completed any movie.

The greatest joy was getting to know ITV's top brass, meeting people in the street and dining with the contestants. From Hema in Solihull to Justine in Longridge they were all terrific. Even a group in Scotland who became highly bizarre after a few tipples.

This Friday you'll learn who won. It's not exactly an academy award but it made one family very happy.

I've invited all the contestants to dinner at my house, travel expenses on me.

They'll get the same spread Archie Norman, ITV's chairman, got-same as Michael Caine and the Lloyd-Webbers. Will they give me any Dining Stars? Who cares? As long as they have fun.



  • I was at McDonald's in Wood Green, north London. Isn't everyone? I ate my first Big Mac in New Rochelle, New York in 1983. Hated it. Tried again for Sir Trevor McDonald's TV show last year, hated that. Wood Lane's one reached new depths. Soggy bun, bland interior.

    The tasteless fried chicken was crusted in unattractive, hard batter. The ice cream and chips were good. The milk shake machine had broken down. Milk shakes are a prime item. Why can't they have two or three machines? If I was the American McDonald's boss I'd fire the English chief.



  • I've just gone from £6m in debt to £9m in debt. As Tommy Cooper would have said, "Just like that."

    Three years ago, a reader, Edward Cullen, of Barclays Wealth, wrote saying that if I needed another loan I should go to him. He persisted. Finally I thought, I'll give him a go. Thus Barclays Wealth acquired a new customer and I got a stash of cash. Wonnerful, innit?



    Michael's missives

    Did you father all those children photographed with you last week? Or did you have help?
    Iain Chapman, Provence, France

    Who was the dodgy, grey-haired bird in the line-up at Bella Italia? Some girls will go anywhere for free pasta!
    Edward David, London

    Joan, your make-up lady, said, "It needs more garlic." Was that for protection when she was making the Old Vamp up?
    Darrell Desbrow, Kirkcudbrightshire

    Does your make-up lady specialise in the application of embalming fluids?
    Ian Lineker, Worcestershire

    What is in Dinah's red shopping trolley? Is it a life-support machine to keep you going?
    David Russell, Guernsey

    Re your joke about the husband "shopping" his wife, here's another: a bank robber shot the cashier and two customers who'd seen his face. Then he shouted, "Did anyone else see my face?" A timid voice said, "I think my missus caught a glimpse."
    Terry Clarke, Berkshire

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



    Your chance to dine with Michael Times+ members are invited to an exclusive "Winner's Dinner" at the Belvedere, Holland Park, LondonW8on May 11, 2010. Join Michael Winner and The Sunday Times's editor, John Witherow, for a champagne reception and a three-course dinner chosen by Mr Winner. To book, please go to timesplus.co.uk.