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All fine and dandy for my day back on set

Published 4 July 2010
News Review
885th article

Michael Winner with John Landis and two extras for the film Burke & Hare (Dinah May)

My acting talent never received the acclaim it deserved. You'll recall my important role as Sir Randolph Spence in For the Greater Good, a TV film written by GF Newman, in which I was cast by the director Danny Boyle, who later (he owes it all to me) won an Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire. So impressive was my performance that my scene with Roy Dotrice illustrated the proceedings when the show was launched at Bafta.

My co-stars - Rachel Kempson, Martin Shaw, Julian Fellowes, to name but a few - were in awe of my dramatic skills. Amazingly, further acting work failed to materialise. I am consoled by my outstanding performances on The Kenny Everett Television Show, for Steven Berkoff in his movie Decadence, a comedic gem in Hotel Babylon and, trifles though they were, my skill as farceur for Reeves, Mortimer, Al Murray and others.

I like to think the Hollywood director John Landis, who made Trading Places and Michael Jackson's Thriller, chose me for his new film, Burke & Hare, because he'd heard of my onscreen charisma. More likely it was because he started his career as a stuntman on my movie Chato's Land in 1971.

It took 39 years before he contacted me again, this time to play an English nobleman (no stupid reader remarks, please) whose carriage Burke and Hare cause to crash over the cliffs at Dover. There's thanks for you. I start the Landis career and 39 years later he hurls me over a cliff. Why he gave the leads to Andy Serkis, Simon Pegg and Tom Wilkinson, I can't imagine. I was available.

I turned up as requested shortly before 12.30pm at the movie base in Luton Hoo. The Rolls Phantom deposited me at my caravan dressing room, where I was told they weren't ready for my close-up. It was suggested I lunch at nearby Luton Hoo hotel. John's wife, the top costumer Deborah Nadoolman, said to my assistant Dinah, "It's just as well he's not eating here because the food's terrible."

As I drove off, Barnaby Thompson, the producer, observed, "Sorry you won't be eating here because the food is very good."

"That's not what the troops are saying," I replied.

Hoo, a Saxon word, means a hill. The hotel is magnificent. It's a big stately home in the Cliveden league, restored by Robert Adam in 1771. Capability Brown laid out the gardens.

The courteous manager, Matthew Long, showed Dinah and me through the vast hall. I turned left to see the Russian chapel, where ladies were lunching prior to a fashion show. One of them asked, "Are you going to be a model?" That left me speechless.

We lunched in a dining room beaten in grandeur only by the Ritz in Piccadilly. Tapestries, wall painting, gilt, massive chandeliers, pillars, a view of stunning grounds and a lake. Food was very good. Foie gras terrine followed by pan-fried sea bass.

"And for your dining pleasure this afternoon," said the waitress, as she and a colleague lifted our cloches in unison to reveal the main course.

All went splendidly until dessert, which took ages to come. I was having a mixed chocolate thing; Dinah, cheese. "It's cold food," I said to the waitress. "Why have we waited 20 minutes?"

"Desserts are on the way," she replied.

"That means nothing to me," I said.

Back with the film unit the make-up lady stuck a couple of sideburns on me, then said, "That's it."

"What do you mean, 'That's it'?" I asked.

"You don't need make-up, you've got a lovely skin," she responded.

I recently sat next to Jemima Khan at David Tang's Chinese restaurant at the Dorchester. She said, "You've had Botox."

"I have not," I responded indignantly.

"Wiggle your eyebrows," commanded Jemima. I did. "You're right," she said. "No Botox. I don't know how you do it." Clean living is the answer, dear.

  • In last Sunday's Culture interview with Jeff Goldblum, shortly to open in Prisoner of Second Avenue in the West End, he joked that his first movie role as the chief mugger in Death Wish was referred to on the cast list as Freak 1. Paramount was adamant I didn't have too many black muggers (a permissible term in those days) in case people objected. So at mugging auditions seven actors at a time raped a chair. Best chair molester, no inhibitions, was a tall, skinny fellow.

    I said to Charlie Bludhorn, boss of Paramount, "Don't worry, our chief rapist is a Jew. They won't mind."

    "Who is he?" asked Bludhorn. "You've never heard of him," I replied. "Name is Jeff Goldblum."

    Jeff was in my horror movie The Sentinel a year later. Lovely person. Superb actor. Glad he's done well. He deserves it.

  • An email from Wikipedia follows my complaint of vast inaccuracies in its information about me and that anyone can write any lies into any Wiki biography. Twice Wiki recorded my death.

    Joe Daly said the website has a new "software update", which means edits by "a certain class of users must be approved by a trusted user before they go live on the article. This feature has been activated with regard to Mr Winner". Figure that out. I'll be watching.

    Daly adds that he's soon getting married. Congratulations, Joe.

    Michael's missives

    They have rather pretty nursing assistants at your old folk's home on Lake Garda. On seeing last week's photo my uncle has steadfastly refused to accept a place there. I wonder why.
    Iain Chapman, Marciac, France

    Sorry to hear you're on your uppers and considering offers for your house. If you do become homeless I could offer a spare room to Geraldine. There would be no room for you, but you could visit. By appointment, of course.
    Ken Wheeler, Hertfordshire

    I see your creditors have lost patience, thus forcing the sale of your home. Please visit your nearest citizens advice bureau for guidance. The staff are trained not to lose patience with old people who spend money they don't have.
    Ken Hopkins, Reading

    Perhaps Tickle, the Elms hotel labrador, was placed there intentionally for you to trip over. I'm surprised you didn't complain to health and safety.
    Tracy Jenks, Menorca

    So Wikipedia incorrectly stated your death twice. Do you believe in "third time lucky"?
    Paul Rose, Leicestershire

    Great 75th birthday celebrations. Could my wife and I be your friends? Just for October.
    Syd Bretts, Edgware

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