Michael and Geraldine at Great Fosters with Richard Young (Julian Whatley)
On March 27, 1977, Marlon Brando asked me to dinner. He was to commence work the following day on the first Superman movie, for which he was getting the highest sum ever paid to an actor: $3m for eight days’ work plus 11% of the profit.
Marlon was staying at a house in Shepperton. When I entered he hugged me. I said: “Marlon, why are you wearing newspaper?” Marlon replied: “When I was a tramp we learnt that newspapers kept you warm. In this house when the heating is on we can’t get hot water. When the hot water is on, we don’t get heating.”
Marlon was watching old Laurel and Hardy movies with his son, Christian, and a lady from Pakistan who I’m sure had once been very glamorous. Marlon’s son wanted to go to Tramp discotheque and asked me to encourage Marlon to let him. Marlon was adamant that his son should not go because he would meet people Marlon considered unsavoury. Considering Christian later killed Dag Drollet, his sister’s boyfriend, in Marlon’s living room in Beverly Hills, I doubt if a visit to Tramp would have done much harm.
We went to dinner at an Elizabethan pile nearby called Great Fosters hotel. It’s an impressive building with beautiful gardens. I can’t remember what we ate.
I returned to Great Fosters recently for lunch with Geraldine. The managing director, Richard Young, showed us the Oak Room, its deeply unimpressive restaurant. The dining room resembled a Holiday Inn remake of a vaulted church. I was offered Blenheim Palace water, the only water as ghastly as Hildon.
My starter was leek and potato soup with jersey royal textures, which are potatoes they do something funny with, followed by a main course of Loch Duart salmon with a samphire, white bean and thyme cassoulet. I also ordered a cheese and pickle sandwich because I’d seen people eating them in the bar. This sandwich was denuded of pickle and more or less denuded of cheese. To call it pathetic would have been a compliment.
Two men at the next table examined my sandwich. One said: “Forensics have found some pickle.” The other man suggested: “I think it’s a modern twist with a bit of lettuce.” The lady with them said: “We haven’t had any bread yet.”
The restaurant manager, Jonathan Owen Conway, made a speech about how the chef liked to do things his way. I said: “It doesn’t look to me like pickle and there’s not much cheese.” The manager started to talk about pickled cucumber.
As I ate my sandwich Geraldine said: “It’s all chemical. You really are the worst food critic ever.” This was hardly a shattering revelation. Geraldine thought her lamb was good but then it went down to not bad. My salmon was overcooked.
For dessert I ordered poached rhubarb and ginger cake with white chocolate. A nice plate of rhubarb with a bit of custard would have suited. I ended up with five tiny cubes of rhubarb, a lot of plate decoration, red dots, something indescribable in the middle and something on top that was white. Geraldine pushed the tiny bits of rhubarb towards me and said: “That’s rhubarb.”
“Well I didn’t think it was a flying saucer,” I said.
When the waiter asked, “Did you like it?”, I said, “Fine,” in a desultory manner. Geraldine pulled a face. The best thing you could say about this restaurant is that you can hear yourself talk.
To polish off the Brando experience: we had a bet in which Marlon said the word "intigral" was pronounced like that and not "in-teg-ral". The loser had to sell French ticklers (a condom with bobbles) in Piccadilly Circus for an hour. Marlon arranged for Pinewood Studios to make him a tray and disguise him as a blind beggar. But in those days the Concise Oxford Dictionary offered only one correct pronunciation of integral and it wasn't in-teg-ral. So Marlon won. I was banished to Piccadilly.
Marlon sent me a gold medallion that I wear to this day. One side reads: "Michael the loser is also a Winner - MB" and the date. The other has the phonetic spelling of intigral. Photos of me selling ticklers, dozens of my letters to Marlon plus the script we made appeared in a sale of his effects at Christie’s. I bid. But another punter took the figure way beyond me.
Hot news is that now, out of the Harley Street Clinic, I appear to live. While I was there Geraldine got me some great Italian food from 2 Veneti in Wigmore Street, an exceptional salt beef and rye sandwich and ice cream from Selfridges and a unique selection of superior smoked salmon from La Fromagerie in Moxon Street. I did not fade away.
From Ian Neden in Cheshire: Hymie's playing cards. His pal, Abe, bets £5,000, loses and dies of a heart attack. Hymie volunteers to break the sad news to his widow. His friends say he must be diplomatic. Hymie rings the bell, tells Abe's widow: "Your husband lost £5,000 at cards. He's too frightened to come home."
"Tell him to drop dead," she responds.
"Right," says Hymie.
Why do you have this obsession about being photographed with restaurateurs? I’d rather see a large picture of Geraldine. Lurk in the background if you must, but that is not really necessary because we all know what you look like by now.
Ian McDougle, Buckinghamshire
I’m worried about your frequent visits to medical institutions. More so when it seems you’re obsessed with the Michael Caine movie The Swarm. Howard Hughes watched Ice Station Zebra for months on end while locked in a room where he didn’t wash, urinated into bottles and entered a physical decline that ended his life. I was hoping for something a bit grander for you.
Lillian Simpson, Cheshire
I was interested in your piece about lovage. Pair lovage cordial with brandy and it cures most ills. It seems uniquely available in the West Country. I’ve taken it to friends in Switzerland. My son takes it to Australia.
Jean Lane, by email
Michael Ross wrote about London's first espresso machine last week. My father Bertie had the first coffee bar outside London in the mid-1950s. The Mokarlo in Manchester boasted a four-pump Gaggia. Alma Cogan did the celebrity opening. There were queues around the block.
John Daniels, Cheshire