Published 2 September 2012 News Review 997th article
Michael and Geraldine outside Akkadia in Kensington High Street (Julian Whatley)
In June 1951, I interviewed the mayor of Kensington, a Mr Gapp, for one of the classic pieces in the history of journalism: a series called Front Page Portraits, which ran in the Kensington Post and 18 associated newspapers.
On Friday, July 20, 1951, I interviewed Trevor Bowen. Bet you're reeling from shock and admiration that aged 15 I should be so brilliant.
Bowen was chairman of Barkers, Derry and Toms, and Pontings. His dream was to see the completion of Barkers’ second tower, which the second world war had stopped. This is now in place, although it’s unlikely Trev would appreciate what happened to his three superstores. They've been carved up into various units. Barkers even houses journalists.
What attacked the faded grandeur of Trevor’s stores has run like the plague through the rest of Kensington High Street. When I arrived in 1946 it was genteel. Little old ladies lived in bedsits in what are now the grand houses of Campden Hill. The Hollywood movie stars Bebe Daniels and Ben Lyon ran an antiques shop in Melbury Court. Two lovely old dears had a dress shop close by. They were attacked by thugs at 3pm one day and closed down.
The whole ethos of the High Street has changed beyond belief. Every shop seems to be having a closing-down sale or simply closes. The turnover from one bit of rubbish to the next is alarming.
There are a few long-stay places left, though. There was a Lebanese restaurant called Al-Dar. That’s just changed hands and is now Akkadia. Geraldine and I nipped in for lunch.
The decor could generously be described as practical. The manager, Rabih Farah, is superb, the food surprisingly good. The hummus was a delight. With it came moutabal, tabbouleh, falafel and two fatayer spinach pasties, which were rubbery.
Geraldine liked her shish taouk - marinated cubes of chicken - with garlic sauce. My lamb shawarma from the spit was sliced off in little pieces, exceedingly tasty and soft with its own unique flavour. It came with rice in a portion large enough for six people.
Dessert was over-rich, gooey honey pastries. I liked them. Since my visit, I’ve had takeaway lamb and hummus from Akkadia more than once.
In 1946, Holland Park was a film buff's delight. My hero, David Lean, lived behind me, Michael Powell opposite, Ann Todd nearby, Moira Shearer next door, that wonderful character actress Kathleen Harrison two houses away. The place was awash with movie talent. Now it’s foreigners with Mercedes.
I never met Lean when he lived so close, but decades later I was in the elevator at the Pierre hotel, New York, and an immaculately dressed English gent asked: "Are you Michael Winner?"
"Yes," I replied.
"I'm David Lean," he said.
The humiliation. One of the greatest directors ever and I didn't recognize him.
We became friends but shortly afterwards he died. His memorial service at St Paul’s Cathedral was beyond belief. Outside, the band of the Blues and Royals played Colonel Bogey from Bridge on the River Kwai. Inside, Maurice Jarre conducted a 65-piece orchestra, Peter O’Toole appeared here, Robert Bolt there. A great spectacle. That’s the sort of person the Kensington High Street area hosted.
Now the only true artiste is my neighbour, the Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page. Best neighbour ever. That’s more than something.
A special treat each year is my visit to the French Horn at Sonning in Berkshire. This is dining as it used to be: gracious, tables well spaced, clear acoustics, incredible food, discreet service. No one asking you incessantly: "Did you like your first course? Second course? Dessert?" Drives me mad, that.
The roast duck from the wood fire burning in the bar was enhanced by a historic raspberry soufflé for dessert.
This year I was fortified by a bottle of Chateau Latour 1997. Marvellous view over their lawns and flowerbeds to the Thames. Idyllic.
I've completed my masterwork. One of the great contributions to British literature will be published on October 1. It is Michael Winner's Hymie Joke Book. Gavin King, of Bristol, wrote suggesting the title Fifty Shades of Oy Vey.
It can be ordered now from The Sunday Times Bookshop at the knock-down price of £7.99. It's the perfect Christmas gift for your Auntie Doris.
She'd also love seats for my one-man show at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival. I'll be there on October 8 at 6.30pm.
Don’t be late.
From Peter Brown of Harrogate:
Hymie goes to his friend Moishe and says: "I have a little cash-flow problem. Can you lend me £500?"
Moishe says: "But three months ago I lent you £1,000 and last year I lent you £1,500."
"Sure, Moishe," concedes Hymie. "But what have you done for me lately?"
When you contact William Hill to wager on your life expectancy, be sure to request the odds against being outed as a pompous, talentless egomaniac with no knowledge of food, style or taste. A substantial wager may return enough to clear your spiralling debt.
Peter Mackarel, Cheshire
Yes, your blazer does look beautifully preserved at 23-plus years. Pity the same can't be said for the old fossil inside it.
Ann Dyer, Exeter
Credit where credit is due: recent photos have shown stylish clothes, fitting immaculately and modelled with elegance and sophistication. Well done, Geraldine!
Geoff Greensmith, Surrey
At Hix restaurant in Soho we were asked to try an English sparkling wine "on promotion". When the bill came, we were enraged to see the three glasses were charged at £51! They list most of their wine at between £6 and £8, so what’s the point of a £17-a-glass "promotion"? We left with a bitter taste.
Julia Jackson, Surrey
At La Colombe d'Or, my wife and I (both in our sixties) are weary of being addressed by staff as "you guys". Should we object or simply say, "No, like, it's really awesome"?
Jim Wilson, East Lothian