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Heaven, I'm in heaven - it's in South Kensington

Published 18 November 2012
News Review
1,008th article

Michael with the director John Landis on the set of Burke & Hare (Dinah May)

In my travels throughout the world, Penge and certain parts of Essex I would rather not mention, I have recently visited the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), where there is an exhibition called Hollywood Costume, curated by my friend Deborah Nadoolman Landis.

Her husband, John Landis, was a stuntman for me on Chato's Land in 1972 but has since redeemed himself in other occupations. As well as An American Werewolf in London and The Blues Brothers, Landis is famous for directing Thriller, where Michael Jackson showed off his remarkable dance moves.

I haven't been dining out lately, so I won't be giving you my expert views on food (when do I ever?). Instead I'm going to tell you about Deborah’s exhibition, which is really one of the great triumphs of the V&A. The museum in South Kensington consists of a number of edifices. At times it looks like an Ikea room gone wrong, but in general it is an extraordinary structure.

There is a central gilded tea room with stained-glass windows where you can have a cup of tea and a bun in opulent surroundings. If you want something more substantial, there is a lavish menu offering venison pie with seasonal vegetables, pumpkin pie and various sandwiches. There is also a deli section with a large number of salads.

Any connoisseur of movies or memorabilia will find the Hollywood Costume exhibition somewhere between heaven and beyond. It took Deborah five years - and all her connections - to get the costumes, drawings and photographs together.

The stars of the show are the red shoes worn by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz, Marilyn Monroe's white dress from The Seven Year Itch and one of Deborah's own designs, the outfit worn by Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark. There are many images on display - and even a video of Edith Head talking about her work for Hitchcock. It is an extraordinary collection.

As the actress and memorabilia collector Debbie Reynolds points out, costumes from the early years of Hollywood preserve the works and special talents of those who have gone before us.

Deborah Nadoolman Landis has edited a wonderful book to accompany the exhibition. It offers a glowing portrait of Marlene Dietrich, images of a young Charlie Chaplin and the three-piece suit worn by John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. There are photographs of Monroe, Scarlett Johansson and Sophia Loren, as well as powerful portraits of Cecil B DeMille and Mack Sennett.

Costume is important in any movie - none more than my 1970s film Death Wish, in which Charlie Bronson blows away New York muggers while dressed in a smart suit and coat.

The images compiled by Deborah for the exhibition are an essential part of cinema history. My own collection of film-making images includes this photograph of me with John Landis.

It was taken when he was making his movie Burke & Hare in Bedfordshire in March 2010 - with me in the cast. I played an English nobleman whose carriage Burke and Hare caused to crash over the cliffs at Dover.

On location, the make-up lady stuck a couple of sideburns on me. I said: "Do I have the make-up now?"

She said: "No, that’s it."

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

She replied: "You don't need make-up - you've got lovely skin."

When I was leaving the set, a crew member said: "I wouldn't bother to eat here - the catering is terrible." So we went to a beautiful country house hotel nearby called Luton Hoo. It made a change being in front of the camera rather than behind. A pity that the production catering was useless.

  • From Tricia Roeser of Gloucestershire:

    Hymie is lying in his hospital bed when the doctor comes in.

    "Hello, Hymie," the doctor says. "I have good news for you and bad. Which would you prefer first?"

    "You'd better give me the bad, Doc."

    "Well, I'm afraid your right leg is gangrenous and will have to come off."

    "But that's terrible!" exclaims Hymie. "What on earth is the good news?"

    "The chap in the next bed wants to buy your slippers."

    Michael's missives

    I see that Kensington Place is a high-class emporium despite letting you in, because there were bottles of Heinz tomato sauce on display on the shelf behind you.
    Nick Jones, La Drome, France

    I was at the River Cafe last week. I am sure as a crusty old pedant you would have noticed the two spelling mistakes on the menu: "rissoti" is not a word in Italian (I even checked with the Italian barman). And "planing" instead of "planning". For £90 a head should we expect better?
    Laurence Gilford, Middlesex

    In last week's column you said: "It's one of my few attributes." To be precise, you have many attributes but few qualities.
    Nic Peeling, Worcestershire

    A financier - as served with the creme brulee at Kensington Place - is a small almond-flavoured cake that can be bought in most patisseries in France. But you knew that really, didn't you?
    Hazel Francis, Lorgues, France

    Kensington Place appeared deserted in last week's photo. Did you frighten off all the diners? Even the cow on the wall looked as though it was about to do a runner.
    Patrick Tracey, Carlisle

    I have always wondered about the credit for the photos taken for your column. We all know who Arnold Crust is. Last week the photo was by Julian Weiss. Was he the only other customer in the restaurant or do you bribe a passer-by with the offer of a free meal to make you look good in the shot?
    Philip Weisberger, London