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A rude farewell to Michael Winner

Friends pay tribute at memorial service to a much-loved man who ENJOYED being difficult, Jack Malvern writes

Published 24 June 2013
The Times

Above, Sir Michael Caine, Sir Roger Moore and Sir Michael Parkinson, who each spoke at the National Police Memorial. Right, Sir Terence Conran with his wife, Vicki (Anthony Devlin / PA; Nils Jorgensen / REX)

The rule observed at Michael Winner's memorial service on The Mall yesterday was that the closer his friends, the more unashamedly rude they were about him in their tributes.

While Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, Commissioner of the Met, politely praised the late film director's work to preserve the memories of fallen police officers, three knights of film and broadcasting recalled their friend's frequently monstrous behaviour.

Sir Roger Moore joked that Winner had cast him in the director's worst film, Sir Michael Parkinson described him as "a complete pain" while Sir Michael Caine declared that he could be "a bloody miserable bastard".

Caine, whom Winner frequently mentioned in his restaurant reviews in The Sunday Times, said that his first impression of Winner was that he was the kindest person he had ever met. "And that's where I was completely wrong," he said, in an affectionate speech at the foot of the National Police Memorial, for which Winner campaigned. "He was the most miserable son of a bitch there ever was."

The actor said that he decided to confront Winner after about six months of witnessing him being rude to friends and restaurant waiting staff. "I thought: what was the psychology of that? He was testing how far he could go before you disliked him . . . I was very frank with him. I said, 'You're a bloody miserable bastard, but I'm going to put up with it'. After that he was fantastic."

Caine spoke movingly of his friend's wife, Geraldine, whom he said should be canonised for her patience. "If he does leave you a couple of quid, you've earned it," he said, to laughter from the 200 invited guests and a further 100 members of the public. Guests at the service included Bernie Ecclestone, Celia Imrie, Carol Vorderman, Cilla Black, Andrew Neil and Bill Kenwright.

Many in attendance were police officers or their families, who came to give thanks for the director's campaign to commemorate officers murdered in the line of duty. Winner, who was outraged at the killing in 1984 of Yvonne Fletcher by a sniper in the Libyan Embassy, fought not only for a national monument, but for discreet markers to be placed where officers fell.

He once wrote: "I can see a day in the future when human memory, being what it is, has discarded the events that now seem important, and the shadows from the trees sway slowly to and fro on the pavement of St James's Square, the sunlight catching a small memorial. Maybe two people passing by will stop and say one to the other, 'Yvonne Fletcher, who was she?' To which there is a simple noble answer: she was a member of the British police force."

Sir Bernard suggested that in future people may ask who Michael Winner was, and may recall that besides his 30 films he was "the bloke from all those car insurance commercials". He added: "There is a simple and noble answer: he was a good and kind man who was a true supporter and a friend of the police."

Moore recalled that his friend's abrasive manner masked a big-hearted personality. "To me Michael was a man who firmly believed that his bite was worse than his bark. He was a pussycat with chutzpah, and the chutzpah to believe he was a rottweiler, which he was not, absolutely."

The former James Bond actor said that his appearance in Bullseye alongside Caine was one of Winner's biggest flops. "Nobody saw it," he said.

Parkinson recalled a friend who was "a paradoxical man" who would "test the limits of his friends' patience by being a complete pain". It was a trait he relished. "When last year he was voted the 38th most annoying man in Britain, he complained that he wasn't No 1."

He admired his friend most when the director refused to feel sorry for himself about his cancer. "I thought, you've got some guts, my friend. If it be true that people are not really dead until we stop talking about them, it will be a very long time before Michael Winner is laid to rest."

Michael Winner and, below, his widow Geraldine "who should be canonised" (Dwayne Senior)