Michael Winner, I think we can all agree, was a real character. I first met him a couple of years ago when he came into LBC to do an hour long interview with me about his latest book. As he shuffled into the studio looking as if he was about to kark it, I had this feeling of dread that this might be the most difficult hour I’d ever experience on radio. But as soon as the red light went on, the old showman turned on the magic and we had an absolutely fascinating chat about his life in films, food and literature.
My second encounter was less pleasurable. You see Michael was a bully. I’m not insulting a dead man by saying that. He would happily admit it himself. He rang up a young female member of my staff one day berating her for something he felt she should have done to publicise his book but hadn’t. He topped it off by calling her a c**t. She was naturally very upset so I banned him from speaking to any female member of staff. In fact I got so angry about I sent him one of my infamous ‘special’ emails. The gist of it was that I had met bullies like him before and in me he had met his match. His response was to ring me up and invite me to lunch. He was possibly the most unpredictable person I ever met. We were going to have lunch at my favourite restaurant, The Delaunay but sadly before we could he was taken ill, and never really recovered.
Michael would like to be remembered for his film work or as a pre-eminent restaurant critic. I suspect, however, that it will be two other things he will be remembered for. Firstly his work with the Police Memorial Trust which he started after the death of WPC Yvonne Fletcher. He raised huge amounts of money and deserves huge credit for raising the profile of the issue of police officers who die in service. And the second thing? For the phrase ‘Calm down dear’, possibly one of the most annoying, yet effective, slogans ever coined in the world of TV advertising.
At LBC we shall remember him fondly for his firm policy of putting down the phone if he wasn’t put on air within 20 seconds of being called for a pre-arranged interview.
He truly was a one off.