Michael's winning charity ways
My introduction to film director Michael Winner began in 1989 with a phone call at my home in Bristol when he learned I was co-organising a charity gala benefit to help comedy actor Terry-Thomas.
Terry was living in poverty in a charity flat in London battling with Parkinson's disease.
I can remember our first conversation: "You sound terribly young to be organising such a big event – I am going to help you."
I met up with my friend Jack Douglas and after relating the plight of Terry-Thomas he and I organised from Bristol a show that filled the Theatre Royal Drury Lane with over 2,000 people with a cast of over 120.
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It was not all plain sailing and over the weeks Michael Winner called me most evenings with advice and encouragement. As a boy Terry- Thomas (T-T) was one of his heroes.
As a teenage runner for a film company, T-T had kindly helped him with advice in entering the film profession.
In 1965 Winner directed a comedy film called You Must Be Joking starring Terry-Thomas, Lionel Jeffries, Denholm Elliott, Clive Dunn, Arthur Lowe, Leslie Philips, Jon Pertwee and Bernard Cribbins – it was not a box office hit but awfully funny!
Michael Winner had a connection, too, with Bristol born pianist and composer Russ Conway. Russ performed and acted in his musical and variety film Climb Up The Wall, made in 1960, playing his own composition Lucky Five which reached number 14 in the charts. The film also starred Michael Bentine, Craig Douglas and Peter Sellers.
Michael was worried that tickets were not selling fast enough and began to call me twice daily; he paid for a full page ad for the show in The Stage newspaper and Jewish Chronicle. He also generously took out and paid for a page in the gala programme.
I know he paid personally for some treatments for Terry-Thomas for he was incredibly generous. Not only to people he knew but also if dining out and if he saw a couple celebrating an anniversary or birthday he would often pay their bill.
He was a real life Toad of Toad Hall – witty, amusing and a spendthrift – but he had the luck of inheriting a great deal of money, although complaining that after his father's death Mummy had gambled a great deal of the family wealth.
Actor Richard Briers was Terry- Thomas's second cousin and had appeared for Winner in two films.
He naturally joined the cast which included Phil Collins, Eartha Kitt, Harry Secombe, Ronnie Corbett, Nigel Lionel Blair, Lionel Jeffries, Jenny Seagrove, Nigel Havers, Hannah Gordon, Roy Castle, Gary Wilmot, Barbara Windsor, Melvyn Hayes, Susan George and Jimmy Cricket to name just a few!
Many artists had acted with Terry, and Michael Winner was contacting actors encouraging them to appear.
The audience was full of celebrities many invited to attend by Michael.
The show ran for an incredible five hours and the last artist to appear was Phil Collins at 12.15am. He stroked his chin and quipped: "I've shaved three times today!"
Jack and I were joyful seeing the house full sign outside the theatre – in fact we could have sold the entire house twice over! Such was the demand.
Major publicity proved that millions of people were moved not only by the plight of much-loved Terry-Thomas, who had brought his comedy roles to acclaim worldwide, but because of his suffering with Parkinson's disease. The show was taped and shown on ITV a year later.
I kept in touch occasionally with Michael, usually relating to charitable events and devotedly followed his Winner's Dinners column in The Sunday Times.
The last time I met Michael was with his wife Geraldine at Waterstone's in Bristol last year.
He was there signing copies of his latest book Unbelievable. My Life in Restaurants and Other Places. He was sitting alongside his wife Geraldine completely ignored by everyone. It was a little sad as he looked vacant and lost.
I had brought along a copy of a photograph that he had asked for – it was one of us outside the Theatre Royal Drury Lane with Jenny Seagrove and he then asked if I had a copy of them on DVD from the show, which I promised to find and send.
No one knew that he had been diagnosed as being terminally ill
I was saddened to see him on TV only weeks ago bravely talking about his childhood home on the BBC's The One Show.
On the night before his death was announced I was sorting through some papers at home and found a cardboard envelope with the words "to Richard Hope-Hope Hawkins from the Police Memorial Trust, Michael Winner Ltd, Scimitar Films Ltd" in thick blue ink.
Opening the envelope I had forgotten that inside he had sent a reminder to send the DVD of him with Jenny Seagrove. Inside was also a signed photograph of himself inscribed to me.
This same week I had placed a bid on an original rare poster on e-Bay from the Terry-Thomas Gala, the same one that Michael, Jenny and I had posed with.
On the evening Michael died I discovered that I had not won the poster – I wish I had bid a little more now.
The next day while shopping in HMV in Broadmead, Bristol, while purchasing a film, one of the assistants said to a colleague looking at his mobile phone "Oh, Michael Winner has died".
I felt an immediate tinge of sadness for although not a close friend he had been so kind to me.
Yes, he was an old show off, a great raconteur, smug, name-dropper, loved and loathed. A self-publicist who re-invented himself after his career as a film director ended.
Michael Winner was an extremely generous man who had set up the Police Memorial Trust paying for the charity with his own money.
He will probably be known not as a film director, producer and writer but latterly a food critic and appearing in a series of TV insurance ads with the catch phrase "Calm Down Dear".
Well, he old dear has finally calmed down. May he rest in peace.