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Michael Winner

Film director and food critic;

Born: October 20, 1935; Died: January, 21, 2013.

MICHAEL Robert Winner, who has died aged 77, was a film director with more than 30 films to his credit who achieved worldwide success with his Death Wish series starring Charles Bronson, then in later years went on to become a successful food critic.

It is fair to say that Winner, the only child of a couple of Russian emigre stock, was always going to live up to his surname. While his mother gambled away the £10 million family fortune his property developer father had acquired, young Michael was never less than lordly. Indeed, he was asked to leave Christopher's School, Letchworth, after it was discovered he was paying another boy to clean his room.

From the age of 14, public schoolboy Winner wrote a newspaper column, Michael Winner's Showbiz Gossip, an indicator of not only his precocious talent but of his fascination with showbusiness.

After a law degree at Cambridge, his first on-screen credit was earned in 1958 with the crime film Man With a Gun. His second film project, Some Like It Cool, was the tale of a young woman who introduces her prudish husband and in-laws to the joys of nudism.

His sense of fun was certainly evident in his version of The Mikado, which starred Frankie Howerd, and his sex comedy, The System, produced a partnership with Oliver Reed that would last more than 25 years. Those who had endured National Service didn't laugh on discovering Winner had avoided his own stint by pretending to be gay.

It was Winner's American films which launched his career onto the world stage, working on Chato's Land with Bronson and with the same star in the Death Wish series, which began in 1974. By now defined as an action director, his subsequent attempts to tackle light relief with the likes of The Wicked Lady remake with Faye Dunaway failed to hit the mark.

That's not to say Winner, who had a long-term affair with the actress Jenny Seagrove, would ever fade into obscurity. He went on to present the hit series Michael Winner's True Crimes on ITV, appear on the likes of BBC's Have I Got News For You and was a regular on the television chat show circuit.

Yet that wasn't enough to keep the highly amusing Winner entertained. He became a leading restaurant reviewer and later the face of an insurance company in a series of television adverts, which he directed. His catchphrase, "Calm down, dear", entered the national consciousness – and has never quite gone away.

His winning personality and natural outspokenness (one of his defining quotes is: "A team effort is a lot of people doing what I say") means he will be remembered. And there is his sense of outrageous fun. A portly figure, he once wrote The Big Fat Pig Dieting Book which one reviewer described as "the most outrageous, hilarious and oddly inspiring diet guide you'll ever read".

Winner, who often edited his own films under the pseudonym Arnold Crust, also created smiles when he switched from being a Thatcherite Tory to support Tony Blair's New Labour. And the fact he was worth more than £35m (despite living a rather hedonistic life and spending fortunes on a fine art collection) never presented him with any class confusion.

Ironically, the food critic's illness was precipitated by food, when he caught a bacterial infection while on holiday in Barbados in 2007 and food poisoning in 2011 after eating raw meat. In the summer of 2012 specialists diagnosed liver disease and said Winner's life expectancy was short.

He is survived by his wife Geraldine Lynton-Edwards. The couple first met in 1957 when he was a 21-year-old film-maker and she was a 16-year-old actress and ballet dancer. He joked that it took him 72 years to get engaged so she was not to hold her breath for the marriage. The couple did marry in 2011. Mrs Winner described her husband as a wonderful man, brilliant, funny and generous.

But perhaps the most poignant tribute to Winner came when Sir Michael Caine appeared on This Is Your Life.

"I am here to tell everybody, Michael, you are a complete and utter fraud," said Caine. "You come on like this bombastic, ill-tempered monster. But it's not the side of you I see. You're extremely funny, very sensitive, very kind and very generous. I hope everyone believes me when I say that you are a kind and wonderful person."

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