Winner's world

MICHAEL WINNER, DIRECTOR and FOOD CRITIC, 1935-2013

Last updated 14:37 30/01/2013

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Michael Winner was one of the best-known film directors of his generation, a larger-than-life presence in British entertainment and popular culture for half a century.

This perhaps had as much to do with his undoubted genius for publicity (and controversy) as with the artistic merits of his films. A man of firm views, which he was rarely reluctant to express, he developed a notable second career as a writer and broadcaster.

Like him or loathe him, Winner was impossible to overlook.

Scorned by the critics, but a hit with audiences (more so perhaps in the United States than in his native Britain), his films were unashamedly commercial productions, made with a slickly professional command of the popular genres, especially the thriller. They almost always achieved precisely what they set out to do, and they made him extremely rich.

Michael Robert Winner was born into a Jewish family in Hampstead, North London, in 1935. His father, who was of Russian origin, became rich through property dealings, while his Polish mother was a compulsive gambler who died owing millions. He spent 11 unproductive years at a Quaker boarding school in Hertfordshire before leaving at 16 to take private tuition, which got him into Downing College, Cambridge.

Meanwhile, he had been reviewing films and interviewing celebrities for newspapers and magazines. He entered the cinema in 1956, writing scripts, directing documentaries and making naturist films.

He directed his first feature, Play It Cool, in 1962. A comedy built around an unsuccessful rock group, it starred one of the leading pop singers of the day, Billy Fury.

In 1970, Winner made his Hollywood debut with Lawman, a western with Burt Lancaster.

After securing another big name, Marlon Brando, for The Nightcomers (1971), Winner directed Lancaster again in Scorpio (1973). But a landmark film was The Mechanic (1972), a violent study of a professional assassin that saw the first of several collaborations with Charles Bronson, including Death Wish.

In 1993, with his films becoming fewer, he became a food critic for the Sunday Times, with a column called Winner's Dinners.

Winner was an enthusiastic gourmet but his appetite had caused him medical problems, including a triple heart bypass.

In 2007, he became seriously ill after picking up a rare bacterial infection after eating oysters in Barbados and spent four months in the London Clinic.

In 2011, he picked up E coli from a steak tartare. He was in hospital eight times in seven months and revealed that liver specialists had given him between 18 months and two years to live, though it would be his heart condition not his liver that would kill him. The Times

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