Mr Toad, the flouncing, volcanic, squirrel-shooting charmer

A piece for the Sunday Times in which I asked friends of Michael Winner what he was like 

Friends of Michael Winner describe a man who enjoyed a reputation for being obstreperous but whose public image masked remarkable flashes of kindness and generosity. “His veneer was that of a barking rottweiler,” says Henry Wyndham, chairman of Sotheby’s, the auction house. “But he was a poodle on the inside.”

Many who knew him well describe an engaging contrast between the character and the man. “He played a version of himself,” says the director John Landis, who worked with Winner on films during the 1970s and later became friends with him. “His public persona was kind of a grand gesture: underneath it he was charming, funny and warm.”

Landis describes Winner working on the set of Chato’s Land in 1972: “He was outrageous, walking around with a big cigar and barking orders at people. There was a kid, maybe 20 years old, very upper class — he actually went on to become famous in politics — who always had to carry a chair behind Michael in case the director chose to sit down. It was like a sight gag.”

Friends who enjoyed Winner’s outrageous behaviour sometimes took vicarious pleasure in witnessing the results of his short temper. “Undoubtedly Michael’s bark was worse than his bite,” says Sir Roger Moore.

“But before any bark he would get a little red blush in his cheek. Michael Caine and I noticed this on the set of the film we made with him, Bullseye!. As we saw the cheeks reddening, we would say ‘Here it comes’ and watch from the sidelines as our beloved director gave what-for to someone on set.”

Continue reading at the Sunday Times (£)

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