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Film director Michael Winner dies aged 77

Michael Winner has died. Picture: David Jones/PA Wire Michael Winner has died. Picture: David Jones/PA Wire

Monday, January 21, 2013
2:34 PM

The restaurant critic and former film director Michael Winner has died at his home in London at the age of 77.

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Mr Winner speaking during a memorial service and wreath-laying ceremony at Muswell Hill, in memory of PC Keith Blakelock on the 25th anniversary of his murder. File picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA WireMr Winner speaking during a memorial service and wreath-laying ceremony at Muswell Hill, in memory of PC Keith Blakelock on the 25th anniversary of his murder. File picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

Mr Winner had been ill for some time and passed away in Kensington, where he was being nursed by his wife Geraldine.

In a film career which spanned more than 50 years, he worked with some of the biggest stars in Hollywood, including Marlon Brando, Robert Mitchum and Faye Dunaway.

He later became a restaurant critic, writing about food in the Winner’s Dinners column for the Sunday Times.

Mr Winner was also known for appearing in adverts for motor insurance, where he coined the catchphrase “Calm down dear, it’s only a commercial”.

Michael Winner married Geraldine at the Chelsea Registry Office in 2011. File Picture: Anthony Devlin/PA WireMichael Winner married Geraldine at the Chelsea Registry Office in 2011. File Picture: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire

By the age of 14 he was writing a column for local newspapers interviewing stars from Louis Armstrong to Laurence Olivier.

His time as editor of the Cambridge University newspaper, Varsity, saw him lead a team that included Michael Frayn and Jonathan Miller, before stints as a film critic on Fleet Street.

He got his break in 1956 when he started making documentaries and short films and went on to make dozens of films including an early role for David Hemmings alongside Diana Dors in the 1963 film West 11.

Other notable films included a remake of The Big Sleep, with Robert Mitchum as private eye Philip Marlowe, and Hannibal Brooks, which starred Oliver Reed as a prisoner-of-war who makes a bid for freedom with an elephant from a German zoo.

Winner was also chairman of the Police Memorial Trust, (pictured here with Prime Minister David Cameron). Picture: Toby Melville/PA WireWinner was also chairman of the Police Memorial Trust, (pictured here with Prime Minister David Cameron). Picture: Toby Melville/PA Wire

But he is probably best known for the 1974 film Death Wish, which starred Charles Bronson as a mild-mannered architect who becomes a violent vigilante after his family is attacked in New York.

“Sad loss”

He founded and funded the Police Memorial Trust following the murder of WPC Yvonne Fletcher outside the Libyan embassy in London in 1984.

More than 50 officers have been honoured by the trust at sites across the country.

Michael Winner with Jenny Seagrove after she was granted a divorce. File picture: PAMichael Winner with Jenny Seagrove after she was granted a divorce. File picture: PA

The initiative led to a National Police Memorial being erected in the Mall in central London.

Steve Lloyd, trust manager and vice-chairman of the Police Roll of Honour Trust, said: “Michael had been ill for some time, but this is still a sad loss.

“Michael was a keen supporter of police charities and in particular was the founder of the project that let to the National Police Memorial being placed in the Mall in London.

“There is no doubt that Michael’s work will be continued and we at the trust pass on our sympathies to his family at this sad time.

“The work he did on behalf of the policing family brought a lot of comfort to those he recognised.”

TV and music producer Simon Cowell also paid tribute.

“I’m very sad to hear about Michael passing away. He’s become a very good friend over the years and someone whose company I have always really enjoyed,” he said in a statement.

“Laughter was never far away when Michael was around and he is someone who the more I got to know, the fonder I got of him. I am sure there are a lot of other people who, like me, will really miss him.”

Geraldine Winner, a former dancer who he married two years ago, said: “Michael was a wonderful man, brilliant, funny and generous.

“A light has gone out in my life.”

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