By John Millington
Michael Winner whose death was announced yesterday was a film director, food critic and all round eccentric.
I am certainly not in favour of trashing the name of the recently deceased. Every person who dies has a family somewhere who is grieving and Michael Winner is no exception.
But by the same token I for one cannot join the seemingly endless stream of positive platitudes being directed toward Winner.
Amongst all the celebrity love ins with everyone wanting to claim Winner for themselves the reality of his awful and politically dodgy films, odious sexism and unpleasant comments over the years have been overlooked.
His crowning moment as a director was the making of “Death Wish” – a brutal, pro-vigilante flick that depicts most of the bad guys or muggers as black.
Many say that the film stopped short of being racist because not all black people in the film were “bad” and not all of the muggers were black.
But the style and crude dispatching of of the bad 2D characters who are all for the time, modern looking black men, leaves an uncomfortable feeling in the viewer.
Other films even where he had a big named cast under his command failed to grab public attention, most notably Lawman which remains one Western film to avoid, despite starring Burt Lancaster.
Next stop for Winner was a set of insurance adverts which made the phrase “Calm down dear” his own even if David Cameron tried to steal his lines.
It also gave people a more legitimate excuse to be openly sexist but be able to say “I was only joking, dear.”
A few people have posted his rant against homophobia as proof of liberal tendencies But a cynic might say that Winner liked to be controversial for its own sake.
His regular food critic column in the Times is testimony to this as was his ill-judged (or was it) outburst when turning down an OBE – “An OBE is what you get if you clean the toilets well at King’s Cross station.”
Many people falling over themselves to laud Winner stumble over what exactly they liked or admired about him.
Maybe we struggle to criticise old people as a mark of respect. But there other more worthy characters to be admired who are no longer with us such as trade unionist and Pentonville 5 leader Vic Turner who was buried on Friday.
As the Independent (i) summed up nicely today, Michael Winner was essentially “famous for being famous” and the majority have fallen for the hype.