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Top hotel bans Winner for whining, not dining

Published 26 May 1999
Daily Mail
By Sharon Hendry

Scathing over the scones: Michael Winner with Vanessa Perry. Top: £290-a-night Cliveden (no credit)

In the heat of the kitchen, they are four words to chill any chef: Michael Winner is here.

The acerbic food critic rand arguably the maker of Britain's worst films), has long been feared for the carving-knife cut of his restaurant reviews in the Sunday Times.

But now the dinner tables have been dramatically turned on him. Yesterday - after a bout of particularly boorish behaviour and constant complaining - he was banned from the historic £290-a-night Cliveden Hotel.

The magnificent landmark on the Thames at Taplow, Berkshire, 'regarded widely as the finest hotel in the United Kingdom' has seen them all in its time. In its heyday as a great house, it was the home of three dukes, an earl, a prince and the mega-rich Astors, as well as backdrop to the Profumo scandal. But Michael Winner was just too much.

His carping reached a crescendo at lunchtime on Sunday, when two glasses of Buck's Fizz were politely placed before him and his companion Vanessa Perry. As is normal, some of the orange juice had frothed and left a small residue on the top of the glass. For one of Mr Winner's impeccable taste in such matters, it was an intolerable sight.

Denouncing the staff as idiots and the drink as filth he stormed out - later promising Cliveden a terrible write-up in his column.

But general manager Ross Stevenson was unfazed. He later wrote a five-page memo chronicling in detail how he and his staff bent over backwards to cater to Mr Winner's every whim, even assigning an executive simply to follow him and check all was well.

The director - best known for his ultra-violent Death Wish movies and whose latest offering, Parting Shots, has been branded one of the worst films ever made - arrived with Miss Perry on Saturday afternoon.

That evening, he was to be a guest of Tony Blair at Chequers, the Prime Minister's country residence ten miles away. On arrival at Cliveden, the couple were offered afternoon tea in the hall. 'The head waiter served the tea, as we normally do, before the arrival of the food,' Mr Stevenson recalled. 'Mr Winner commented, "Are we in Scotland? The whole point of afternoon tea is serving it all together".' When the freshly-baked scones duly arrived, they were not to his liking. 'Mr Winner complained about the temperature of the scones, saying that they did not have a "hint of heat", although they were actually freshly-baked and therefore warm,' said Mr Stevenson.

When staff offered to bring Mr Winner a fresh saucer, he pulled out a Dictaphone and began complaining into it, saying: 'Why do they give me fresh plates?'

Mr Stevenson recalled: 'Fresh tea was served in fresh cups. The waiter merely wanted to exchange the soiled plates for fresh ones.'

Meanwhile, Miss Perry was equally scathing about her finger sandwiches, branding the salmon 'old and disgusting'.

Mr Winner's dinner date with the PM meant staff had a brief respite until the following morning. 'After he had finished breakfast, Mr Winner called a receptionist to complain about dessert spoons which had been forgotten,' Mr Stevenson noted. 'Mr Winner told him, "Just to let you know before it goes into print, Ms Perry had no dessert spoon to eat her melon or muesli and has now eaten them both with a teaspoon used for her cup of tea".'

Then came lunchtime. Dictaphone still in hand, the director and his companion descended on the dining room. The head waiter took his order for two Buck's Fizzes with freshly-squeezed orange juice as well as mineral water with ice and lemon apart.

Mr Stevenson recalled: 'The froth of the freshly-squeezed orange juice had bubbled up and left a small residue on the top of the glass which the waiter removed with a paper napkin. However, he was not able to remove it completely. This is normal for a glass of freshly-squeezed orange juice.

'Mr Winner rejected the drinks, complaining about their presentation, so the waiter transferred the content into fresh glasses and went to the table, offering his apologies.

'Mr Winner became very irate and shouted loudly, so that other guests could hear. "You idiot, how can you let this happen, this filth? How dare you fob me off, I am not a tourist from a coach. Apparently the glass has got arms and legs to make fingerprints all over and put lipstick on as well. What is your name? I will make you look like an idiot in the Sunday Times".'

The waiter gave his name as Rogers. Minutes later, Mr Winner stormed out, saying: 'This place is an absolute disgrace and I am leaving. Is Rogers spelt with a d or a g?'

Mr Stevenson noted: 'Several guests commented how disgraceful Mr Winner's behaviour in the dining room had been.'

The deputy general manager went to see the film director in his room. 'He was told that he only speaks to GMs and not their deputies. The restaurant, the table layout, the waiters, etc, were absolutely filthy, the dining room not being managed (how can you employ such an idiot? - referring to John Rogers).'

Mr Winner promised Cliveden the worst write-up he had ever produced, saying he had not left a restaurant in 65 years.

Yesterday, he admitted his outburst - but denied upsetting fellow guests. 'During lunch, we were served two very dirty glasses with the champagne in it and the chap in charge had the impertinence to say this was the orange juice, so I did express my displeasure,' he added.

'There was certainly no shouting, but obviously people at the next table heard.'

He said he was not disappointed at being banned from the hotel, which is part-owned by Microsoft mogul Bill Gates.

'If Bill Gates ran Microsoft like they run that hotel, he would be living in a bedsit in King's Cross on State assistance. It was a miserable experience.

'For a first-class hotel, it is run atrociously. It's bizarre if they give lousy service and someone mentions it and they are so insecure they say don't go again.'

He added that Cliveden will receive a 'mixed' review in his Sunday Times column.