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We can cut the chat, Parky, this place is great

Published 5 May 2008
Sunday Times
By Maurice Chittenden

No, dear, I'm the real one. The director is dusted down by his fiancee Geraldine Lynton-Edwards. An animated waxwork of him will welcome visitors to his Kensington house (Dwayne Senior)

Calm down, dear, it's only a waxwork. Michael Winner is negotiating a deal to leave his £80m home to the nation as a living museum where visitors will be greeted by a wax animatronic model of the film director.

Winner, 72, is in talks with the council in Kensington, west London, where he has lived in the same house since 1946. The director of films such as Death Wish, The Nightcomers and Bullseye! wants the council to become custodian of the Victorian grade II* property on his death.

The council is keen to accept because as well as Winner's collections of teddy bears and movie stills, it will also inherit his works of art, which range from Dutch old masters to Winnie-the-Pooh drawings; he values the collection at £3m.

Winner is leaving his £80m home, and teddy bears, to the nation

Winner, who writes the Winner's Dinners column for The Sunday Times, said: "The house is already on many of the tours of London that go to see Victorian houses. I don't let them in, but I often have groups of people outside the house and hear someone talking a load of piffle.

"It's my firm intention to leave my home to the nation and have a wax dummy of myself in the hallway with the mouth moving, welcoming guests. The house will be frozen in time with my art collection, my furniture and my cinema with 200 stills from the movies."

He will insist that the house be kept "100%" as he leaves it, his 96 teddy bears included.

It has long been Winner's intention to give the property, designed by the architect Richard Norman Shaw for Sir Luke Fildes, the artist, to the nation. Now he has begun investigating the best way of doing so.

Kensington & Chelsea council runs two nearby properties that were once the home of two other Victorian artists: Lord Frederic Leighton, the painter and sculptor, and Edward Linley Sambourne, the Punch cartoonist.

Daniel Robbins, the curator of Leighton House, and Nick Paget-Brown, the councillor in charge of environmental management and leisure, have been to see Winner's house and given the project their approval. Robbins said: "The council is keen to let things develop further."

In return, Winner has started informal negotiations to buy the property's freehold from the Ilchester Estate, which owns much of the surrounding Holland Park area. His lease does not expire until 2046, but he wants to remove any obstacle to the council acquiring it permanently. The last time he inquired a few years ago the freehold was valued at £3m.

Winner also intends to leave money to the council so that it has enough to pay for the upkeep of the house if ticket sales for guided tours fall short. "I think it will get a reasonable audience," said Winner, whose television commercials for a car insurance firm provided his "Calm down, dear" catchphrase. "Linley Sambourne House does and it is a modest terrace house and he was an insignificant Victorian illustrator.

"I have 46 rooms, a five-car garage and a large garden. You couldn't leave it open with people wandering about. You couldn't afford to have 46 people sitting in 46 rooms to see nothing is nicked.

"But it will be stipulated that it must be left 100% as it is. Even my teddy bears. I have 96 teddy bears here and they have to take them with the house."

Winner, who has been burgled seven times, has installed 168 lightbulbs outside the house to help to protect his art treasures, which include a miniature painted by Beatrix Potter that he bought for £32,000 in the 1960s. "It makes Blackpool illuminations look feeble," he said. "I have personally created a hole in the ozone layer."

Martin Bailey, of The Art Newspaper, said: "There are 600 paintings in the house. He began to collect art in 1960, starting with Dutch golden age paintings, including a Tower of Babel by Jan Micker. He also has a fine collection of Victorian and earlier pictures, which are particularly appropriate for the setting."

Winner, who is engaged to Geraldine Lynton-Edwards, an actress and dancer who has been a friend for four decades, almost died last year after contracting a bacterial infection from an oyster in Barbados and then catching the MRSA superbug.

A council spokesman said: "We anticipate further discussions with Michael Winner."

Winner owns Pooh drawings