A hero worth celebrating, a hotel worth forgetting
Published 20 July 2008 News Review 783rd article
Michael at PC Joe Carroll's memorial (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)
To work for the Charity Commission, or be a charity commissioner, you need to be as idiotic as my tax inspector, Colin Kain, and that's saying something.
My first contact with a charity commissioner was in 1984. I wrote asking to set up the Police Memorial Trust to place memorials to officers slain on duty. An arrogant charity commissioner named Rao said, "Are you telling me, Mr Winner, you want to put up memorials to mere policemen? We won't allow that."
After I'd finished with him, he'd set up the charity in three hours. I thought of him when the Queen unveiled my National Police Memorial in the Mall. And again recently when our 32nd local memorial was unveiled. This one, to PC Joe Carroll, killed on the A69 near Corbridge, Northumberland.
You know I wish to leave my famous Victorian house as a museum to the nation. Both the Victorian Society and the Kensington and Chelsea council warmly applauded my generosity.
You might think forming a charity for this purpose would be a shoo-in. Instead I get stupid letters - first from Alice Holt, head of legal services and advice for the Charity Commission, and then another from Alison Wells, head of its registration division. Rather than encourage someone to leave an important Victorian property worth millions to the nation, they are both totally unhelpful. I wait in vain for a sane response.
Which leads me to Slaley Hall, a hotel in Hexham, Northumberland. That's also a disaster. I stayed there the night before our unveiling ceremony.
On our way through fantastic countryside, my excellent local chauffeur, John Kennedy, said, "The general manager's only been there a few weeks and there's blood on the floor." It's a pity the blood wasn't on the walls, the ceilings, the furniture and every other miserably grotesque piece of so-called design. It's the most appallingly decorated place I've ever been in.
My sort-of suite - I say "sort-of" because there's a lounge area and a wall that only partly divides it from the bedroom - had a bath in the middle of the sitting area underneath a window. There was ample room for the bath to replace a ridiculous double shower out of which water trickled. Were they under instructions to save water? At £300 a night, the ability to clean oneself properly should be thrown in.
The room was all dark and gloomy. A variety of dreary tartans, floor coverings, wall coverings - every piece of furniture seemed to be different, vying for awfulness. There's a saying: "It had everything but the kitchen sink." My room had the kitchen sink, in the form of this lunatic bath. It also had a putter, a plastic "dustpan" and golf balls to knock in. You could leap out of the bath and play naked putting.
Dinner was down to standard. So was the dining room. Another edifice of gloom. Dark blinds one-third down, covering a lovely view of the countryside. Dark walls, enormous vulgar chairs, with immensely high backs and tassels, dwarfed the tables. Glass-paintings lit so dimly you couldn't see what they pictured. And the coup de grace - dreadful piped music.
I was told the bread had been freshly made by the pastry chef. So what? It was mediocre. My asparagus was hardly cooked at all, would have been better in a salad. The hollandaise sauce tasted bitter. The homemade chips were squashy.
My calves' liver was so stringy I could only eat a fraction of it. It was unbelievably soft and gooey. The Northumbria bacon was the only good thing and there was only a tiny bit of that.
My dessert of Tate & Lyle treacle sponge had the tiniest bit of treacle on top of white stodge. The waiter asked if I wanted hot or cold custard. As the sponge was supposedly hot, why should I want cold custard?
The hotel manager, Neal Crocker, was superb. Pity he hasn't got anything worth managing. Never mind blood on the carpet, Neal. Go somewhere else. You deserve better.
The photo shows, standing behind our memorial, Joe Carroll's mother Hilda on the left, his widow Caroline, me (note, wearing a tie) and the chief constable of Northumbria, Michael Craik.
How's this for unbelievable: I told you last month that Sue Moore of Syndicate Asset Management was incapable of sending a clear monthly fax showing how many millions I had in its Guernsey rollover account. She's done it again. This month the last three letters were so far to the right (with oodles of white space on the left) they broke up and were unreadable.
John Morton, the group chief executive, had the impertinence to say he took my complaint seriously. Oh yes? Why should people invest millions with him when his staff can't even send a clear fax? What I only have to put up with.
Regarding the Winner-bashing letter last week from Alyce Cleese's close friends, we three worked for Alyce Faye and John for a combined total of 31 years. What we knew about in Michael's articles was accurate, the rest entirely plausible. John recently quoted that old sage Rod Stewart, "I won't get married again. I'll just find someone I don't get on with and buy her a house."
Garry Scott-Irvine, Melanie Walden, Amanda Tymeson
Alyce Cleese was said by her friends to be more worried about Michael Winner at her son's wedding, than about her son and his bride. Strange mother!
Nicky Cox, London
I eagerly anticipate reading Alyce Cleese's restaurant review where she highlights the shortcomings of Messrs Cleese and Winner.
Pamela Mulgrew, Dundee
Poor John Cleese! As if three failed marriages weren't enough, he then saddles himself with Michael Winner.
Gordon House, Wimbledon
If John Cleese asked me, "You don't have human beings on the menu, do you?" I'd reply, "It can be arranged - but it could cost you an arm and a leg!"
Richard Davies, Bournemouth
You've stumbled onto your next career. You and John as a double act. He's the funny one.
Terence Levine, Dorset
Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org