I felt surprisingly sad when I heard that Michael Winner had died. Not massively sad, but just a lot more sad than I expected. I realised that although he had annoyed me a bit when he was alive that I liked being annoyed by him and I was sad I wouldn't be annoyed by him again. When AA Gill dies (hopefully shot by some kind of ape who has got hold of a high-powered rifle) I won't mourn him. I will be delighted. In fact I am tempted to murder AA Gill to find out what it will feel like when AA Gill is dead. But Winner was playful when he was objectionable and enjoyed playing a bumbling, loveably hateable character. And he stood up for those lesbians when Richard Littlejohn was being a dick. So not all bad and actually something about him was rather lovely. But it took him being dead for me to really realise it.
Of course people remember him for his Calm down dear commercials
and once the news broke there were a million humourless tweets which just quoted that phrase as if that was enough to be a joke. But the really funny thing about that original advert (and the thing that should have become the national craze) is the face that Winner pulls after he has rear-ended the car. It's seven seconds into the commercial. Check it out. It's extraordinary. Winner was not much of an actor but it's very difficult to know what he was reaching for here. Is he trying to mix shock with dismay? Has he had a mini-fit? I'd love to see people pulling that face when something annoying happens rather than saying "Calm Down" all the fucking time.
They must have done many takes of the reaction and yet this is still the one they chose. The one that Winner chose because he was directing it. Either this was the best take he did and he had to say, "Ah fuck it, no one will notice." Or he wanted it to be like this. Did he think it was funny to gurn like that? Or was he getting deeply into the part, knowing that he was a bad actor in a fake advert and that the deception was about to be revealed in a post modern way, so he wanted to keep up the "reality" of the situation and so tried to do it as badly as possible? I don't know.
And surely if esure wanted to be really post-modern, once Winner has revealed that it's just a commercial, the woman should also reveal that she too is just an actress who was only pretending to be upset about her car and then Winner can say that he knows that already and she can say she knows that he knows and so on to infinity and the advert could last forever with Winner pulling more of his brilliant comedy faces.
I don't think I ever met Winner (though I am getting old and forgetful and often forget when I've been on a panel show with someone) but in the 1990s we did have a slight influence on each other's lives. It must have been in about 1997 or 1998 when Spitting Image were auctioning off some of their old puppets. Incredibly this was an internet auction (it is hard to believe that that was the most efficient way of doing it back then or that the facilities even existed). Stewart and myself were keen to buy the Michael Winner puppet, not because we were fans or even for ironic reasons, but because we thought our manager Jon Thoday really looked like the puppet. He looks a bit like the young Michael Winner, but he looked more like the puppet.
We were pretty sure that we could get this item cheaply. This was before the reinvention with the adverts (and possibly even before the restaurant column) - who would want a Michael Winner Spitting Image puppet? (I think you know where this is going).
We bid a low amount, but a few hours later another bid came in, so we bid a little more and again were outbid. We probably pushed things up as high as about £100 before realising that the gag was not worth any more and we gave up against this persistent competition.
Of course it turned out that the only other person in the world who would want this puppet was Michael Winner and we later learned that it was indeed him who had bought it. He must have been delighted that someone else was so keen to have his image, but he wouldn't have known that we actually wanted it because it resembled someone else. If it wasn't for us he'd have got the puppet slightly cheaper but might also have felt slightly sad inside that no one else cared about his puppet.
So I did have a very minor effect on his life and he on mine. I'm happy to buy the puppet now if his family want to sell it, but I might keep it myself and see if I can pay the Spitting Image people to remould it so that it can pull that surprised expression whenever I am feeling down.