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Obituary: Michael Harris, former owner of the Michelin-starred Bell Inn

20 November 2020 by
Obituary: Michael Harris, former owner of the Michelin-starred Bell Inn

Michael Harris, former owner of the Michelin-starred Bell Inn at Aston Clinton, Buckinghamshire, has died aged 79.

Harris was born on 26 November 1940, the only child to Gerard and Daphne Harris, who were the proprietors of the Bell Inn, an early UK member of the Traditions & Qualité and Relais & Chateaux associations.

After working in America and Jamaica, he returned to the Bell where he worked briefly under his father before taking over the business in 1966, quickly proving that he was a brilliant proprietor and hotelier.

Under his management and with talented young chef Jack Dick, the Bell went from strength to strength and ultimately achieved a Michelin star in 1974. It briefly lost it the following year only to regain it in 1976 and held it until 1979.

From left: Tom Eden, Michael Harris, his wife Caroline, Wim de Haast standing.jpg
From left: Tom Eden, Michael Harris, his wife Caroline, Wim de Haast standing.jpg

He married Caroline (pictured above right, with Michael centre, Tom Eden left and Wim De Haast standing) in 1999 and chef Heston Blumenthal cooked at the wedding as his father had been a patron of the Bell Inn. The property was sold in 2000.

Harris died at his home on 2 November. He is survived by his wife Caroline and his children Olivia and Gerard.

Michael Harris in 1972.jpg
Michael Harris in 1972.jpg

Sir Howard Stringer, who went on to become chief executive of Sony, worked at the Bell Inn as a waiter during university vacations. He said the Bell Inn was a "brilliant exception" to England's culinary reputation in the 1960s and described Harris as "a thoughtful and a patient executive".

He said: "When I accidentally spilled peas on the lap of the Duchess of Bedford, in front of her husband, I tried to wipe them off whereupon Michael swiftly took me under his wing and coached me thereafter in the finer points of waiting at table! And we became friendly.

"Celebrities from London flocked to the Bell – Sir Laurence Olivier, Sir Roger Moore, Dick van Dyke – as well as myriad well-heeled company executives and the county.

"I still have a menu from that time, with smoked salmon for six shillings, roast duck at 10/6 and 14/6 for caviar sevruga! The menu, of course, was not cheap for those days, but the food was legendary."

He added: "I have never forgotten the power of the Harris brand which was unique for so many years. We have very fond memories of working with Michael."

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