I sell the morning paper sir,my name is Jimmy Brown
And everybody knows ,I’m the news boy of the town
It all came back to me as I wandered down the ghetto of ghosts, Fleet Street. News vendors. Some are as part of my London universe as Trafalgar Square,the French pub,Winchester House Club and Richmond Park.
The first when I was a boy had an outside kiosk on the corner by Highbury Barn. I passed him everyday on my way to school. Freddy, with his teddy boy hair cut,his tattoos, his quick wit, his way with the girls his speed with the change-I thought he was a God. One day I will be just like him and have my own stall, people will come to me and I will make them laugh. I always bought my comics from him. “Off to school are you, don’t take it too seriously ,there’s more to life than books.”. My dad never said anything so sweet.
Twenty years on, in the l970s ,I was a young man . He was still there. Grey haired now, stooped by forty years in all weathers-he was sad sight and a broken dream. I hadn’t spoken to him in years and I went up to him and told him, that, I too as a journalist, was in the same industry and did he remember me?” Yes , I always knew you would do well, what did you say your name was?” Within fives years he was gone.
The there was the famous man at the corner of Shaftesbury Avenue and Piccadilly Circus. Pint sized, he has no nose. Just two holes. Going up to the West End in the 1960s somehow one always passed his stand. He was a feature , a sight you never forgot. He of course was in the golden days when there were three evening papers Star,News ,Standard and a football special on Saturdays.
But my favourite was Jimmy in Berkeley Square. I had an office just off Oxford Street and Jimmy only had the Standard to sell. I always bought mine off him as a I cycled home. He had had that stand for thirty years and in the months I knew him he told me some of the famous people who had bought papers from him. Dickie Attenborough, Dirk Bogarde, Alma Cogan had all given him six pence for their papers. He wasn’t young and he was difficult not to like. If for some reason I forgot to buy my paper or went home a different way I would feel guilty.
And then one day he wasn’t there. Another ghost.