Sad news from England where Jimmy Nicholson, one of Fleet Street's great crime reporters, known as the Prince of Darkness, has died.
I worked with Jimmy on the long-defunct Daily Sketch in the late 1960s and I still have fond memories of the laughs and drinks we shared, although he rarely bought a drink himself: there was always someone willing to pay to keep him drinking to hear his stories.
Jimmy, who was 89 when he died, was a character who could have been created by Damon Runyan. Some of his sayings are now part of journalistic legend---"I've been at every siege since Troy," he liked to boast. And, "I've been on more doorsteps than a milk bottle."
He earned his Prince of Darkness nickname because of the Dracula-style black cape he always wore.Of all the crime reporters of his era he had probably the best contacts with both the police and the villains. Freddie Foreman, Frankie Fraser, Charlie Kray, Charles Richardson, the Great Train Robbers ---he knew them all and when they eventually ended up behind bars he would visit them in jail and they would repay him with exclusive stories.
Current head of the Crime Reporters Association, John Twomey of the Daily Express, said: “Jim was one of the best connected journalists I’ve ever met.
“Everyone knew him from chief constables and commissioners, judges, leading barristers, senior detectives right down to rookie officers and the security staff at the Old Bailey.
“And everyone talked to him and knew they could trust him – for him that was the key to getting stories. He didn’t have much time for press releases and police communications officers with their media strategies.
“He was an old-fashioned reporter who got his exclusives in the old-fashioned way – going out and meeting people and making contacts.
“Although he never tired of talking about his past successes, the Moors Murders, the Krays, the hunt for the Brink’s-Mat robbery gold and many more, it was a track record that any crime reporter would give his right arm for.
“And what’s more, he had enormous fun along the way. It’s sad to think that he’s gone. Legend is a word bandied about too often. But Jimmy Nick really was one.”
Simon Finlay, now editor of Downs Mail, told Press Gazette: “Jimmy Nick was a legend and an inspiration to young reporters like myself who would meet him at the Old Bailey back in the early 1990s.
“He was hugely respected and admired. His one-liners and gangster movie patois were hilarious.
“I was with a hack from the Daily Star in the Wine Press one night when Jimmy greeted us with the immortal words: ‘Look, it’s the hitmen from Mothercare.’
“Fair play to him – he cadged our fags and never bought a drink. We’ll miss him.”
All of us who knew him will miss him.