It’ll probably come as no great surprise to many readers to learn that The Blogger was not a close acquaintance of the man we must now learn to call the ‘Former Former World’s Greatest Living Englishman’, Aussie gossip columnist Nigel Dumpster. Nevertheless here at The Blogger we had a lot of time for the Dumpster.
Arriving in Fleet Street in the early 60s with his 3 O levels and his collection of old school ties – so he would have something in common with the host of that evening’s party – there was something about the Dumpster which effortlessly conjured up the grand old buccaneering days of pre-corporate Fleet Street.
That’s the mythical Fleet Street of Lord Copper and Boot when proprietors were unashamed Nazi sympathisers. When clueless buffoons with a background in fagging and fresh off the playing fields of Eton were editors and their foreign correspondents were clubable military chaps who “understood” Johnny Foreigner. When socialists dined at the Gay Hussar, Tories plotted in The Athenaeum and hacks filed garbled stories to long-suffering copy-takers from under the table in El Vinos, sobering up only to produce that one important piece of writing each week – the expenses claim.
Of course this Fleet Street probably never existed and by the time Dumpster started to really make his mark in the early 70s, the corporations had already taken hold of most newspapers and “professionalisation” was well under way across Fleet Street.
Out went streetwise hacks with 3 O levels and an uncanny ability to drink all night and in came the Oxbridge stuffed shirts armed with daddy’s contact book and a taste for producing endless pages of sanctimonious, technically competent comment and analysis.
Not Dumpster though. To the end he was the master of the one truly heroic branch of journalism… Gossip! And to those who told him that the trade of the gossip columnist was trivial, he would just reply that “all life was trivial”.
And how Dumpster set about recording this trivia. This was one of the great journalistic stylists of his age who, at his best, was nothing short of fucking sensational. OK – those Daily Mail columns, perfectly pitched as they were at suburban middle english housewives on valium, were way too long and laboured – full of dreary and irrelevant background and endless lists of pompous titles and stately homes – but turn to the Private Eye of the 70s and Dumpster’s ‘Grovel’ column and it’s a revelation…
No technically correct, sterile studies in learning, accuracy and fact-checking here. No pseudo-intellectual comment and analysis. No Oxbridge bonhomie and not a sign of establishment backscratching to be seen.
Here was real, unvarnished journalism and the real, unvarnished Dumpster. Crazed vituperative barrages of news, gossip, trivia and bombast – shooting from the hip and relentlessly aiming at the rich, the titled, the powerful and the famous without fear or favour. Deflating the super-sized egos of the rich and puncturing the pomposity of the powerful, nothing quite like it has been seen since.
And don’t forget that while the supposedly “left wing” Paul Foots and John Pilgers and Alistair Campbells were taking Maxwell’s dodgy shilling, who was it that fearlessly exposed Cap’n Bob, along with Jimmy Goldsmith and every other super-rich crook in the country, while laughing off their desperate writs as his Oscars? Yep. The Dumpster.
I’ll leave the final words to Roderick Gilchrist, now the Deputy Editor of the Mail on Sunday:
We first met in 1973 when I was a rookie reporter on the Daily Mail seconded by the news desk to help out in his office. It was totally alien to my normal, regimented working day of deadlines, police calls and merciless examinations from my seniors.
I was told to report at 10am. By 11am there was no sign of Nigel or anyone else on his team. Some time just before noon, Nigel ambled in, jacketless, tieless and wearing a shirt with a picture on the back hand-painted by his young daughter Emily.
He glanced idly at a few photographs from the showbiz parties of the night before and then announced he was off to lunch. Probably Harry’s Bar. It was 4pm before I saw him again.
This insouciance made me nervous. How were we going to get the page out? Where were the stories?
What an education I was about to undergo. Nigel sat down and hammered out a stream of social revelations on his old Remington typewriter that now sounded like a Gatling. A series of ‘You Read It Here Firsts’ fell from the keyboard, interrupted only by phone calls from gutter tipsters, from the titled, and even the odd theatrical star, all greeted with the same: ‘Oh, hello darling.’ It was a masterclass.
Now that’s a proper day’s work… We’ll be missing you here Dumpster.