Jimmy with, from left, Bill Orchard, Leon Symons, Tony Sapiano and John ‘Bomber’ Burns
NOTE: This was written before Jimmy’s death in June 2016 - Ed
By LEON SYMONS
The Prince of Darkness is alive and drinking Guinness at a care home in a beautiful part of the Essex countryside.
Sans trademark black cloak, sans tie, James Nicholson is a resident at The Moat House in the village of Great Easton in Dunmow, set amid leafy glades and fields and shrubs, directly across the road from a swanky Rolls Royce dealership.
Four of us – photographers Tony Sapiano and Bill Orchard and reporter John Burns and I – visited Jim to help him celebrate his 87th birthday. Armed with a birthday cake, candles and a bottle of bubbly, we spent two hours chatting and laughing in his company.
John Burns and I arrived first, to find Jim sucking on a tin of his favourite tipple. He greeted us like long-lost friends; similarly when Tony and Bill arrived shortly after. However, he didn’t mention any names.
Jim has succumbed to dementia but at the moment, according to those caring for him, he has not developed Alzheimer’s. He is still animated and rattling off the catchphrases we all know and love. One of his fellow residents is a “big noise”, while another is the famous “hitman from Mothercare”.
He believes he is staying in a hotel, which is visited regularly by the police and security services – no change there, then. He recounted episodes of his days on the road from several decades past, talked about different people receiving sizeable payments for all sorts of services but in a jumbled, disjointed fashion.
The home’s staff said that when he first arrived, they were regaled with these tales and had to play along by taking the parts of various people in courts, police stations and crime scenes. Patently, they have a huge affection for him because he continues to be a Runyonesque, larger-than-life character and is much more communicative than some of the other residents. In fact, if it were not for the meanderings, he would be pretty much the same old Jim.
Physically, he is thinner, but losing a bit of weight in these days of obesity won’t do him any harm. He tucked into his cake and fizz with alacrity, as you can see from Tony pictures.
In front of him was an array of birthday cards from hacks and hackettes far and wide, friend and sometime foe, including one from former Mirrorman John Jackson, claiming Jim still owed a bar bill of £17 accrued while doorstepping (yeh, right!) some errant politician!
Tony deserves great credit for finding out just what had happened to Jim and his whereabouts.
The home’s full address is below. If you’re in that neck of the woods, do pop in and see him. Yes, there is sadness that one of Fleet Street’s best-known characters of recent years has been beset by ill health. But there are flashes of the Prince we know and love, he is safe and warm and being very well looked after – as you can see!
*A correspondent writes: Jimmy’s wife realised he had to be looked after when he went out shopping and went home to his old house thinking that was where he still lived.
The new owners took him in and rang her. When she arrived they said they really enjoyed having him round because he was so full of interesting stories. Jimmy was so pleased to have found someone who hadn’t heard all his tales of being on every siege since Troy and more doorsteps than a milkman.
WHAT A CARD: Jimmy enjoying his 87th birthday. He was to have two more
Pictures by BILL ORCHARD