James Nicholson, crime reporter — obituary


James Nicholson, who has died aged 89, was the final of the old-school crime reporters and on the top of his Fleet Road fame grew to become celebrated – on account of his black cape – because the “Prince of Darkness”.

Lined with scarlet silk, the cape grew to become his signature garment, and marked Nicholson out at lots of the infamous instances and trials of the post-war period. At one level – particularly if he thought he was prone to be photographed – he dressed from head to toe in black, and wore tinted glasses. Even his favorite tipple, a half pint of Guinness, was black, as was his gallows humour.

There are a number of variations of how Nicholson obtained his Prince of Darkness nickname, one crediting the BBC Tv reporter Keith Graves throughout the Spaghetti Home siege in Knightsbridge in 1975. Nicholson himself thought the well-known black cape originated when he was masking a narrative about witches on the Isle of Man and he wore one for impact. By the point of one other 1975 siege when a fugitive IRA gang holed up at Balcombe Road in Marylebone – “I’ve been at each siege since Troy,” he would joke – the label had caught.

Uniquely Nicholson may declare to have been the one reporter to have had his {photograph} on the entrance of each each day and night newspaper within the nation. It occurred on the finish of the Black Panther homicide trial at Oxford in 1976. When a few of the displays have been produced – masks, clothes, cartridges and a sawn-off shotgun – press photographers urged detectives to search out somebody to mannequin them.

One officer recognized Nicholson as being roughly the identical top and construct because the assassin Donald Neilson. Having been reluctantly persuaded to don the killer’s accoutrements, Nicholson posed for the Day by day Mirror photographer Eddy Rawlinson however solely on circumstances of strict anonymity, nervous that his bosses on the Day by day Categorical would discover out.

Nicholson as soon as defined the fundamentals of reporting a homicide to Duncan Campbell, veteran crime correspondent of The Guardian: “Day one is the physique. Day two, hopefully, they’ve recognized her. Day three, it’s The Village Underneath Suspicion. Day 4, it’s The Finger of Suspicion Factors At Me.” A veteran of many a stakeout, watching and ready for one thing to occur, he additionally grew to become adept on the artwork of what reporters name “doorstepping”, making unsolicited calls on individuals at dwelling. “I’ve stood on so many doorsteps I really feel like a milk bottle,” was one other well-known Nicholson quote.

He set appreciable retailer by the cathartic worth of stricken family in homicide instances speaking to crime reporters, however admitted that in lots of circumstances “you need to put a foot within the door”.

James Nicholson was born in Batley, Yorkshire, on January 16 1927, the son of a dry stone waller. At 16 he left Batley technical faculty to affix the Batley Information as a common dogsbody, shortly thereafter being promoted to cemetery reporter. For 18 months he collected the names of the mourners at native funerals, evading wartime rationing by attending each “ham tea” historically laid on at wakes when bereaved households have been granted particular dispensation by the Ministry of Meals.

Vexed by a quibble over an bills declare for his bus fare to Huddersfield, Nicholson joined the Night Gazette at Blackpool, masking native courts each weekday besides one, when he collected paragraphs from up and down the Fylde coast for his weekly column “Around the Villages with James Nicholson”.

In Coronation 12 months, when a neighborhood Salvationist known as Louisa Merrifield was suspected of murdering her aged landlady with rat poison, she held court docket on daily basis at a backstreet lodge, signing autographs at half-a-crown a time and meting out afternoon tea to Nicholson and visiting reporters from Fleet Road. He obtained to know Mrs Merrifield in addition to he knew Albert Pierrepoint, who hanged her at Strangeways Jail, Manchester, in September 1953.

After eight years masking crime and courts in Blackpool, he reported George Formby’s funeral in Liverpool in 1961, revealing that the ukulele-strumming Lancashire comic had left his fortune to the 29-year-old schoolteacher he had been planning to marry earlier than his dying. Nicholson’s scoop earned him a job as crime reporter on the previous Day by day Sketch.

His first large story for the Sketch was the A6 homicide case, during which James Hanratty was hanged for the homicide of Michael Gregsten and the taking pictures and rape of his girlfriend Valerie Storie. He lined the Nice Practice Theft in 1963 and the Moors Murders trial in 1966. Ian Brady later threatened to take him to the Press Council.

All through the Nineteen Sixties he hobnobbed with London gangsters together with the Richardsons and the Krays, and was on Reggie Kray’s Christmas card record. Through the years, in addition to for the Sketch, Nicholson labored for the Day by day Mail, Day by day Categorical, the newly-launched Day by day Star and The Folks.

Nicholson was a previous president of the Crime Reporters’ Affiliation and wore its tie and its insignia of crossed handcuffs and quill pen.

He’s survived by his spouse, Mavis, whom he married in 1952, and by their daughter and two sons.

James Nicholson, born January 16 1927, died June 12 2016


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here