Spotted lying flat on a box (far behind the counter at Vinnies) ready to be put on the shelves, the ABBA Photobook (with $75 price tag on it from Kinokuniya and nicely covered in protective plastic). Asked nonchalantly: “Oh, is that ABBA book for sale?” $20! I flicked through it studiously to check it was OK and the sales assistant seemed surprised anyone would want to buy it! Gave me that thrill again of finding stuff in secondhand shops when looking for ABBA stuff pre-internet!
Still on my wishlist is ABBA The Backstage Stories (my birthday this month) if anyone has a spare copy they want to offload!
Whenever four of us former Eastern Express staff get together every year or so for the past 25yrs, we always toast the inimitable Bill Ranken “who’ll outlive all of us!” we predicted. He was such a ball of positive and energy with an endless work ethic directed towards socialising. We’d worked with him 1990-94 when he reinvented himself as a Society Spy social writer as a “youthful” 60-year-old.
His forte was the relentless drive to go out, and everything was devoted to that aim. All we knew at the time was that he lived in a little studio flat, and used to jog every morning to keep trim. He was fitter than all of us and we were in our early 30s! He knew all the socialites by their first names, and was very discreet. I’d have to try and interpret his laughter to my questions to get any gossip.
We trained him in the gig: he had a photographer and wrote names in his notebook. Early on, he often lost his notebooks but soon realised the importance of getting all the names, or we wouldn’t use the photos. His opening sentences were always a bright splash of hyperbole: “There were more stars than in the galaxy …”
I subbed and laid out his social spreads for 4.5 years until the paper folded, and it was always a joy when he visited the office. He couldn’t really write, but he persevered in this profession anyway, knowing that taking photos and mingling were his strong points.
He was always gracious and never a snob. I was in my “punk” phase at the time, holding a “Flatmate from Hell” flatwarming party in Bondi and, of course, Bill said: “I’ll be there!” He came along on a Saturday night in his trademark suit and bow tie, his daily free rose from Carla Florist, Double Bay, in his lapel, and was his usual buoyant self, working the room.
As he got older, our admiration only increased, as it would be harder to fit into those young social circles and we knew he’d alienated some people with his shenanigans. But he was still up at the crack of dawn every day, jogging away, as tanned as ever, and out on the town every night: he just loved people, and helped out at the Wayside Chapel. He was an inspiring story of accepting who he was, his limitations, but still giving life everything he had, every day til he dropped.
Last time I bumped into him was on Oxford St, outside the Beauchamp Hotel, where he was bending down to tie his shoelace, then checking in a mirror to see he was looking polished. I said hi and he was as friendly as ever.
Now that he’s passed (into another ball of positive energy somewhere, I believe), we see his tragic back-story and it makes his humble choices even more amazing. He was worth $30million when he died, tied up in family land, which, though he was the eldest son, he encouraged other family members to take on. He would mention how he lost his eye and during the recuperation time he realised he wasn’t suited to the farming life.
More tragedies: his younger brother who took over the property died, and then his sister’s husband who took over was killed too. A year after this last death, Bill arrived at the Eastern Express, while going back and forth to help on the property as much as he could. He had a big heart. You can read elsewhere how he’d been a consort to Princess Margaret and a playboy in his younger years: but later, when he had no money to show, he still went out diligently, as he loved people and loved Sydney.
Fittingly, his last published words: “I’ve had a wonderful time. To the socialites of the eastern suburbs, I insist they all keep hosting fabulous parties.”
This song sums up Bill for me: formal, a bit nerdy, wholesome in his own way, ever-cheerful and sunny, add a dollop of old fashioned kindness. Oh, Darling, and Anything Goes!
And Music To Watch Girls By
One Thing – Bill stuck to the one thing he loved, socialising.
Went to an ABBA Night held at the Impy Cabaret Room, Erko.
Danced the night away in a big circle, with fans spontaneously jumping into the centre and showcasing their moves when overcome by inspiration.
G had spent that morning shopping, searching for “giant inflatable pillow balloons like in the Polish TV special”, and settled on bubble-blowing kits, bejewelled fake microphones to sing into, and streamers to throw when over-excited.
Hard core fans stayed on-floor during The Visitors (to show off the fact we knew all the words), while everyone else hit the bar.
Showed first-timer L how to do the moves to SOS. Angus finally turned up to an ABBA night, which fell on a date when he wasn’t on a plane to somewhere or other.
D faced intense interrogation over why he wasn’t expressing his fandom via the compulsory non-stop dancing, and cited a “broken toe” which will take 12 months to heal!
Great drag numbers in spectacular/comedy costumes were done on the famous Impy stage (the inspiration for the Priscilla movie) to Nina Pretty Ballerina, Rock Me, Does Your Mother Know?, Tiger, and The Winner Takes It All.
Dancing Queen was played in honour of late fan John Godwin (big Agnetha fan), who was so sweet and always ready with an encouraging word and a witty line. Miss his friendly face. Did our best Bandstand Special moves in loving memory.
Finished at 2am with the traditional Old Friends Do as we all formed a tight-knit circle.
Stood outside and were told off twice by the bouncers for being too raucous. G escorted me home down King St, Newtown, exhausted on our hands and knees, after over-exertious dancing.
When not crawling, in an inspired move of anarchistic action, we pasted ABBA posters up and down King St, with G standing on tippy toes so he could place them high up enough so passersby couldn’t easily rip them down. I was laughing so hard as he was so earnest. One was still up the next afternoon!
Maggie’s Pet Rescue Trivia night totally went off at Marrickville Bowlo. Was sold out and raised $11,000. Protia Turbo was the host (who has adopted several rescue pets)and did a terrific job.
At my table, had a chat about the Radikal Faeries and sand-pit therapy (2 types). G named most of the books in the Old Testament (except about 5), amazing. Cos, ask her about Kate Winslet coffee, everyone was gobsmacked. H won a big TV, so it’s Eurovision at His. A couple of people at our table won Silent Auction items. There was fantastic dog and cat paintings (with the paint still wet).
Lots of fun and a great night. Oh, and G said he’d scored 2 tickets to Kate Bush! Me, am going to wait til it comes out on DVD.
Had the most brilliant evening at Mardi Gras Museum, seeing amazing Mazz Image. She talked about how her photographic technique is difficult to teach to others, as it’s mostly an inherent talent. She loves Sydney and will come back here permanently some day. She started off photographing whoever she found interesting.
AND the incredible Lance Leopard was there! We chatted about his writing and he’s planning to do something online. Oh, and the old columns he wrote, some I put online. He said his writing has changed after his near-death experience and he has to keep a close watch on his health etc. He’s very thin, but in good spirits.