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.
Vale Bill Ranken: the link,