Where there's muck, there's Benjy

'You, me, Posh, Becks, Anthea Turner - we don't have much in common, except for rubbish'
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The Independent Online

Like many writers on Columnists Row, I was saddened to hear that my old friend Benjamin the Binman was involved in a spot of bother as a result of his going through the dustbins of the famous and harvesting the results.

Like many writers on Columnists Row, I was saddened to hear that my old friend Benjamin the Binman was involved in a spot of bother as a result of his going through the dustbins of the famous and harvesting the results.

I was saddened because "Binny", as he is affectionately known, is one of the last true characters in the Fleet Street tradition, a man whose shambling gait, ill-shaven features and rough-and-ready manner concealed a razor-sharp news-mind.

My concern was more selfish. Like many columnists, I know that, if he is forced to cease operations, I shall struggle to find the quality of material that Binny could provide with the help of what he called his "scraps".

Predictably, the great army of disapprovers have been quick to wag their fingers at those of us who were proud to use Binny's services. They imply that there was something unseemly, immoral even, about his old-fashioned, binliner-based news-collection system.

Fools! Hypocrites! In an age of manufactured news, when the dainty dabs of countless "special advisers" are to be found on virtually every story to reach your screen or your breakfast table, Binny and his scraps represented the last best hope of British investigative journalism. He may not have been "hi-tech" (although he became strangely excited to hear of the recycle bin on computers), but, in his simple, direct way, he stood for the direct connection between the celebrated and the ordinary. "You, me, Posh, Becks, Anthea Turner - we don't have much in common except rubbish," he used to say.

Binny's last visit to our offices occurred a few weeks ago. He took his time to arrive, foraging his way through the bins and baskets of the lower floors before he finally reached me. Then he sat down quietly, leaned forward in his seat and pointed confidentially at the plastic bag he held close to his chest. "Gold dust," he said. "I've paid a little unofficial visit to..." He paused hammily. "Keith Chegwin."

I fear I may have laughed. "Cheggers? Do me a favour, Binny." In response, he reached into his bag and, with a dirt-encrusted hand, held out a crumpled, half-torn sheet of paper. "Dear Keith," he said, squinting as he read. "I want to thank you again for kick-starting my career back into life. At first I had my doubts about the option you proposed but, having seen the publicity that followed your exposé on Channel 5, I took your advice and, in a few weeks' time, it'll be... Here's to you, Mrs Robinson. Love, Jerry."

"Jerry?"

Binny lowered his voice. "Formerly Mrs Jagger of this parish. Soon to be on the London stage, giving it the old full frontals. Just like little Keith did. Coincidence? Hey, I'm not the writer." He took out another scrap and passed it over. I read it out loud. "Hey, Cheggers, I owe you one. The old National Portrait Gallery jumped at the raw-prawn idea when I showed them a tape of you and your small part on 5. You're a beaut, mate. Germaine."

"Pop down to Trafalgar Square to the Famous Australians exhibition and you'll see the lovely Dr Greer, snapped as nature intended." Binny smiled. "Another coincidence? Search me, I just provide the evidence."

"You're saying that this summer's craze for nudism was created by Cheggers taking all his clothes off on TV?"

Binny shrugged. "Suffice it to say that, in my bag, I have notes from the British Open authorities thanking Keith for suggesting that a streaker might liven up that dreary last day of golf. Then there's one from Clarence House."

"What?"

"Where else would the idea of a guy running starkers up the home straight at Ascot have come from? Those press shots of the Queen and her mum peering though their binoculars did more for the royal image than a dozen fly-pasts. Word is something a bit special might be lined up for the big royal birthday."

I reached into a drawer and handed over a brown envelope. "Binny, I need that story. Get back to the trash from whence you came."

He winked, pocketed his retainer, then left for the last time, leaving a faint trace of yesterday's garbage in the air. God, I will miss him.

terblacker@aol.com

Miles Kington is on holiday

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