Hickey lives! – again. The William Hickey diary at the Daily Express has been revived after the departure of Chris Sylvester, who has taken his Brutus column with him.
Sylvester claims he invented Brutus and is taking the Caesar-conspirator and his dripping dagger with him, after his contract with the Express was axed – more to do with cost than politics, it seems, since the contract was costing the paper in the region of £70,000 a year according to Sylvester, though newspaper insiders put it at more like £100,000.
As Brutus’s replacement, editor Chris Williams decided to revive Hickey, the subject of a flamboyant Fleet Street "funeral" when he was killed off the first time in the Eighties. There remains a link with Brutus since Hickey’s dog is called Caesar.
Express gossip column diarist John McEntee became Hickey when he was first resuscitated in 1996 by Richard Addis (then editor of the Express) and came out from behind Hickey anonymity only when he was given his own bylined gossip column.
Now McEntee has again taken on Hickey’s persona. He and his five-strong gossip team are producing both the society column, a rival to the Daily Mail’s Dempster’s Diary, and the media-politics column pioneered by Sylvester.
Sylvester told Press Gazette he was off on holiday until 1 October. After leaving a valedictory message at the end of his column on Monday, he said: "It’s always disappointing when you come to the end of something you enjoy. It’s not just my disappointment but the disappointment of readers. I had phone calls yesterday – perhaps from people you might think unlikely, like a couple of elderly ladies saying how much they had enjoyed the column.
"I have the moral right to the name Brutus and I am at liberty to take it elsewhere but I don’t have any immediate plans. I may well revive Brutus elsewhere but I may do something else completely."
He was given two months notice and remains admiring of Williams: "He’s treated me very honourably and I have great sympathy for anyone who is in the position of having to cut costs and get rid of people. He’s handled it remarkably well."
By Jean Morgan