Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Television discovers the Social Shuttle

For 2 days now Channel 9's Today show has had cameras and a reporter following around chief Shuttle correspondent Bill Ranken (pictured left) as he covers Sydney's social scene on behalf of the Social Shuttle.

Ranken has been a fixture on the scene for around 50 years-ever since he rolled a tractor on his Southern Highland's property and lost an eye (yes that eye-patch is not an affectation as often assumed). After the accident Bill gave up working the land and decided life was too short and that partying and dating as many ladies as possible was the only way to go.

He still owns Lockesley-regarded as one of NSW's best sheep properties with a magnificent Georgian mansion set amongst rolling hills and surrounded by an award winning garden. But don't get us wrong-Bill loves the land and there is nothing this third generation owner of a few thousand acres doesn't know about sheep or cattle. He just prefers, as he puts it "to let the men take care of things". Presumably staff. Bill calls in once a fortnight to oversee the acreage and have his shirts washed , ironed and starched preferring to operate out of his harbourside Elizabeth Bay apartment.

In the old days Bill would have been regarded as Landed Gentry. A bachelor-but not the usual confirmed type, he is still actively dating, having moved on to former date's daughters. He does have an eye for a pretty young filly.

The Shuttle first encountered Bill 25 years ago at an exhibition in a London gallery of the British artists Gilbert & George who specialize in huge paintings of young men and excrement. Bill accompanied HRH Princess Margaret and he has become a firm Shuttle friend since.

There isn't a person of note Ranken hasn't met. He recalls the day in 1967 he was to lunch with the then Prime Minister Harold Holt after Holt went for his morning swim at Cheviot Beach in Victoria and disappeared in the swirling surf-never to be seen again. Stories and conspiracy theories flourished-a Chinese sub had picked up Holt who was a spy-aliens had abducted him and so on. Certainly Bill was most disappointed. "We had arranged to meet at a very smart new restaurant in Portsea so I never got to make what would have been an amusing lunch with Harold who always had a good line in jokes"

A few weeks later at a memorial service Bill recalls chatting to then US President Lyndon Baines Johnston as a tearful LBJ confided-"that Jimmy Holt-he was such a dear friend".

And at 79 he has been to a lot of parties-usually 2 a night.  Infuriatingly healthy, Bill runs (not jogs) 4 miles every morning at 6am and then joins the other Shuttle staff at our editorial office , Dee Bees cafe in Double Bay run by amiable host, the 6'6" ex-East Ender Graeme Goldberg. (GG promises that the mention of his name will bring an extra motza ball in our daily soup).

For the uninitiated, Dee Bees is a favourite star-spotting hangout as can be seen from Goldberg's exstensive photo-covered walls of Graeme with every known celebrity on the planet who has dined there including the latest-Bob Dylan. Goldberg is believed to be the only person to have ever got a Dylan autograph.

The cameras followed Bill Ranken around last night's Sydney Morning Herald's Good Food Guide restaurant awards at the amazing former train repair factory, the Carriageworks.

At the awards we encountered recently returned from London, food reviewer Terry Durack who has spent the last 14 years as restaurant critic for the Independent On Sunday newspaper. Durack-contrary to reports in the Murdoch newspaper The Australian (always check the Shuttle for the real story) is to join the Sydney Morning Herald.

Also there-food critic Leo Schofield who has returned from retirement in Tasmania where he found living in a state with a population of around 250 souls a fairly boring existence.

    Terry Durack, Jill Dupleix and Leo Schofield