Today a London legend disappears for good. Oxford Circus Bill closes his newspaper stand for the last time.
Bill’s pitch is one of those fascinating sites/sights of alternative London. He’s not exactly off the beaten path. He’s a larger than life character who dominates a corner of one of London’s busiest intersections, where Oxford Street crosses Regent Street.
For years and years and years, he’s been selling the Evening Standard newspaper from his stand. And he’s also been providing general entertainment, chat and banter – and occasional shows – like this week’s bizarre Punch & Judy. He’s always been a source of stories, a haven for waifs, a fiercely partisan Tottenham fan and a downright den of mischief. If you want to know more about the chequered past, the football firms and the current mischief, check out his forthcoming book. It’s called Oxford Circus Bill.
So why is it coming to an end? Like other Evening Standard vendors, Bill has been under increasing pressure in recent years. The terms for selling the paper have deteriorated, there’s been mushrooming competition from the distributors of free newspapers, the threat of crime, assault and the wearing down of body and soul that comes with working outside in the cold, heat, rain, hail and snow for decades.To be fair, bawdy Bill’s body and soul seem to be as robust as ever. But the final straw was the decision of the Evening Standard, London’s main newspaper, to transform itself into a free newspaper. Falling circulation has led to this last desparate throw of the dice by the paper’s new owners – hoping to recoup on advertising off the back of increased distribution, what they lose on cash sales. But no sales means no Bill doing the selling. So that’s the end for Oxford Circus Bill, the London legend, the mouth, the yell, the wink, the laugh. Until he finds another pitch from which to advertise his greatest asset. Himself. Watch this space.