In Jeffery Archer’s fiction, “The Fourth Estate,” there is a scene Keith Townsend, one of two heroes featured as the owner of the largest communication empire in Australia responds the questions fired by a young female journalist (Kate Tulloh) about his sacking Sir Somerset, ex-chairman of Sydney-based newspaper company he aquired in the interview:

“Didn’t Sir Somerset suffer roughly the same fate when you took over the Chronicle? --

He once described you,” said Kate, “as ‘a man who is happy to lie in the gutter and watch while others climb mountains.”

“I think you’ll find that Sir Somerset, like Shakespeare, is often misquoted.”

“It would be hard to prove either way,” said Kate, “as he’s also dead.” – P339

Though it must be a metaphoric expression, what does “a man who is happy to lie in the gutter and watch while others climb mountains” mean in a couple of words? What character is it like?

Why in heaven’s name would an aggressive, ambitious young media mogul be happy to lie in the gutter and watch while others climb mountains? It should be the other way round. I have no idea.

  • 1
    It means, simply, that such a person has no ambition and is not troubled by that fact. The success of others does not move him to achieve anything himnself.
    – Robusto
    Jun 4, 2013 at 13:04
  • 1
    There can be some stigma attached with in the gutter. Sir Somerset may be saying that Keith Townsend dwells in the troubles of his life, while watching (maybe wishing to be like) others who aspire to higher, difficult things.
    – user39720
    Jun 4, 2013 at 13:20
  • 1
    By the way, in heaven's name is an idiom; in the heaven's name isn't.
    – Colin Fine
    Jun 4, 2013 at 15:25
  • @ Colin Fine. You’re correct. ‘the’ is unnecessary. The beginner’s mistake. Jun 4, 2013 at 18:21
  • @Colin, Yoichi: I just corrected that "idiomatic error", but only realised you'd already covered it when I scrolled down to add a comment. So here's my superfluous comment as well, for when a mod clears it all out eventually. Jun 4, 2013 at 20:57

1 Answer 1


It's an allusion to the standard idiom...

gutter press: - reporters or newspapers engaging in sensational journalism, esp. accounts of the private lives of public figures

Obviously some "press barons" get very rich selling tawdry gossip-mongering tabloid newspapers and magazines. If they're not ashamed, they're probably quite happy to watch the money roll in.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.