Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 December 2014

Boss. Friend. Mentor. Legend.

Jim Gracey remembers his old sports editor Malcolm Brodie - often imitated, but never replicated

Legend is a word too easily applied in sports journalism today. Malcolm Brodie went way beyond the true sense of the word.

When Malcolm conferred legend status on a sportsman or woman, you knew greatness was a given.

Best, Jennings, Peters, Kyle, Gregg, Bingham, Armstrong, Whiteside ... think of a Northern Ireland, or even global, sporting hero and Malcolm not only charted and encouraged their careers from the embryonic stage.

He also became their friend and confidante, someone whose companionship and advice they cherished and relied upon.

Quite simply, he was trusted - by his subject matters and by his readers. His credibility was unquestioned.

When arguments broke out over disputed incidents in a game, they would invariably be settled by the final riposte: "Read Brodie."

Today's celebrity culture of instant fame for doing nothing at all dismayed Malcolm.

He lived in a world of real people and not just the big stars who gave him their stories.

Although a proud Scot, first and foremost (to be summoned to his office for a "wee dram" on Burns Night, St Andrew's Day and Hogmanay was a Brodie and Telegraph tradition), he was never more at home than among the ordinary, decent people of Northern Ireland, whom he regarded as the salt of the earth. Above all, he treasured and shared the unique Ulster humour.

To Malcolm, everyone had a story to tell. You just had to tease it out and he was the king of that in his own engaging and disarming way. You couldn't fail to learn from Malcolm.

He also believed respect and standing had to be earned through achievement and, where possible, intertwined with entertainment and a certain style and class.

And above all, always remembering where you came from and never, ever losing the run of yourself.

Malcolm's own definition of greatness is why, in my book, and indeed all who were fortunate to know and work with him, I consider him to be more than a legend. Colossus doesn't do him justice.

Blessed with a wonderful way with words, he was talented, humorous, quick-witted, generous and a pillar of humanity. There was never a dull moment with Malcolm around.

A great boss (we'd have faced the devil to bring back our stories to him and, in turn, he showed a genuine interest in and concern for his staff and their families), he was from the old school of journalism, where contacts were cultivated and prized and the pursuit of the story was paramount.

Those of us he took under his wing were fortunate indeed. We owe our careers and all we now have to the education he gave us. Not just in journalism, but in the school of life.

I travelled the world with Malcolm and it was a journey of learning. He worked us hard but, boy, did it pay off with exclusive after exclusive and, at the same time, he made it fun, often hilarious, in fact, with his tales of characters of old and their escapades.

And to end the day, his trademark Johnnie Walker Black to accompany his favourite meal, ordered in his own international language - steako, chippo, well-dunno.

There is a downside to the perceived glamour of globetrotting sports journalism and it comes in the long hours in soulless departure lounges, deserted hotel bars late at night in the bowels of charmless stadia in the hours before and after kick off.

Here is where Malcolm came into his own, regaling colleagues with his stories - gloom was one word not in his vast vocabulary.

He was also incredibly resourceful, instilling in us from an early age the importance of getting our stories back to the office ahead of deadline, no matter how seemingly insurmountable the difficulties, and there were many in the days before instant electronic transmission, mobile phones and laptops.

The old Eastern Bloc, in particular, was a communications nightmare, but Malcolm taught us how to cut through all that ... beg, borrow, but never steal (he had values he imposed upon us, as well).

His career spanned seven decades of ever-accelerating change in the industry, but never a dinosaur, he embraced every technological advance and made those work for him.

That was when we became the teachers, showing him how to operate mobiles and laptops until he again became the master.

Social media bemused him and it would have been a source of amazement and then great amusement to him that his passing was announced on Twitter.

His great friend and companion Jackie Fullerton said yesterday there will never be another like him. How true. But he will live on in the multitude of memories he has bequeathed us. All of them guaranteed to raise a smile when the grief has subsided.

Since he came 'off the road', his presence on international trips carried on with 'Malcolm stories' still told to while away the downtime, often mimicked in his distinctive Scottish tones (it is a sign of a strong personality never to lose your accent, no matter how many years away from home).

But like his great idol, Frank Sinatra, no one quite did it his way.

That was Malcolm. Often imitated, never replicated.

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