Belfast Telegraph

Malcolm Brodie: He was the man who wrote the stories ... and who made them, too

Executive Editor John Laverty pays heartfelt tribute to Malcolm Brodie, his friend, confidant and mentor

Malcolm Brodie would never have wanted me to write this. For years, he had hinted that he’d already composed his own obituary; all that was missing was the publication date.

A bit morbid, Malky?

“Not really,” he once told me. “I mean, who knows MB better than MB himself?”

Who indeed. And, come to think of it, did we know a better obituary writer?

His were always so readable; he had that knack of striking the right balance between reverence and nostalgia.

I always enjoyed reading them — if you could ‘enjoy’ such things.

Another question. “Malky, why do you use phrases such as “larger than life” and words like “immortal” to describe someone who has just passed away? A little on the ironic side, don’t you think?

He set down his Johnnie Walker Black and water, shot me yet another of those despairing ‘You just don’t get it’ looks and said: “Listen, Schemer (his nickname for me), I’m talking about the spirit of the person. Some day you’ll get it...”

Well, I never did get it. The self-penned obituary, that is.

Did it ever exist? Was it just Malcolm winding us all up?

We’ll probably never know. The thing is, it doesn’t matter. The obit story is just one of oh so many that invite ‘legend’ to join the cacophony of kind words being used to describe Dr Malcolm Brodie MBE since he passed away on Tuesday evening.

His many friends are talking about ‘MB’ today — but the chances are we’d have been talking about him anyway.

We loved Malcolm’s company when he was with us — especially when the ‘aura’ (normally prompted by aforementioned Johnnie Walker Black and water) was upon him and he was holding court.

Even when he wasn’t there, he invariably became the topic of conversation.

Everyone who worked with, or alongside, this dynamic, indefatigable wee man, will have their own ‘Brodie stories’ to tell.

A big favourite (and they all get better with the telling, believe me) emanated from the World Cup (one of the 14 he covered) in Mexico, 1970.

Like so many others, MB was mesmerised by the brilliant Brazilian footballers who won the tournament in thrilling style by trouncing Italy 4-1 in the final.

He wanted his match report intro to reflect that — and, on finally getting through on a rickety transatlantic telephone line to Telegraph copytaker Bob Young, began thus: “Magnifico...magnifico... magnifico...”

The late Mr Young (a ‘Tele’ legend in his own right — and a stranger to both patience and tolerance) barked: “Yes, Malky - I heard you the first time.”

Mind you, at least MB got the whole report through on that occasion.

He wasn’t so lucky on an eastern European sortie a couple of years later, when an Irish League team succumbed to heroic, if inevitable, defeat.

“They died with their boots on...”

Click. Silence.

And that was all he wrote — or, rather, all the copy he got across. The shortest Malcolm Brodie match report of all time.

Only marginally longer was my job interview with “Mr Brodie” in his tiny broom cupboard of an office in September 1987.

I’d been working as a news reporter in the Telegraph’s north west office; a vacancy had come up on the sports desk.

The full transcript of that interview:

“Mr Brodie?”

— “What about ye?”

“I’m here to talk to you about the job.”

— “Aye. Do the junior football and the cricket...”

Full point, end par.

It was a life-changing day.

I’d been reading MB’s articles since I was 10-year-old paper boy, delivering the Tele in Ballymena.

Now I’d be working with the doyen himself; it was, to use a football analogy, like a kid breaking into a team peppered with fantastic players.

Jack Magowan, Jimmy Walker, Sammy Hamill... all household names from a great era of newspaper journalism in general, and sports writing in particular.

I might even make my way into some future MB stories; be able to say, like he so often did: “I was there.”

And, thankfully, I was there. In fact, we were there together, so many times, in so many exotic — and, frankly, far from exotic — places.

I had replaced my (now retired) boss in the early Nineties but gained a dear and enduring friend, a confidant, a mentor... and a compelling travelling companion.

Malky (whose leisure wear combo of tee-shirt, tracksuit bottoms and patent leather shoes never really caught the imagination of Paris, Milan or New York fashion houses) was always riveting company; how could he not be, with his encyclopedic knowledge of politics, literature, history, his unique, overflowing reservoir of life experience... we’ll take sport and football — and cricket, his secret passion — as a given.

He was hilarious — though not always intentionally so. ‘Endearingly accident prone’ could sum the man up. On a plane to the 1994 World Cup (my first, his 11th) in the United States, he spotted a male crew member walking down the aisle.

“Right, friend,” said the much-travelled Glaswegian, “I’ll have a Johnnie Walker Black with water — no ice, mind — and a vodka and DC for my son here ...”

The man replied: “I’m sure you’ll eventually get it — but I’m the pilot ...”

He was always winding people up, with Jackie Fullerton a favourite target. MB invariably introduced the TV sports presenter as “The Singer” or "Billy Bingham" to confusion and hilarity.

‘Jeekie’ finally got his revenge by telling Malcolm, outside a foreign stadium, that “jugodores” meant “reporters” in Spanish (it means “players”) — and to follow the signs.

The boul’ Jackie subsequently creased up watching MB — by then in his sixties and boasting that trademark rotund belly and spindly legs — insist to bemused security guards that he was one of the “jugodores” and would they please let him in.

Jackie was also there in Portugal the time Malky fell over in mid-boast. We’d been winding him up all night about how good the new generation of sports writers were ... and that the 'Brodie era' was toast.

“Let me tell you this - absolutely straight,” said Malcolm, by now agitated and leaning back in his chair, “MB is still the bes...”

The chair toppled over, and (a thankfully uninjured) Malcolm suddenly took on the appearance of an upturned turtle.

Strangely enough, he never found the time to relay these tales to his beloved wife Margaret, yet on every occasion he rang her at home he would ask: “Is that you, pet..?”

I was praying that once, just once, she’d launch into an expletive-ridden version of “Who do you THINK it is, dear?” But, sadly, that never happened.

Ever the diplomat; in a Parisien restaurant one night, Malcolm looked over, distinctly unimpressed, at a group of inebriated diners, before opining: “The problem is, these people have no class” — before taking his soup bowl with both hands and slurping down the rest of its contents.

At least that soup was warm, unlike ‘the gazpacho incident.’

Malcolm — who defied all medical science with his lifelong staple diet of vegetable broth followed by steak (very well done, cremated if poss.) and chips — railed at a Spanish waiter for delivering “cold soup” to the table.

“Stick that in the microwave for a minute or two, like a fella,” he ordered a by-now deeply confused member of the catering staff.

Even the one major stand-up row of our three-decades-long friendship climaxed with a large proportion of the watching Northern Ireland football media left in convulsions.

Worse-for-wear MB: “Why are we arguing like this, Schemer? You have been like a father to me.”

Worse-for-wear (but still pedantic) John: “Don’t you mean ‘like a son?’”

Worse-for-wear MB: “Aye, you’re right. I have been like a son to you ...”

And we ended up embracing each other. Just like father and son. Or was it the other way round?

Recalling that night in Dublin always makes me smile.

Not on Tuesday night, though. Not just before midnight when the call came through; a call from someone who would never phone you that late.

No words were necessary then. There simply aren’t enough now.

The world is suddenly a lesser place for not having Malky in it.

How many individuals, beyond your parents, can you say have genuinely shaped — indeed, changed the course of — your life?

What can you say about this remarkable man that hasn’t already been said so many times over the past 86 years?

Perhaps Malcolm Brodie has already told me. Like he said: “Some day you’ll get it.” And now I finally have.

Larger than life. Immortal.

Belfast Telegraph


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