My Mentor: Emma Duncan on Anthony Sampson

'He taught me that journalism was both deeply serious and hugely enjoyable'
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The Independent Online

I started my career at ITN in the days before budget cuts drained the alcohol out of the business. It was drunken and entertaining, but writing scripts for the One O'Clock News was a bit dull and I was looking for something interesting to do on the side. I found out that Anthony Sampson was looking for a researcher for a new edition of The Anatomy of Britain, so I called him up and he took me on.

He taught me that journalism was both deeply serious and hugely enjoyable. His experience as founding editor of Drum, the first magazine aimed at black readers in South Africa, persuaded him that journalism was political. That journalists are not just observers but also actors, who have a duty to expose politicians to scrutiny, be they apartheid human rights-abusers in South Africa or the democratically-elected lot in Britain.

At the same time, he showed me how much fun the business was. He was a tremendous gossip. After I stopped working for him, we had lunch every few months. He'd lean across the table, and say in his growly voice, with a conspiratorial glint in his eye, "There's something rather interesting going on you might want to look into."

He also knew everybody. That wasn't just a result of his charm. He worked at it. We'd go to the House of Commons and hang around in the Central Lobby. Then he would suddenly take off, with me alongside. He'd screech to a halt beside his quarry, and affect astonishment at bumping into them. I always wished I had his talent for making contacts.

But the thing that marked him out most was his enthusiasm. He never lost that. He died suddenly last year, when he was nearly 80. I saw him the week before he died, and he was as full of projects and stories as ever. He taught me that if you lose your enthusiasm, it's over: you might as well get a real job.

Emma Duncan is the deputy editor of The Economist

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