My Mentor: Michael Buerk On Martin Bell

'He was brilliant and never went into decline. We all knew he was the best'
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The Independent Online

I first met Martin when I was a grubby newspaper hack in south Wales in 1969. It was my first job, but he was already a television journalist. He wasn't in his white jacket, but in a dark shirt, which was terribly bohemian for the time. Back then television reporters and crews were very rare, and I remember thinking, "I'd quite like to be him."

About five years later, I eventually became a BBC network television reporter in London. There were only 12 or 13 national reporters at the BBC at that time. They were all men, and Martin was the alpha male.

There was something Victorian about him - he was very reticent, dispassionate and bristling with integrity. The more I learnt about television news reporting, the more I realised just how absolutely brilliant he was - on three levels.

The first was integrity: you just knew that he wasn't making it up.

The second was as a technician. Every Martin Bell piece was like a watch - a little jewelled machine, carefully put together. He so cleverly managed to overlap commentary and picture that you couldn't get a knife into it even if you were stupid enough to want to do so.

The third thing was how he did it. He never wrote any of his scripts, but would walk up and down, rattling the coins in his jacket pocket and polishing the phrases.

He continued to be brilliant and never went into decline. We all knew he was the best. If you look back at the television reporting of the 1970s and 80s, you will see that everyone was trying to sound like Martin Bell.

Don't Get Me Started: Michael Buerk on Animal Rights, Human Wrongs is on Five on 22 August