My Mentor: Sarah Montague on Paul Brown

'He was a wiry, Gauloise-smoking, black coffee-drinking, wired man'
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The Independent Online

"The one person who comes to mind, early on in my career, was Paul Brown at Channel Television in Guernsey and Jersey.

"The one person who comes to mind, early on in my career, was Paul Brown at Channel Television in Guernsey and Jersey.

I was a complete waste of space, so crap that I had been sacked from a couple of jobs - one as a stockbroker in the City, one for a friend. I knew that broadcast journalism was what I wanted to do, so, in 1991, aged 25, I went home to Guernsey and begged the local TV and radio station to let me make coffee for two weeks. I'd never made coffee before in my life, but once the fortnight was up, I started bringing in stories, and they started paying me. I was a reporter there for three years.

Paul Brown was in his forties: a small, wiry, energetic, Gauloise-smoking, black coffee-drinking, wired man who did The Times crossword over lunch in 15 minutes. And a brilliant all-round journalist and mentor.

He knew how to direct, edit, report - any job he did, he did better than everyone else. He'd get bored some days and so direct the programme. He loved all aspects of television journalism and was offered jobs all over the place, but decided to stay in the Channel Islands because he loved them. He was infuriating to work alongside because he was quicker and funnier than everyone else. Just when you were feeling frustrated with him he'd say something to make you laugh, however stressful things got.

He wasn't always liked, but had a huge impact on everyone who went through the channel. We used to joke that it was 'Brown University' because Paul would take new people under his wing and bash out the edges. He taught us how to write.

You'd be writing copy, and he'd come up and say, 'This is bollocks. Cut this. Tell a story. What would you say if you walked into a pub and had just seen a fire or a crash outside? Tell it straight, no nonsense.'

I learnt all the basic rules of journalism from him: if there's any word that isn't needed, get rid of it. Who, what, when, where, why, how. Use the pyramid: the first sentence should tell the story, then build from there. Still now, sometimes, I think, 'I'm so far away from the basics. What would Paul think?'.

He died four or five years ago. It was very sudden and very sad - he was so young. One day he was whingeing as usual and presenting the news, the next he died. I couldn't say, 'I owe my career to Paul Brown'. I don't think like that. But nobody since has had such an effect on me. I still imagine him looking over my shoulder and tutting at my script.

Sarah Montague presents 'Today' on BBC Radio 4