Keeper of Alastair Campbell's 'news grid' leaves No 10

Paul Brown, the quietly spoken civil servant who has compiled Downing Street's famous "news grid" for more than 12 years is to retire this year – a loss that insiders say will put a huge hole in the Government's publicity machine.

Mr Brown's job is to keep a running diary of every forthcoming announcement by every government department in order to maximise their impact.

Not only that, he had to think ahead to major sporting or television events, to make sure the Government was not made to look silly by holding a press conference that clashed with a cup final.

Though he is unknown to the world outside, he was the civil servant who would telephone a minister's office and gently tell them that they had to postpone a press conference or scrub a press release because the timing was wrong.

The grid system was an innovation introduced by Downing Street's former communications director Alastair Campbell, who asked Mr Brown to set it up and run it a year after Labour's 1997 election victory. As a civil servant, he has carried on in the same job under three Prime Ministers.

But the current issue of the magazine PRWeek reports that Mr Brown is retiring in March, to be replaced by Robin Gordon-Farleigh, who has been doing a similar job of co-ordination, but on a smaller scale, at the Department of Health.

Lance Price, a former Downing Street special adviser, paid tribute to Mr Brown yesterday. "He was magnificent, absolutely superb. He is very quiet and unassuming, but incredibly efficient – the best of what the civil service can produce.

"He completely understood the relationship between civil servants and political advisers. His attention to detail was excellent. Nothing ever zipped past him. He'll be a tremendous loss for Downing Street."