AT last night’s Scottish Press Awards, political commentator, columnist, broadcaster and author, Tom Brown, was the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award.
This is his acceptance speech:
I want to thank you for this Lifetime Achievement Award – also known as the ‘I thought that old fart was dead’ award. I’m well aware that the real achievement is having a lifetime.
I feel like the delightful Sandra Bullock when she accepted her Oscar last month: “Did I really earn this, or did I just wear you all down?”
I never entered for the Press Awards because I took the view – as I’m sure all tonight’s winners do – that newspapers is a team game. In a very real sense this is also a team award because I share it with my surgeon Mr David Hendry of Gartnavel Hospital – and Marie, my lovely and long-suffering wife, nurse, editor, finance director and one-woman editorial conference. And we all know about editorial conferences – everybody has a say, but there’s only one opinion that matters.
Strangely, when I think back I can only remember the stories I messed up or wish I’d done better. Yes, there have been many highlights – national occasions, touching personal stories, history being made, the elections of Popes and Prime Ministers; more disasters and tragedies than I care to remember.
I’ve also met and worked with human disasters in newspaper offices. As a staffer, I worked for over 20 editors – one was brilliant, three were first-class, most were solid professionals, two were absolute shits and two were certifiably insane. I’ll leave you to decide whether any of the latter two categories are in this room tonight.
There have also been some bizarre episodes, as when I wrote a column about the Glasgow Godfather, Arthur Thomson, a member of whose family was killed in a gang war. Fearlessly (or foolishly), I wrote that was fine as long as these low-lifes were wiping each other out. Odd things happened after that: phone calls telling me where I’d been, cars lurking on street corners. Last year, Marie and I met a bunch of thick-eared gentlemen in a restaurant and one told me I owed him, big time, because he had warned Thompson rubbing me out would cause too much trouble.
He said: “They watched you going into the Daily Record office. That bloody woman, Joan Burnie, was going in at the same time. We told them they could have shot her, but to leave you alone.” ‘Dear Joan’, of course, survived to pick up one of these awards. Just.
I suppose one is supposed to say something serious on occasions like this. I’ll just say two things. One: managements are bonkers if they think they can save newspapers by slashing editorial staffs to the bone. Any corner-shop will tell you that if you cut the quality, you’ll lose customers and you’ll lose sales. So, stop doing it.
Two: I have the utmost faith in the future for journalists. It always comes down to somebody with a notebook and a pen.
I act as a kind of mentor for two or three bright young students on media courses and I tell them: “You’re going to have to be a damned sight better than I ever was.”
Not only will they have to write for print, but for the internet, and do a podcast and make a video, all on the same story on the same day. How they’ll get the background as well, I don’t know. But I’m sure they will – as we have seen tonight, the new generation of journalists are frighteningly young and frighteningly good.
When they ask me for the secrets of success in the Press, I tell them: good English and low cunning. And mobility -always change jobs before they find you out. Well, it’s worked for me,
Someone suggested I should tell some of my war stories from the Crimea. In fact, the Queen and I started our jobs on the same day. My first-ever assignment in February 1952 – do the sum yourselves, I can’t be bothered doing arithmetic since they stopped paying expenses – was to hear the proclamation of the Queen’s accession to the throne being read from Kirkcaldy Town House (it wasn’t official until it was done in Kirkcaldy).
I keep saying I’ll abdicate when she does … but the auld besom keeps hanging on and so do I. It’ll be our diamond jubilee in two years; she’s asked that it be kept low-key – mine will be the usual rammy in which I disgrace myself.
I’m in the Daily Telegraph tomorrow; News of the World last week. I have no shame, I don’t care which Tory tycoon signs the cheques. Why do I go on? Because I can.
I’m like George Burns, the great American comedian, who lived to a considerable age. He booked the London Palladium for his 100th birtrhday performane and damned near made it. He used to say he’d lie in bed in the morning and read the Los Angeles Times and if his name wasn’t in the obituary column, he’d get up. I’m the same – if I see my by-line, I know I’m still here and what’s left of my brain is still working.
So, if you don’t mind – or whether you mind or not – I’ll treat this as a Half A Lifetime Award. I’ll be back to pick up the other half when most of you will have logged off from your terminals.
Thank you again – I am very conscious of the signal honour you have done me.