Brian Vine

Brian Vine, who died on 15 September, aged 73, was one of the most flamboyant characters that even Fleet Street has ever produced.

We will not see his like again because characters in newspapers are no longer encouraged.

Brian Vine did it his way all his life. For him, life was not just the greatest, but the only game in town and he played it to the full.

Laughter and the clink of glasses followed him wherever he went, and, at Costello's, the world-famous New York watering hole, he ruled like a king during his six-year spell as Daily Express New York bureau chief.

The bar never really got going until he arrived every evening at the end of his working day and for the next three hours he would provide a one-man cabaret of anecdote and insult that never failed to hold his audience enthralled.

In his immaculate Savile Row suits, a monocle firmly screwed into his left eye, a silk handkerchief overflowing flamboyantly from his breast pocket, he breezed his way through life leaving everyone trailing in his wake.

He was, however, much more than a character that was twice lifesize. He was, quite simply, the best reporter of his age and his incredible career spanned more than five decades.

His list of scoops was almost endless. He was the man who, with Colin Mackenzie, discovered Ronnie Biggs, the train robber, in his bolthole in Brazil and gave the Daily Express its biggest scoop of the century. He brought Norma Levy, the call-girl whose affair with Lord Lambton had almost brought down the Heath government, back to Britain and kept her under lock and key for a week until together they had told her story to the Daily Express readers.

This was almost too much for his long-suffering and devoted wife Beverley, and to save his marriage he had to persuade me to take over and write her book.

He contrived to sit next to Raine Spencer on a 45-minute plane ride to Paris, and although he had never met her, persuaded her to talk throughout the trip of the feud she was having with her daughter Princess Diana, and was also the man who persuaded the Countess of Lucan to give the first account of the bloodthirsty events at her Belgravia home before the disappearance of her husband Lord Lucan.

He went to South Africa and brought back the 16-year-old runner Zola Budd to run for Britain in the Olympic Games.

He became foreign editor of the Daily Express and assistant editor in charge of news, and was poached by one of his greatest admirers, Sir David English, and came to the Daily Mail as foreign editor and finally managing editor, where part of his responsibility was to oversee reporters expenses.

This last job was a classic case of poacher-turned-gamekeeper because no one knew better how to craft an expense sheet than the inimitable Brian Vine.

He came from a family with ink in their veins. One of eight children, his brother George was a distinguished foreign correspondent while another brother Frank edited a paper in New Zealand.

We started in Fleet Street together — he on the News Chronicle and I on the Daily Express. He was my closest friend for more than 50 years and my best man twice. You cannot ask more than that of anyone.

He was the quintessential Englishman and a man who believed that to be a journalist was the ultimate prize in life, a man whose loyalty to his friends and his employers was never in question, and a man who brought a smile to the lips of everyone even as they simultaneously wiped a tear from their eyes as they heard the news of his passing. He was, for many of us, the greatest reporter who never became an editor.

Vine is survived by his wife Beverley and his only son Alexander, who is in the promotions department of the Daily Mail.

The funeral was due to be held on Thursday (28 September) at St Lawrence's Church, Hungerford. There is to be a memorial service at St Bride's, Fleet Street, probably in January.

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