Gerry Brown, who has died at the age of 60, was a great reporter who led the way on a host of major tabloid stories in a career spanning 40 years.
He had the inside track when adventurer John Miller tried to kidnap train robber Ronnie Biggs from his bolthole in Brazil. He was on the spot when an aide of Conservative Party vice-chairman Jeffrey Archer paid prostitute Monica Coghlan £2,000 for her silence – an episode that eventually led to Archer being sent to prison for perjury. In between Gerry exposed drug dealers and gun runners and filed from war zones and showbiz parties.
Without doubt the highlight of Gerry’s career was his time at the News of the World, where he specialised in exposing household names as part of a team of talented investigators.
Gerry was the consummate modern reporter and in recent years established his own genre, which he proudly called “tabloid-techno”. In an age where the rich and famous had instant access to libel lawyers, Gerry employed a range of miniature tape recorders and micro-video cameras to establish beyond doubt the truth of a tabloid exposÃ©.
Gerry was born in the Gorbals, the son of a Bren gunner in the Royal Scots Fusiliers. As a teenager he joined the Air Training Corps, forging his date of birth so that he qualified as a glider pilot aged 15.
But a motorbike accident put paid to an RAF flying career and gave him his trademark broken nose (he was often mistaken for actor John Thaw).
He first got ink in his veins working as a copy boy on Glasgow’s Daily Record and then landed a job at the East London News Agency. He cut his teeth on London’s court and crime scene before returning to work for the Daily Mail in Scotland.
His CV then became stamped with a roll call of the top jobs in journalism: BBC News, World in Action, The Sun and in the early Seventies, five years in the US working on the National Enquirer.
His career was full of high drama and comedy, highlighted by episodes such as Biggs’s kidnapping.
Gerry had befriended John Miller, whose pet project was to bring the runaway robber back to face justice in Britain – for a fee, of course. Gerry was a freelance at the time and scooped Fleet Street by joining Miller and his motley crew in Barbados. Jim Davidson was there to witness the high jinks and hiding in the background was Harrods boss Sir Hugh Fraser, who bankrolled the kidnap attempt.
Predictably, it all ended in farce, with the Barbados special branch suspecting Gerry of trafficking in cocaine while Scotland Yard and Brazilian diplomats fought over Biggs. Gerry hightailed it back to Britain, but got his scoop from under the noses of Fleet Street’s finest.
A painstaking inquiry led Gerry and his team to Coghlan, who was alleged to have had a liaison with Archer. The outcome was that Archer arranged for a middleman to hand over £2,000 to Coghlan.
Much of Gerry’s work was highly dangerous and vastly in the public interest. He exposed gun runners and was one of the first reporters into Saudi Arabia to report on the build-up of British troops after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990.
In recent years, Gerry worked closely with NoW investigations editor and former British Press Awards reporter of the year Mazher Mahmood, who often used the disguise of an Arab sheikh in his undercover inquiries.
Mahmood said: “Gerry was there as one of the fake sheikh’s minders during the award-winning Newcastle bosses story when we exposed Freddie Shepherd and Dougie Hall in a brothel in Spain. He was the sheikh’s lackey when we caught out Sophie Wessex using her royal title in business.
“After a recent job in Marbella, where Gerry and I were exposing an Arab terrorist selling a dirty bomb, he turned to me and said, ‘You know something, Maz, you and I could never become top executives because we’ve got investigations in our blood.
We’re going to die on the road, and to be honest I can’t think of a better way for us to go.’ “They were prophetic words, because on Sunday, 11 January, Gerry sadly died peacefully in his car while he was working on a job for me, researching a drug ring in Aberdeen.”
NoW managing editor Stuart Kuttner said: “Gerry Brown was a first-rate journalist from the old school.
His speciality was to be at the heart of the big exposÃ©s that are the News of the World’s trademark.
“Gerry worked closely with award-winning investigator Mazher Mahmood, providing specialist video and recording support to the newspaper’s reporting team.
“We are pleased that Gerry’s son, Conrad, is following in his father’s outstanding footsteps and is a staff journalist at the News of the World. We offer our sympathy to his wife Morag and the family.”
NoW senior executive editor Alex Marunchak said: “I knew and worked with Gerry Brown for more than 23 years. In the News of the World’s Fleet Street days, he formed an unbeatable team with his old friend Trevor Kempson.
“Gerry was always an example to young journalists with his enthusiasm and ideas. He worked tirelessly until he got his story. He always had great good humour, so much so that often the people he exposed ended up being his friends, despite the fact that he had sent some of them to prison. He was a unique man and his loss to the News of the World is immeasurable.”
Former NoW deputy editor Paul Connew, said: “I shall always remember the skill and determination he displayed in the News of the World’s classic exposÃ© of TV presenter Frank Bough’s ‘prostitution and cocaine’ scandal. It caused a sensation at the time, given Bough’s public image as the squeaky clean frontman of breakfast and sports television.
“The look on the face of a lawyer threatening the paper with all manner of dire legal consequences was memorable when we played the lawyer a tape recording of himself suggesting to certain key witnesses that they should commit perjury.”
Freelance John Lisners said: “Gerry Brown was a colourful, intelligent, old-style Fleet Street reporter with a flair for investigative journalism. He had many friends and admirers and lived a larger-thanlife existence. He could also sort out the wheat from the chaff. Hemingway once wrote: ‘The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof, shit detector.’ Gerry was a good writer.”
Gerry is survived by his widow, Morag, daughter Cassandra and son Conrad.
His funeral will be held on 26 January, 2004 at 12.30pm at Grenoside Crematorium, North Chapel, 5 Skew Hill Lane, Grenoside, Sheffield. Friends and colleagues are welcome to attend, but Gerry’s family has requested that no flowers be sent.
Dave Rigby, deputy news editor, News of the World