Aspects: And It's Goodbye from Him; Chief Feature Writer Jason Beattie Talks to Michael Brunson, ITN's Retiring Political Editor, on a Life in Front of the Camera
Ibegan my interview with Michael Brunson by paying him a compliment. He had, I said, been the only political commentator to predict correctly the result of the 1992 General Election.
'Ah yes,' said the man who had covered five elections for ITN, 'that one.'
'It was the day before polling day and Julia Somerville asked me who was going to win. Normally we discuss the questions she is going to ask beforehand but she threw that one in without warning.
'And I came up with the answer 'my head and the polls say Labour will win but my heart goes for the Tories'.
'I was quite closely in touch with the Conservative party machine and I kept on asking them 'how are you doing in the marginals?' and by that time it was clear the Tories had mounted a fantastic operation and they told me they were calling people five times to get them to vote and by contrast Labour had not done enough work. So it was the marginals wot did it.
'When Julia asked me the question I couldn't say the Tories were on the point of winning it because I would have been accused of influencing the polls so that's why I came out with the head and heart thing,' he said.
You can learn two things from this anecdote both of which are a credit to Michael Brunson: firstly, despite his position as one of the most influential political journalists in Britain, he was still prepared to do the leg work: if he had not rung round the marginals, he would not have been able to predict John Major's victory and secondly, he took his responsibility to report the news as impartially as possible very seriously.
Although it may not always seem that way, it is far harder for a journalist to be unbiased than to stick to an ideological line. Comment is not only free, it is easy.
Brunson is particularly proud of his reputation for impartiality. We may remember his inadvertent 'bastards' scoop with John Major, or his theatrical gestures as he brandished yet another leaked document and his cheery introductions (he began one broadcast with the words 'Hold on to your hats') but for the man who has just retired as ITN's political editor, his greatest achievement was his ability to be 'clear, concise and fair'.
Like most jobs on telly, it is much harder than you think.
There is a revealing picture in his autobiography A Ringside Seat of him standing outside the House of Commons doing a report to camera and sandwiched between his legs are a stack of notes while the lines from the microphone are wrapped round his ankles.
We would have seen a lucid analysis on the day's political events, he would have been thinking about the logistics of summing up a complicated scenario in one minute 45 seconds while not tripping over the wires.
He may have come from an establishment background (Bedford School and Oxford) but he has a phenomenal ability to explain complex issues to a mass audience.
His nickname in Westminster is Brunners which smacks of the soubriquets of Test Match Special gang - Johnners, Blowers etc - and like those names, it is used affectionately.
Before our interview, I e-mailed a friend who worked with Brunson at ITN to find out what he was like.
'Great bloke, fantastic sense of humour,' was the reply. This is probably Brunson's saving grace. He may appear a touch pompous but somehow, despite being on television for the last 30 years, he has never lost his sense of the absurd.
A Ringside Seat contains plenty of illustrations of Brunson with Baroness Thatcher and Brunson with Prince Charles but there are also pictures of Brunson in a silly hat and Brunson taking a tumble while trailing Jonathan Aitken.
He tells a wonderful story of his first assignment for ITN. He was asked to report on the latest developments in the controversy within the Roman Catholic Church over the use of the contraceptive pill.
'I decided that in order to do the story I needed to obtain a packet of them and so went to an astonished newsdesk secretary and asked her, 'Are you on the pill, and have you got any with you? …