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Renowned journalism training chief dies aged 95

A journalism training boss credited with launching the careers of some of the industry’s biggest stars has died aged 95.

John Brownlee, left, headed the renowned Thomson Regional Newspapers training centre in Newcastle from 1969 until 1983.

Future media glitterati who passed through his hands during the period including Andrew Marr, James Naughtie, Lionel Barber and Sally Magnusson,.

Such was John’s contribution to the centre that it became known as the ‘Brownlee Academy.’

John died after a short illness in the early hours of Friday morning, the day after his 95th birthday.

As well as running the TRN training centre he previously enjoyed a distinguished career in newspapers in his native North East.

Born in Blyth in 1918, he started out as a junior reporter with the Blyth News before his career was interrupted by the Second World War when he served as a petty officer in the Royal Navy.

After the war he began a long association with the Journal and Evening Chronicle, remaining loyal to the titles despite several offers to work for the nationals.

In 1969, he and Walter Greenwood were asked to set up journalist training centres in Newcastle and Cardiff, teaching journalism law, local government and shorthand as well as the essentials of reporting.

Over the next 14 years hundreds of young journalists graduated from the “Brownlee Academy”, with many going on to become leading names in the profession.

In later years he and his wife Margaret settled in North Yorkshire, where he continued to keep in touch with many of his former trainees.

Margaret died earlier this year and John is survived by his son Geoff, the former head of corporate affairs at Yorkshire Television, three grandchildren and four great grandchildren.

His grandson Nick graduated from the Thomson Training Centre in 1990 and went on to work for the Evening Chronicle.

11 comments

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  • November 25, 2013 at 2:47 pm
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    When regional groups had their own training centres, John and his colleagues delivered leadership, sharing personal experiences of “how it was done” and “how it should be done” – this was true journalism training and it left its mark on many. Thanks to him and the men and women who “knew” what journalism really was from their lives actually doing it, the profession became a world leader.

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  • November 25, 2013 at 3:59 pm
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    We’ll never forget the Brownlee Academy – a privilege to be taught by John Brownlee and Walter Greenwood.

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  • November 25, 2013 at 7:12 pm
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    A terrific journalist, a thoroughly nice man and a wonderful innings. Remembered and respected everywhere.

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  • November 26, 2013 at 7:12 am
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    There were such happy days with John – and Walter Greenwood – infused with a generous spirit from first to last. Anyone who never heard John’s roasted bagpipe story led an incomplete life… He was a lovely man, commited to his trade and all the people who care about it. We all remember him with affection and gratitude.

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  • November 26, 2013 at 9:58 am
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    I first encountered John when I was a trainee on the Morpeth Herald. His enthusiasm was infectious, his knowledge unrivalled and he was someone who got a thrill from helping young trainees make their mark. He kept in touch with many of those he mentored and was an advocate of the value of local and regional newspapers throughout his life.
    My thoughts are with his family.

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  • November 26, 2013 at 10:28 am
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    John worked with my Grandfather (who sadly didn’t return from the war) on the Blyth News and knew my Grandmother well, who started her career on the Shields Gazette. Sad news indeed and the loss of an icon of good journalism.

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  • November 26, 2013 at 1:20 pm
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    What a wonderful introduction to the inky trade we all had, in that upstairs office in the Bigg Market in the autumn/winter of ’82. Happy days with great mentors – Walter, Brian Marsden and dear old John.

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  • November 27, 2013 at 11:04 pm
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    Sad to note the passing of John he and his late wife Margaret were family friends and former neighbours of ours from the mid 1960’s when they had the Cottage next to ours, he also played a part in getting my late Father a job at the Evening Chronicle after he suffered redundentcy.

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  • November 28, 2013 at 5:35 pm
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    RIP Uncle John, it was an honor. When you retired, my boss in New York was telling me about this head of journalism that just retired in Britain and what an interesting career he had led. I told him “I know, he was my uncle”. His expression was priceless.

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  • December 4, 2013 at 12:31 pm
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    I was one of the lucky wannabe’s to be on TRN’s first school-leavers’ course at Newcastle – in John’s memorable words: “We’re becoming a bit tired of teaching geaduates who think their first job is going to be as a Guardian leader writer.”
    On the surface, he had a formidable, charismatic presence – the blazers, cravat, horn-rimmed spec’s, slicked-back hair and a large or small cigar, depending on the time of day – and, of course, that booming voice, which usually improved after a couple of pints of “eectric soup”. But show him your efforts and the teacher in him shone through.
    We all read of “name” journo’s, both during their lives and on their passing, but here was a man at the very coal face of journalism who remained largely unknown – yet his tireless encouragement has been responsible for teaching “old school” journalism (“Get the story, shake it by its neck, but for god’s sake, get it right!”) to hundreds of reporters.
    Easily the most influential, non-family man in my life – I may have had the basic desire, but it was John who gave me the passion and for that I thank him from the bottom of my heart. He changed my life.
    R.I.P. a truly great journalist.

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  • December 4, 2013 at 3:18 pm
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    Could anyone share the roasted bagpipe story here in honour of John’s memory, per chance?

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