James Brolan Remembered

This is an undated picture provided by CBS News showing soundman James Brolan. AP

The eulogy was written by CBS News Correspondent Mark Phillips and was originally published on June 13, 2006.
I see in the notice the family put out for this service that the total points in the Scrabble depiction of James' name comes to 22. James would never accept that. Surely there were some double- or triple-letter scores on the board that would have raised his total to some unassailable level.

James was a double- or triple-score kind of guy -- and not just in Scrabble. With James, you didn't just get another crew member... a sound man. You got a humorist, a script consultant, a social worker, a cook, a fashion consultant, a therapist, a pharmacist and a director of games.

On that point, let me just clear up a misconception that somebody somewhere had accused James of cheating at Scrabble. Nobody really accused James of cheating. What some people do say is that he just had his own view of the rules.

So let's just admit for the final time... Of course you can "avenue" roads -- as in the road needed to be widened, so it was "avenued." Word score: 11.

Of course... there's such a thing as a qadi Q_A_D_I (not Katie), except it isn't the obscure sailor's knot James said it was -- it's an Islamic judge. Score: 14. You challenged James at your peril ... and not just around the Scrabble board was he usually the smartest guy in the room.

If there's a Scrabble heaven, it's a good bet that James is in it... and I'm pretty sure that there, you get to make -- or bend -- your own rules. But then again, so does everybody else.

James was a rule bender -- but in a good way. He was a creative rule bender. Once when he was part of a camera team that was being denied entrance to an even, he looked around saw a broom and some cleaning equipment, picked it up, talked his way past the guards saying he was a cleaner -- and staked out a prime position for his cameraman.

Another time, when he similarly denied access to a fashion show --Alexander McQueen I think it was -- James noticed a flower shop across the street. In he went, bought a bouquet, walked up to the security guard saying he had flowers to deliver for Mr. McQueen, was let right in -- and staked out a prime position for his team.

No wonder cameramen used to fight over him. One said famously that having James go work with someone else felt like they had stolen your girlfriend.

James was popular for another reason as well: He wasn't only the smartest guy in the room; he was also the funniest. A James one-liner could be devastating and would often be all you remembered from a trip or story

When he and Mat and Bob Woodruff were embedded with the U.S. military during the Iraq invasion, he dubbed their little gang The Desert Prats. What the Iraqis thought of that emblazoned on the side of their Humvee, I'm not sure, but it confused the hell out of the Marines.

The helmet he wore bore his name and blood type on the front -- and across the back it was the phrase "make tea, not war," which I think was the battle cry from his old regiment The Royal Green Jackets. If it isn't, maybe it should be.

Having helped conquer the country -- after a fashion -- James may have single-handedly inspired the insurgency. He was shooting prayers in a mosque in Sadr City -- in Muktader al Sadr's mosque, actually. When all the men knelt in prayer -- their foreheads on the ground in rows as you've all seen -- James was kneeling on the end of one of those rows fiddling with his sound mixer and noticed the cameraman panning over. Thinking quickly, he knelt down too.

Now James always had a problem with his trouser belt line when he knelt over -- a throwback, perhaps, from his decorator and builder days. When the men behind him lifted their heads, the view they got of James was probably more than they cared for. Let's just say they had somewhere to park their bikes. Uproar ensued. Sensing a problem, the crew's security adviser moved, in putting his vast experience in hostile environments to work. Here's what we're going to do, he said. We're gonna leg it. The rest is history.

James did it again after particularly nasty recent interview with the U.S. commander in Iraq in which, as the questions got harder and harder, the commander got more and more monosyllabic and sour. That guy, James later said, must be the battalion's chief lemon taster. If only we could put lines like that in the scripts.

Another time he was miking an interview with a bunch of Iraqis -- holding the boom above their heads as the reporter asked question after question. He must have held it there for half an hour -- never complaining. Finally the reporter hit on a line of questions that worked and the answers came boom, boom, boom... just what they had been looking for. "That's great," the reporter said -- thanks. James looked at him, dropped his aching arms and said, "why didn't you ask those questions at the beginning?"
  • Mark Phillips

    Mark Phillips returned to the CBS News London bureau as a correspondent in 1993. He has covered many major stories since then, including the war in the Balkans, the death of Princess Diana and the weapons inspection conflicts in Iraq.

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