Posted: May 11th, 2011
Brian McConnell has died, at the age of 75. His outstanding career in journalism spanned more than 60 years, many of them spent working on Fleet Street. He was also honoured by the Queen for an extraordinary act of bravery when he helped foil an attempt to kidnap Princess Anne. Douglas Nel looks back at his remarkable life.
AN ENGAGING writer with a keen, inquiring mind, Brian McConnell gave pleasure to legions of fans who eagerly looked forward each week to his “memories” pieces in the South London Press.
The column ran for six years until he was taken ill last month – but it was not the first time Brian had worked for this newspaper.
Early in his career his job as a South London Press reporter was a springboard to a remarkable career in the national press.
The son of a surveyor Brian was born in Wallsend, on the outskirts of Newcastle, but lived most of his life in South London.
The family moved to Woodmansterne Road, Streatham Vale, in his early childhood and he attended Woodmansterne Road School before wartime evacuation.
On his return to London, like many children at the time, he attended whatever school was available. These included St Joseph’s College, Knights Hill, West Norwood, a Jewish orphanage and a home for unmarried mothers. Unusually, his lessons included shorthand and typing, and on leaving school aged 14 his father secured him his first job in journalism at the Bible of local government, the Municipal Journal.
In the late 1940s Brian joined the South London Press, where he was the reporter for Catford and Lewisham. Apart from two years’ National Service in the RAF, he stayed at the paper until 1954, marrying Margaret Walden in 1952. They had been pupils together at Woodmansterne Road School and met again after the war.
On leaving the South London Press, Brian started doing night shifts at the Daily Mirror and he went on to work as a crime reporter and a court correspondent. He also wrote for the renowned Live Letters column.
By now he was a highly regarded Fleet Street figure he was appointed news editor at the Sun after it became tabloid in 1969.
He also freelanced for a number of other national newspapers and other publications, but he became equally well known as the author, or co-author, of a number of books.
The first to be published, in 1969, was Assassination, a study of notorious murders and attempted murders of the famous from Trotsky to JFK. It was an early example what was to become a fascination with violent or macabre crime.
In 1998, Brian again began writing for the South London Press and fans of his “memories” column will recall many such tales. His last ever piece for the paper, printed on June 11 this year, was the riveting story of the brutal murder of Mary Sophia Money in 1905.
Brian, who had lived in the same house in Dulwich Village since 1965, edited the Dulwich Society Newsletter from 1994 to 2000. And, right until the end of his life, he retained a keen interest in local history, continuing his dogged pursuit of stories.
Paying tribute to Brian the current editor of the newsletter, Brian Green, said he had “remained a newshound” to the end. Mr Green revealed that just before Brian was taken into hospital earlier this month he was still investigating why a Victoria Cross with Dulwich connections apparently awarded in the Maori Wars did not appear in the national records.
Mr Green also recalled how Brian, a well-known figure in Dulwich Village, was unfailingly courteous and friendly.
He said: “He was known to be a lover of hats which he invariably doffed to anyone he should meet in the street, male or female.”
Brian McConnell’s wife, Margaret, 76, said his love of South London ran deep.
She told the South London Press: “He had a great affection for the area.”
Brian, who had been suffering from cancer, died at King’s College Hospital on Saturday evening (10/7).
Margaret said his love of journalism remained undiminished right up until the time of his death.
She said: “He was a journalist to his fingertips.”
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