Thu, 20 June, 2024

Brian Sutherland

Posted: June 3rd, 2020

PAT WELLAND has been in touch to let us know that former Daily Mirror man BRIAN SUTHERLAND, “master journalist and master raconteur”, died last week from a stroke after complications. “Bosie” had just marked his 80th birthday. Brian worked principally for the Mirror and Express newspapers in the South and Manchester, with a brief sojourn on the Enquirer in America.

Pat Welland: A lovely man whose gifts as a brilliant production journalist were matched only by his talents to make everyone collapse in laughter at a seemingly inexhaustible string of beautifully honed anecdotes, all delivered with impish smile, a languidly held cigarette and a large Bells. Eccentric, unique and greatly missed.

Alastair McQueen: One of the great characters and one of that gang of us who all made the move from the Mirror in Manchester to London back in the 1970s. He was a superb practitioner of the sub-editor’s art, and will be fondly remembered.

Don Walker: Great guy, he will be sadly missed (see below).

Roy Greenslade: Very sad… good memories of travelling on the milk train from Victoria to Brighton with Brian.

Paul Callan: Very sad to learn of Brian Sutherland’s death. He subbed the Close-Up page which David Bradbury and I wrote each day. He was very skilled and an extremely pleasant companion. Another goes.

DON WALKER has filed this light-hearted memoir for his friend and colleague: BOSIE – THE FINAL STORY

Brian Sutherland was the only man I ever married in a civil ceremony. Well, almost married.

Brian – or “Bosie” as he was known – was one of the most mischievous and hilarious companions I encountered in Fleet Street. And he had some serious competition.

Sadly, he died this week at his seaside home in Saltdean at the age of 80-and-a-half following a stroke. He reached his eighth decade to everyone’s amazement (not least his own) last October 29. Though our marriage plans came to nothing, I still consider us to have been engaged.

Perhaps his biggest and most successful joke was that he dwelt heavily on that fact he was Scottish. He used this regularly to excuse his love of Scotch and various other stereotypical Caledonian tendencies.

But he wasn’t actually a Jock. He was born in the North of England, so a sassenach. True he spent much of his early life in Scotland and spoke with a burr and directness that he felt qualified him to wear a kilt and sgian-dubh (skidoo, ceremonial dagger). But his choice was a smart dark-blue blazer, flannels and a deadly, sharpened, punctilious pencil.

When writing this, it’s almost impossible to know what to leave in or take out. Indeed, the stories of his life and happenstance furnished me with many a par for Revel Barker’s late lamented Gentlemen Ranters internet column. Some of them were even true. The trouble was, every time I went back to Bosie to confirm details the story had changed completely.

He seemed to have worked everywhere and done everything at least twice. Writer, sub, news editor, diary informant, editor, computer expert, trivia know-all. His polymath pretence and cynical sharp eye for detail served him well in the newspaper industry as it then was. I can see him now listening to me while watching my face with those astonishing, piercing blue eyes. He’d shake his head when I finished and usually say: “I’m not buying it, Don. I’m just not buying it.”

Somewhere on the web there’s a video of me playing the sax. The credits end with the phrase: “Are you buying this, Brian?”

He worked on many Fleet Street titles and was sought after in the north and south as a speedy operator who could turn round a splash in short order. Indeed, he was one of the more talented subs who was dragged over to the American tabloid, the National Enquirer. English news subs were reckoned then to be the best in the world. But he couldn’t live the American life and returned eventually to England and the Mirror.

He regretted this sojourn, he told me, because it bit a lump out of his Mirror pension.

But it gave him a fund of lines and jokes to feed to an audience, any audience, from his favourite bar stool in the Rottingdean Members-only Club, or Mirror drinking hole The Stab.

On the Enquirer, he prepared and designed a page featuring a man who tried to break some record or other while hanging upside down from a flag pole. His headline was simplistic: “Bob’s hobby is hanging upside down”. The page went to the editor for checking and was swiftly returned to Brian with this legend of rejection scrawled across it: “Well, it would be, wouldn’t it!? Change headline.”

Puzzled, Brian showed the correction to an American colleague, asking: “What does this mean?” The newspaperman smiled and said: “According to the editor, the word hobby is kids’ slang for penis. So in this case it would be hanging upside down, wouldn’t it?”

Bosie’s stories and jokes, and his love of telling them, became common currency throughout the industry. Among them:

How he ended up with a full plate of fresh chicken curry in his brief case. The night he danced the night away in Moscow with two lovely, be-ribboned malishkas. Why he buried a full set of dining implements in the wee small hours somewhere on the South Downs. How he solved an intractable sanitary problem with a British Airways plastic knife and fork.

And why WAS he called Bosie? When he first joined the Mirror as a news sub there was a popular film about Oscar Wilde starring Peter Finch and John Fraser. One of the other subs pointed out Brian then resembled Fraser. The character Fraser played? Oscar Wilde’s trouble-making friend Lord Alfred Douglas, known as Bosie.

And how come the two of us were prepared join forever in conjugal bliss? We spent many joyful hours on summer afternoons in the Coach and Horses, watching the girls go by on Rottingdean beach and discussing what was horribly wrong with the world we had finally finished conquering.

“You know, Bri,” I said once, “there is no reason why you and I couldn’t get hitched these days. Anybody can marry anybody now.” I could see he found the whole idea wonderful in its ridiculousness. Those bright blue eyes widened at the possibilities that I’d just opened up for stretching out, elaborating, developing and stitching together yet another Bosie story.

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