McConnell: a newsman’s newsman
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 the newspaper.
His job as a South London Press reporter in the Forties to mid-Fifties was a springboard to a remarkable career in the national press.
Brian joined the South London Press in the late Forties, where he was the reporter for Catford and Lewisham.
He stayed at the paper until 1954.
On leaving the SLP, Brian started doing night shifts at the Daily Mirror and he went on to work as crime reporter and court correspondent. By now he was a highly regarded Fleet Street figure and 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 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 of what was to become a fascination with violent or macabre crime.
In 1998, Brian again began writing for the SLP and fans of his memories column will recall many such tales.
His last piece for the paper, printed on 11 June 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.
Brian, who had been suffering from cancer, died at King’s College Hospital on 10 July.
Former colleague Bill Cater, 79, of Midhurst, West Sussex, who worked at the South London Press from 1944 to the early Fifties, said: “I have never met a more enthusiastic journalist. He seemed to know everybody.
“Every morning he would call the local rabbi and local Catholic priest for Lewisham, who were both full of anecdotes. Then he would re-tell the stories to the other one, prompting great rounds of laughter.
“He was a newspaper man’s newspaper man.”
Douglas Nel, South London Press
On the evening of 20 March, 1974, Princess Anne and then husband Captain Mark Phillips were being driven down The Mall when a car skidded to a stop in front of them.
A man leapt out and pulled a gun on them before shooting a police officer who was in the car with the royal couple.
Brian McConnell, travelling in a taxi just ahead of them, jumped out and confronted the gunman, but was shot in the chest.
However the attacker, who had intended to kidnap the princess and ask for a huge ransom, was overpowered, despite shooting another policeman and the royal chauffeur.
Brian lost consciousness but awoke at St George’s Hospital, where he spent a week receiving treatment.
He was later presented with the Queen’s Gallantry Medal at Buckingham Palace.
The Queen said she was saddened to hear of McConnell’s death.