Norrie Bryce was a no -nonsense, hard news reporter – he disliked the label “journalist” – who started on a local paper, moved to the national press then worked for the Government Information Service and in public relations with two major Scottish companies, eventually setting up his own.
Born in Armadale in 1935, he worked first with the Linlithgowshire Gazette; then moved to the Edinburgh Evening Dispatch; the Daily Record (1958-60); the Scottish Daily Express (1960-64) and finally the Scottish Daily Mail (1964-65).
Service with the Royal Air Force (1952-56) including a stint in Berlin, saw a break in his press career, but when he returned to Edinburgh, colleagues remember him regaling them with many dramatic tales from the times he flew – a connection he cherished and retained as a frequent visitor to the capital’s RAF Club.
In those days, there was always a clear distinction between someone working in newspapers and those who opted for the dreaded “PR” world – viewed then with distrust by many professional newspeople.
Yet, towards the end of his own working life, he had managed to bridge that gap successfully and combine the two, transferring into PR while retaining his professional reputation with former colleagues, some of whom found it hard to admit his clear commercial success, despite the impressive financial rewards he was attracting – or the blue Rolls Royce with special number plates he enjoyed driving through Edinburgh, though he often complained it kept breaking down.
As a businessman, Norrie worked in press liaison with Cruden, the builders, 1969-74, and Len Lothian, storage specialists, eventually setting up his own company, Logistics, in this emerging market. In the recent book Voices of Scottish Journalists, written for the Scottish Working People’s History Trust, Dr Ian Macdougall notes that Norrie worked in his company Logistics from 1974-82; edited the Majorca Daily Bulletin 1982-90 then again with Logistics (1990-99) before writing My Thoughts (Kidderminster), in 2006.
Under his control, the Majorcan publication became the island’s top selling, English language newspaper.
He joined the Government’s Information Service (known in Scotland as the Scottish Informaton Office) where he put his considerable communication skills to good effect, soon becoming a well known figure throughout the Departments of the Secretary of State for Scotland.
Located on the ground floor of Old St Andrew’s House, we worked then for the formidable director of information, Willie M Ballantine.
Norrie was the official press spokesman for the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. Later, he moved to speak for Scottish Development and a colleague who joined the office on the same day as he arrived, recalls: “He won the confidence of, and built up warm relations with, government ministers and senior civil servants as well as with the press, radio and TV journalists.”
It was interesting to witness his relationship develop with politicians, including the then under-secretary of State, Dr J Dickson Mabon, with whom he worked so closely, that they referred to each other by first name.
This was very different to the day I saw him giving Dr Mabon a “grilling” at a press conference when he was working for the Daily Mail at Tanfield.
Well liked by his press colleagues, his reputation for getting results spread in the corridors of power and he became a well known figure throughout the building and at lunchtimes in the dining club, as our canteen was called.
It was not long before his particular communication skills came to be recognised officially and he was promoted from information officer to senior information officer, then principal information officer, heading the Scottish Office press operations at Dover House, Whitehall, as the secretary of state’s media advisor for parliament, and building up relations with parliamentary, lobby correspondents and the Foreign Press Association.
The complicated “final confidential revise” system for advance briefing of journalists was something he handled personally to ensure confidentiality and avoid leaks before the due publication date.
When about to move from the public into the private sector, he presented me with his Principal Officer’s briefcase – an impressively thick, black leather one with the Scottish Office insignia embossed on it – to replace my own, humbler plastic one.
He sometimes golfed at Luffness and took an active interest in the (now defunct) Edinburgh Press Club. During its winding up process, Norrie took on the job of how closure ought to be presented to the media, giving sound advice from the floor to the committee.
He was an enthusiastic member of the club’s Angling Section, and a former official speaks of him winning their Prowess Cup one year – not so much for his piscatorial skill, as for having stumbled into a river while wearing a suit.
Norrie and his second wife June enjoyed foreign travel, visiting many cities in Europe, especially Venice and Paris. His failing health changed that, however and he switched to doing crosswords at home and watching TV.