Obituary: Brian McGuire, journalist turned public relations expert
JOURNALIST and PR man Brian McGuire might be embarrassed – even a little annoyed – if he could see this obituary.
For despite a successful career drawing attention to the achievements of others, Brian himself remained a private and very modest person.
The congregation at his memorial service – even more than is usually the case – must have learned some things about him which they didn’t already know.
Such as – his encounter with the Russian KGB.
Such as – meeting an archetypical gangster whose corruption was, in part, exposed by émigré novelist Graham Greene.
Such as – how a life-long involvement with the media began by filling pots of glue.
But, to begin at the beginning, Brian, the youngest of five children, was born in October 1939 in the family home – two rooms without running water at the top of a tenement in the Fountainbridge area of Edinburgh.
Sean Connery lived just around the corner, as everyone with links to that part of the city will always tell you.
But if delivering milk bottles played a part in the early working life of a future 007, for Brian it was glue pots.
The 18-year-old McGuire, answering in the office to shouts of “Boy!” joined The Scotsman’s sister paper, the Evening News, in the impressive North Bridge building the titles then occupied.
Newspapers had a long way to go before today’s electronic wizardry. Cutting and pasting stories wasn’t achieved with a couple of clicks of a computer mouse. It was a hands-on affair with scissors and glue.
One of the duties of a copy boy – running errands for the “real journalists” – was keeping those glue pots topped up.
Soon after climbing the career ladder and becoming a real journalist himself, and later a life-member of the National Union of Journalists, Brian was lured away to the Herald with an offer £50 above the going rate. That must have been an eye-popping sum for a 22-year-old.
A couple of years later Brian changed course for the public relations side of journalism. Working with the Scottish Office an early assignment was dealing with the Queen’s arrival to open the Forth Road Bridge.
A move to what was then the Edinburgh Corporation led to the post of principal officer for PR and tourism. In that role he was heavily involved in the city’s twinning link with Ukraine capital Kyiv.
Another link was with Xian, home of the terracotta warriors later exhibited in Edinburgh. Brian was also landed with the unpleasant task of informing the Chinese authorities that the cities’ link was “frozen” in response to the Tienanmen Square massacre.
On holiday in Nice – another city twinned with Edinburgh – Brian met journalist turned politician Jacques Médecin, mayor of the French city and sworn enemy of Graham Greene. Some time later Monsieur Médecin’s career took a down-turn and he re-located to South America to sell T-shirts.
Extradition brought him back to serve a French jail sentence.
The opportunity to join the Church of Scotland’s press office gave one-time Sunday school superintendent Brian a chance to combine his journalistic skills with his deeply-held personal faith.
Every Kirk General Assembly became a reunion with old colleagues. Brian also devoted a lot of effort to persuading shy and reluctant ministers to talk about their projects and successes.
On one trip abroad, to meet charity workers in Kyiv, Brian was invited to join two uniformed officials for vodka and cigarettes in their railway carriage. He declined the refreshment but took polaroid photos of the two and handed them over.
In return he was given a Russian thriller novel, with a dedication dated and signed by the officer who even included his rank and organization – the KGB.
Colleagues in the Kirk’s George Street office were often amused by Brian’s tea-break performance. Brian had a life-long love affair with biscuits, but always swung his tie behind him before tucking in. No crumbs must sully his neat and tidy apparel.
Brian enjoyed another life-long love affair. Always one ready to acquire new skills he enrolled at the Victor Sylvester Dance Studio in Clerk Street, Edinburgh.
There, Brian also acquired a wife – a trained home economist able to keep him in biscuits. To paraphrase from Brian’s favourite film, Casablanca: “Of all the dance halls in all the world, she walked into this one.”
He and Frances were on the point of arranging their diamond wedding anniversary when his life was cut short by cancer.
Brian also leaves behind daughter, Rhona,, son, Douglas, and grandchildren in Scotland and Australia.
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