Scotsman Obituaries: Bruce Cannon, Scottish journalist and Christian writer

David Bruce Cannon, journalist. Born: 17 October 1932 in Edinburgh. Died: 11 November 2021 in Forth Valley Hospital, Larbert, aged 89

Bruce Cannon as a young reporter
Bruce Cannon as a young reporter

Bruce Cannon combined his Christian faith with a dedication to writing true news – reporting facts without exaggeration or hype – in a career that spanned local newspaper journalism, magazine publication and, until he retired, promoting the national Church of Scotland (“The Kirk”) and its General Assembly proceedings to the public through print, broadcasting and the web.

Born in Edinburgh to David and Margaret Cannon, he grew up in Blackhall and lived most of his early years with his Mum following the death of his father when Bruce was just ten years old. His early schooling was at Blackhall Primary School before he went on to the Royal High School. His childhood passions that extended into adulthood were building and flying model aeroplanes, and conjuring, on one occasion staging a show during the war to raise money for the Red Cross.

He ascribed his interest in news to listening to wartime radio broadcasts with his father, but while he may not have been aware of it at the time, he also inherited his gift for writing from his grandfather, James Fleming Cannon, a noted 19th-century Galloway poet.

Bruce began work as a copy boy with the Edinburgh Evening News in 1949 and did his National Service with the RAF, returning to the paper in 1953 to be employed as a junior reporter covering the city's courts and Edinburgh Corporation and subsequently being promoted to reporter, where he was the paper's "Kirker" columnist, responsible for regular churches' news.

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Experience as a sub-editor saw him work alongside colleagues like Hearts FC’s Jimmy Wardhaugh at the sports desk, and playwright and critic W Gordon Smith , who wrote about the arts . Occasional leader writing duties demonstrated how highly the editor, W D Barnetson, regarded his contribution to the paper's success.

Bruce's skills produced carefully written, accurate stories that could be relied on completely by Chief Reporter Lewis Simpson and Chief Sub Ian Tait, to fit the bill in space terms, often being lifted by other papers or agencies.He knew the paper's style book inside out: “retirement” not “retiral”; “chimney stack” not “stalk”; "in" not “under” the circumstances and so on. His tightly subbed reports phoned by young copy boys to the BBC, Press Association, Exchange Telegraph or Sunday nationals were supplied to the length ordered, never overwritten. He was known as a wise and approachable senior to whom one could turn for sound advice, whether involving work or personal matters.

In 1964 he left the News to be Assistant Editor of Christian journal The British Weekly, moving in 1965 to the Church of Scotland in its Edinburgh offices at 121 George Street, where he was tasked with setting up its Press and Publicity Department. He became Director of Communications in 1974 and assumed overall responsibility for the 121 Church bookshop; Life and Work magazine – then known as the official record of the Church – the Saint Andrew Press and Pathway Productions, a small audio/video service, later to expand hugely with the explosion of interest in IT media services, offering specialist audio and TV coverage of Church news.

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Every year, his team would move temporarily from “121” for the duration of the General Assembly, to the Assembly Hall, the Mound, giving full coverage of events and debates, cutting through the specialist language and terms used in such business to explain, in everyday terms, the work undertaken. Often, the official Reports to the General Assembly were lengthy and hard for the lay public to follow so news summaries and press releases were introduced for each one, highlighting the main points and decisions. Press conferences were held regularly for the national and international press, with regular attendees travelling from London to cover the week's business.

At first his Press office duplicated copies of the information on a stencil printer, to be delivered by hand to newspaper offices by his sons after school. When fax machines were introduced, one of the first was in the Press Department, speeding up this distribution; this was itself replaced when computers took over.

Convinced of the need for an even better service to broadcasters, Bruce introduced TV training for ministers and elders and when Pathway moved from their modest beginnings at the Gateway Theatre in Leith (later to become STV's Edinburgh base) to their own studios in Colinton, quality and output expanded with regular, expert commentary online.

Throughout this time Bruce was also a regular contributor to the theatre newspaper, The Stage, and family and friends often accompanied him to see the latest play or show at the Kings, Lyceum or Traverse.

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He enjoyed a lifelong association with the island of Iona, initially through visits by his local Youth Fellowship but cemented when he met his wife-to-be Karen at Iona Youth Association events in Edinburgh in the late 1950s. They wed in December 1960 and had three sons, David, John and Andrew.

He never lost his love of news and current affairs, and following his retirement in 1995, he and Karen moved to Perthshire where they became active members of the University of the 3rd Age (U3A) at both local and UK national level. One of Bruce’s contributions to the local U3A was the creation of a Current Affairs Group, along with the U3As first “Humour” group, which allowed him to share his passion for classic radio and TV comedy with fellow retirees. When he and Karen moved to Polmont in 2008, they sought out the U3A in Falkirk and a Current Affairs group was swiftly constituted and operated for many years; transferring to Zoom when the pandemic hit.

In recent years his health and mobility became more challenging and following a fall in early October, he was admitted to Forth Valley Hospital, where he died early on 11 November.

He is survived by his wife, Karen, sons David, John and Andrew, four grandchildren and two great-granddaughters.

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