Brian McConnell, 1928-2004

Article excerpt

Brian McConnell was born on 27 December 1928 on Tyneside but spent most of his childhood in and around London. After a checkered schooling, he started work at the age of fourteen on the Municipal Journal, the beginning of a life-long association with the press. Among the many roles he fulfilled were court reporter and crime reporter for the Daily Mirror and, for a short time, news editor of The Sun. When he died on 10 July 2004, obituaries in The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian and The Times naturally focused on his life as a journalist and author. His interest in folklore was largely overlooked.

Although he did not join The Folklore Society until 1981, his interest in the subject had developed earlier. He had attended a meeting of the Society as a journalist in the 1960s. As a crime reporter, he had become aware of the many legends that grow up around notorious cases. Under the pseudonym "Old Codgers," he edited the "Live Letters" column in the popular newspaper the Daily Mirror. There he often had to try to disentangle reality and "myths." One question posed by a reader was "Are there or are there not alligators in the sewers of New York?" Brian gave a balanced and knowledgeable answer.

From the 1980s, Brian regularly attended meetings of The Folklore Society. He also participated in the conferences of the International Society for Contemporary Legend Research held on both sides of the Atlantic, frequently accompanied by his wife, Margaret. His papers included "The Killing of a Murder Legend" (College Station, 1989), "Hey, Judge, Tell Me Another!" (Boulder, 1997) and "Tales That Wagged The Dog" (Sheffield, 2002).

Brian wrote several books, mostly dealing with some aspect of crime. They included Assassination (1969) covering killings from antiquity to the Kennedys, The Neilson File (1983) dealing with the mass murderer Dennis Neilson, The Possessed, True Tales of Demonic Possession (1995), and Holy Killers (1995), which was concerned with religious leaders who were also murderers. His writings on folklore topics were numerous but in the main brief. He contributed regularly to newsletters such as FLS News, FOAFtale News and Letters to Ambrose Merton. The range was wide, covering subjects such as baptismal customs, remembrance notices in the press, Essex girl jokes, modern witches, cauls and the puns in the names of hairdressing establishments. …