Writer, producer, crossword aficionado. Born on Nov. 5, 1935, in Salisbury, England; died on April 4, 2014, in Cobourg, Ont., of glioblastoma brain cancer, aged 78.
When Brian was a 14-year-old student at Bishop Wordsworth’s School in Salisbury, one of his teachers was author William Golding. Although there is no proof that any of the characters in Lord of the Flies were based on Brian, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say he may have been an influence. Irreverent, funny, resilient and wickedly smart, Brian was surely one of the most unforgettable characters people ever met.
After finishing his education, he worked as a seed broker, buying and selling seed varieties to farmers and shops. But the British market was fairly limited and he looked abroad for better opportunities; after considering Australia and South Africa, he settled on Canada and moved to Toronto in the winter in 1970.
Initially he stayed in the YMCA, “sharing” a social insurance card with other Y residents and taking any job he could find: washing cars, shovelling snow and waiting on tables, all the while mailing job applications across the country. He soon found a position in Winnipeg and hitchhiked to that city in January, 1971. Later he was joined by his wife, Ann, and their three young children, Juliet, Karen and Brian.
He worked as a seedsman, inspecting crops and buying and selling seeds to, and for, Manitoba farmers. But his agricultural career was cut short in 1974 when he joined CBC’s Radio Noon show in Winnipeg as a summer agricultural commentator. The next year, he was promoted to producer. The office memo announcing his new role noted that “despite his curious way of speaking, many will miss him on air. Brian’s tenacity in going after stories brought him one international scoop – tracking down [baseball player] Catfish Hunter at his last contract signing. He also claims to be able to swim a half mile.”
In 1976, Brian was proud to be nominated for an ACTRA award for a radio documentary he wrote and produced, War Brides.
Two years later, the family moved to Ottawa when Brian became radio program manager for CBC’s Northern services, responsible for all northern programming. In this role, he trained many CBC staff and developed an Ottawa-based unit that provided news and syndication services to the northern stations. After four years in this position, he was named head of CBC Radio sports in 1981. This new job was a hit with family and friends, given that it resulted in frequent complementary tickets to big sporting events.
After a decade in radio he moved to television, as executive producer of CBLT’s Morning News and later the evening news in Sydney, N.S. From Winnipeg to Ottawa to Toronto to Sydney, from radio to TV, the CBC was alive with Brian’s impish, mischievous, and creative spirit during his long career with the public broadcaster.
When he retired in 1995, he and Ann moved to Gores Landing, Ont., although “retired” wasn’t a word in his vocabulary. He continued to write prolifically as a freelancer, willing at the drop of a hat to throw himself into any topic to wrestle out and present an entertaining and informative story.
He never met a bottle of wine he didn’t like, or an argument he couldn’t win. He was a good man.
Juliet Slemming is Brian’s daughter.
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