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Bryan Darby (1939-2023): ‘he utterly loved journalism in the old-fashioned way’

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The broadcast journalist Bryan Darby (File photograph)

A colourful veteran journalist whose career encompassed the headline events of Bermuda’s history is remembered as an old-school reporter with a reputation for fairness and an eye for a story.

Bryan Darby’s work ranged from print to broadcast, and included stints in public relations — including as a spokesman for Bermuda’s government.

Friends said that he balanced congeniality and respect for his interview subjects with a firmness in posing questions.

Starting out in journalism at the Chatham News in England, Mr Darby began his Bermuda career in 1960 at age 21, covering politics for The Royal Gazette.

The veteran newsman Bryan Darby reviews a video archive at VSB (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

He was born on the island as the son of an Anglican chaplain attached to the Dockyard, the Reverend Owen Darby.

Raised in Britain, Mr Darby was tempted back to Bermuda by a Gazette advertisement, arriving “homesick and terrified” with ₤75 in his pocket.

His subsequent career took him through almost every media outlet on the island, with two decades at the broadcaster VSB until its closure in 2017.

Chris Lodge, who eventually worked alongside Mr Darby at VSB Radio and Television, recalled him as skilled in covering Parliament in depth from his arrival.

“Darby was good at shorthand, and in those days in the early Sixties parliamentary speeches and debates were covered verbatim, many times running into many thousands of words for each session,” Mr Lodge said.

“Darby was among a lively, colourful and memorable cohort of journalists of that era including Gavin Shorto, Jim McKey, Stan Jones and others.

Bryan Darby at the VSB headquarters (File photograph)

“Darby subsequently moved on to work in virtually every other Bermuda media including the Mid-Ocean News, Bermuda Sun, ZFB, ZBM and finally VSB. At one time he edited his own tourist-oriented newspaper. He also did PR for the Southampton Princess Hotel.

“He spent some years during the Sir John Swan premiership as the lone Government Information Officer, the precursor to the current Department of Information and Communications.”

It was sometimes a stormy career that included getting dismissed from the Sun for a story that his colleague and longtime friend Charles Barclay admitted “overstepped the mark a little bit”.

Mr Darby also got dismissed from his first of two rounds as government press officer.

The second time, he quit the role, telling the Sun in 2008: “I was too inured in the life of a journalist.

“The mistake I always make was that I think public relations is geared to assist the journalist, not frustrate him, whereas government’s PR strategy is to frustrate the journalist, not enliven or inform him.”

Self-effacing and humorous, Mr Darby told the Gazette in 2009 that his worst fear was missing out on a big story — while his most overused phrase was "as first reported on VSB News".

Mr Barclay, a former editor of the Mid-Ocean News, said that his friend was “a journalist who could have made it very successfully anywhere — if he had not been so determined to help things along in his beloved Bermuda”.

“He utterly loved journalism in the old-fashioned way. The amazing thing about Bryan was even at age 80 he was as enthusiastic about a story as someone just starting out.

“He wrote beautifully and he had a bright-eyed approach to everything. He could get enthusiastic about the dullest story and make it sing.”

Mr Barclay said that Mr Darby had been a “natural” as a political correspondent for the Gazette.

“He was very much a hail-fellow-well-met character who got on with everybody.

“His goodness as a person shone through, which was why people talked to him and trusted him. He would never betray their trust, and he always had a good eye for a story.”

He said that Mr Darby could be a sounding board for prominent people in Bermuda who sought his point of view on social issues, including racial inequality.

“Bryan was also very modest. He promoted other people rather than himself.”

Mr Darby’s flair with people showed in 2007 when he landed an interview with the US senator John McCain just before his bid for the presidency.

Another scoop that year was reporting the relocation of the highly controversial Southlands development to Morgan’s Point.

Making himself synonymous with Bermuda news, Mr Darby cultivated a persona to go with it.

Mr Lodge called him “larger than life, a full head of hair giving him a roguish look”.

“The first time I met Darby was in the mid-Sixties. I had just joined the Mid-Ocean, which then was a daily afternoon newspaper, and had been covering a story out of town.

“Up rolls the RG's Darby driving no less than an MG Midget sports car. He parked, introduced himself, then proceeded to open up the boot which — lo and behold — contained a fully stocked bar. Assignment first, he said, then a glass of wine.”

Mr Lodge added: “He was very much an entrepreneur.

“When he decided that BOAC (now British Airways) flights to London were becoming too expensive, he founded the Bermuda Ballet Association, solely for the purpose of negotiating cheaper group fares on BOAC flights to London.“

He said that the ruse lasted years until the airline “caught on that there was no physical Ballet Association”.

Mr Lodge added that Mr Darby impulsively led investors to buy a Louisiana paddle steamer, the Mark Twain, to enter the boat touring market.

It proved unsuitable for Bermuda’s waters but an eye-catching if expensive loss.

Adrian Robson, a longstanding reporter and former sports editor at the Gazette, said he had worked in the same newspaper group as Mr Darby in Kent, but only realised it once they became friends in Bermuda.

“We struck a friendship immediately,” he said.

“He was a great person to be around — friendly and very funny. He was the life and soul of the newsroom.”

Mr Darby’s tenacity showed at VSB, which he kept running after its owner, DeFontes Radio and TV companies, shut down.

He called it “a balancing voice in the world of journalism”.

Mr Darby had a son, Drax, with his late first wife, Dinah Williams — also adopting her children, Julia and Grant.

He raised their young son alone after her death in the 1980s — and was later married to Juli Campbell.

A celebration of Mr Darby’s life is planned for March 3, from 3pm to 5pm at the Royal Hamilton Amateur Dinghy Club in Paget.

• Bryan Robert Darby, one of Bermuda’s veteran journalists, was born on August 10, 1939. He died in February 2023, aged 83.

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Published February 23, 2023 at 11:19 am (Updated February 23, 2023 at 11:19 am)

Bryan Darby (1939-2023): ‘he utterly loved journalism in the old-fashioned way’

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