Born: November 12, 1938.

Died: June 26, 2022.


DR Ernest Bennie, who has died of lung cancer at the age of 83, was a prominent psychiatrist who, late in life, found fame thanks to his skilful counselling of Alastair Campbell, in the days before Campbell rose to national fame by becoming Tony Blair’s director of communications and strategy.

Dr Bennie and Campbell, who was then a newspaper journalist, first met in spring 1986, in a hospital in Paisley, to which Campbell had been taken after being released from police custody. He had, in his own words, been arrested for his own safety; Dr Bennie was the duty psychiatrist.

Dr Bennie gently encouraged the fast-living journalist to consider his pattern of heavy drinking. Campbell responded positively, and made changes to his lifestyle.

Colourful, outspoken, possessed of a curious mind, a vigorous intellect and a dry sense of humour, Dr Bennie was instantly recognisable and always unforgettable. He had a deep and genuine interest in people. It was this, along with his caring nature, that made him an outstanding Consultant Psychiatrist.

Ernest Harry Bennie was born into a Jewish family in Glasgow in 1938, the son of Norman Bennie, a medical practitioner, and his wife, Esther.

He was educated at Queen’s Park Secondary School, Glasgow, and studied medicine at the University of Glasgow, qualifying in 1962.

He worked in general practice, obstetrics and gynaecology before moving into psychiatry. In 1968, he spent several months working in Rochester, New York, before returning to Scotland and taking up a position at Duke Street Hospital in Glasgow, where he met and married occupational therapist Norma (nee Rae) in 1969.

He was appointed consultant psychiatrist working at Leverndale Hospital with responsibilities at Southern General and the Victoria Clinic in Glasgow.

In 1990, he spoke to the Glasgow Herald about a project in which patients prepared to leave Leverndale and re-enter the community.

Some 20 patients each year left the hospital’s specialist rehabilitation unit. The article touched on the issues they faced in their new lives, including loneliness, and the struggle to make ends meet. Dr Bennie put their success rate at 70 per cent. "Some of them break down in the first few weeks, but if they get over that hump then their chances of making it are good,’’ he told The Herald’s medical correspondent.

Following retirement from his consultant post, he took on locum posts at Ailsa Hospital, Ayrshire, specialising in forensic psychiatry.

He was a fellow of the International College of Neuropsychopharmacology and over the years made several notable contributions to his field.

His research on subjects including anti-psychotic medicine, treatment of patients with schizophrenia and the appropriate length of hospital stays for psychiatric patients were published in various medical journals. He eventually retired in 2007, aged 69.

Around 15 years ago, he and Norma moved to Rhu, near Helensburgh, where he became involved in the community, serving as president of the local Rotary and Probus clubs.

He enjoyed the outdoors life, including sailing, tennis and cycling. He was also a founding member and former commodore of the Serpent Yacht Club, which was started by doctors but is now open to all in the healthcare professions.

His ease of conversation, curious mind and breadth of hobbies and interests endeared him to so many.

He was an energetic and competitive tennis player, at courts including the David Lloyd Club in Paisley, where he played regularly. (Latterly he referred to their games as being like tennis chess, although this was perhaps less about the strategic mind-games and more about the speed the players moved at.)

He was an adventurous cyclist, taking extended tours cross country and over to the west coast islands, latterly on his electric bike.

Boating played a big part in his life, with many adventures enjoyed from the west coast of Scotland to the Mediterranean and the Caribbean.

His love of sailing, and Loch Lomond, began during his university days when he clubbed together with friends to buy a converted ship’s lifeboat called North Star, which he kept at Balloch. During retirement, he returned to motor boating, kayaking and paddle-boarding with his grandchildren Kyle, Lilly and Elizabeth on Loch Lomond.

He is survived by two siblings – Leslie, a chartered accountant, and Edna, a retired financial journalist.

His wife Norma, who in 2000 was appointed an MBE for her work in mental health, survives him, along with their three children: Stephen, a company director; Paul, an executive recruiter; Anita, a broadcast journalist, and three grandchildren.