‘Trusted adviser’ – a personal tribute to Fred Banning

Ben Rigby reflects on the life of Pinsent Masons’ former head of communications and the founder of Fifth Day, whose funeral took place this week
Close up of Fred Banning

Fred Banning

Fred Banning, formerly head of corporate communications at Pinsent Masons, and founder of legal volunteering charity Fifth Day, died from bowel cancer on 19 May. He was 40 years old. 

Testament to Fred’s popularity among the legal media and PR communities – two groups whose interests are often at odds – were the warm and generous tributes paid to Fred by both The Lawyer – which dropped its paywall to record the news – and Law.com.

Pinsents led the tributes on LinkedIn, which was fitting as Fred’s career was inextricably linked with the firm’s development. 

As communications manager at McGrigors, he helped steer its merger with Pinsents in 2012 and the combined firm’s subsequent national and international expansion during which he was promoted to head of PR and then later, head of communications.

In some ways, Fred’s story was the firm’s story – he shaped it as much as key staff and the partners did. The success of the merger and the firm’s subsequent growth, innovation and expansion was a fusion of his team, lawyers, and partners coming together in a way which did not just encourage client success, but enhanced it.

Partners I spoke to praised his ability to refine the firm’s thinking, guide senior management, and energise junior staff. Fred’s understanding of legal marketing and communications was shared by only a handful of PR specialists. He was among the best in Scotland and, frankly, held a reputation envied in London. 

The trust senior partners – some very canny lawyers included – had in him made him a leader of his profession. Pinsents said: “Fred played an integral role in developing Pinsent Masons’ communications function, pioneering the use of brand and reputation as a strategic driver of change, and reimagining our digital strategy culminating in a progressive new website. Successive leadership teams considered him a trusted advisor, and his expertise was regularly sought on matters far beyond reputation.”

London was the cradle of his legal PR journey if Scotland was to be its fruition. Working first at Kysen, the legal PR agency, where he rapidly made a name for himself through quick wit, charm, and endeavour, he moved to Lovells, now Hogan Lovells, where he earned an equally strong reputation. 

Fred always wore his red England top – giving rise to his nickname, ‘Red Fred’

London was where he met Lesley, his wife, and the mother of his two children. In his eulogy – which he penned before his death, for he was ever one to want to shape a message – Fred expressed his deep love for her; one of the main factors which drew him back to Scotland, where he had spent some of his youth growing up.

It was no secret that Fred was in demand, but his love for Lesley, his family, and the firm, bound him to Glasgow – and in return, each of them loved him back. 

Fred, a historian by study at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels, was international in outlook but also rooted in England and Scotland; a keen Newcastle United fan, he was also a regular player at a rolling five-a-side tournament between legal journalists, PRs, and the occasional ringer. Fred always wore his red England top – giving rise to his nickname, ‘Red Fred’. 

Sean Twomey, director of BD and marketing at HFW, who played football with Fred, and was a friend, told The Lawyer that Fred was “someone respected professionally, loved as a wonderful human being and a great person to have on your side”; and that sentiment was shared across every legal newsroom that came across him – a rare feat in the industry. 

Fred’s diagnosis of terminal bowel cancer in 2020, just as the pandemic was breaking, was a spur for him to live his life to the fullest. Where others might have retreated, Fred underwent regular treatment and never complained; his thoughts were as much for others as himself. 

His was a purpose-driven life. Fred’s strong social conscience had seen him seek out, before diagnosis, a non-executive role with a cancer charity – a fact that he commented on wryly in his eulogy.

When the Covid-19 inquiry reports, Fred’s valuable contribution will be seen as an example of securing a public good

Cancer, however, spurred him to use his skills to benefit others with terminal illnesses during the pandemic. He spearheaded a campaign to prioritize Covid vaccination for those undergoing palliative care. That campaign showed Fred at the height of his powers, garnering widespread media coverage and significant political lobbying. Appearances on the Today programme followed as did motions being raised in Scottish and UK Parliaments. Ministers and opposition leaders listened. 

When the Covid-19 inquiry reports, Fred’s valuable contribution will be seen as an example of securing a public good at a time when little good news was to be had. 

He subsequently founded Fifth Day, a charity devoted to making it easier for business services professionals working in the law to support pro bono and volunteering projects in the same way that lawyers can through Law Works amd Advocate. Fred saw that their work was equal to that of the lawyers and he assembled a strong board and supporters to see his vision made real. I reported that story and was struck by the strategic vision Fred articulated and its permanence. Fifth Day was Fred’s professional legacy

It was a sunny day in Glasgow when we gathered to say farewell to Fred Banning. The modern, light, airy, peaceful crematorium was nestled among the gently rolling countryside of East Renfrewshire. Outside, mourners chatted quietly; but there was silence when the hearse arrived, accompanied by his wife, Lesley, and two sons, Ollie and Charlie, his brothers, and his parents. 

Inside, the service was both sad and joyful, moving and mournful; but Fred’s benign presence suffused the room. It was standing room only at the back. The music he loved, the words he wrote, and the pictures of a life lived short but well were all testament to the fullness of that life. Fred had the last word, as ever, but not for himself. 

Those went to his family, in asking us, his audience, his mourners, to remember them well in years to come. That we surely will. 

Frederick Banning: 3 September 1982 – 19 May 2023.

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