Derek Ingram obituary

Other lives: Founder of the Gemini news agency who was dedicated to the Commonwealth

Derek Ingram, who has died aged 92, specialised in writing about the Commonwealth and was respected by fellow journalists throughout that organisation, particularly for his role in creating the Gemini news agency, which produced written material about Commonwealth countries from 1967 onwards.

The idea of Gemini was to strengthen understanding of the Commonwealth – in whose future Derek believed fiercely – by giving a chance to local journalists in its newly independent countries. An attempt to break the grip of the western media, which was fixated at the time on the cold war, it gave many young journalists, including Trevor McDonald in Trinidad, international exposure. Copy was edited and graphics created at Gemini’s offices in London and dispatched twice weekly to subscribers across Asia, Australia, Africa and the Americas.

It was hard, however, for Gemini to make money. The Guardian owned it for a while, and then it was suspended for a year in 1982, before it was restarted with some Canadian funding on the basis that it was a good tool for development education. Derek remained involved with the agency as editor until 1993, then stepped down and worked as a contributor until Gemini closed in 2002. He continued to be a whirlwind of activity on Commonwealth matters, both as a writer and mentor and by attending summits around the world.

Along the way he became co-founder of the Commonwealth Journalists Association in 1978, with Patrick Keatley of the Guardian, and had a hand in the start of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative in 1987. He was a campaigner for media freedom; his opening line for a 1999 CHRI pamphlet was that “the Commonwealth is about human rights or it is nothing”.

Prior to Gemini, Derek had a stellar career in Fleet Street before and after the second world war. Born in Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex, to Stanley, a stationer and greetings card publisher, and Amy (nee Wetlauffer), a concert singer, he went to Highgate school in north London and was subediting front pages on the Daily Sketch at a young age, before entering wartime service in the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean. By the 1960s he was deputy editor of the Daily Mail. But he eventually broke with Fleet Street to create Gemini, which he named after the birth sign he shared with his business partner in the venture, Oliver Carruthers. Many of us remember Derek for his kindliness, hospitality and sense of humour, a man who enjoyed the theatre, cinema and parties. Although seen as an ambassador for, and expert on, the Commonwealth, he was not uncritical of it, especially for a want of ambition among its officials and a penny-pinching approach by leading governments.

In 1988 he was appointed OBE.

Richard Bourne

The GuardianTramp

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