Graham Ball obituary

Other lives: Fleet Street and TV journalist whose career stretched from tabloid exposés to literary reviews

My friend Graham Ball, who has died aged 69 after a fall, was one of Fleet Street’s old school. His career stretched from tabloid exposés to investigations for the TV series The Cook Report, campaigns for the Independent on Sunday and literary reviews for the Express titles.

A man of wide interests, he took a BA in history at Birkbeck College, London, in his 50s and worked towards an MA on wartime propaganda in his retirement. Cricket was a passion. In 1978 he founded the Grub Street Casuals, a team of rackety hacks, and for two decades captained and led the bowling attack.

Graham was born in Rochford, Essex, the elder son of Alec Ball, a draughtsman with British Telecom, and his wife, Joyce (nee Cox). After leaving Southend high school, he won a place on the Mirror Group training scheme in Plymouth, a spawning ground for numerous national journalists. There he met his future wife, Tessa Hilton, who later edited the Sunday Mirror.

In 1972 he joined the Sunday People. During an exposé of the convicted paedophile Roger Gleaves, self-styled “bishop of Medway”, Graham and two other reporters rescued a victim who had fallen back into Gleaves’s clutches, and hid him in a country cottage. The victim was due to be a witness in a private prosecution brought by Gleaves, who convinced a district judge that the reporters were unlawfully withholding his witness. The trio spent a night in Brixton prison before Mirror Group lawyers secured their release.

In the 1990s Graham went freelance. In 1997 he was with The Cook Report in Cyprus, researching the fugitive fraudster Asil Nadir, whose company Polly Peck had collapsed in 1991 with debts of £1.3bn. Roger Cook remembers: “Nadir was a charmer, but Graham saw through him. He pursued the story relentlessly until we had the ammunition we needed. Once we had to travel between the north and south of the divided island. Graham found a man whose abandoned house straddled the border and for a small fee we left the north through his front door and arrived in the south through the back.”

He then joined the Independent on Sunday and masterminded the editor Rosie Boycott’s campaign to decriminalise cannabis. He also travelled with Unicef, reporting on the plight of children in Cambodia and the Philippines. He ended his newspaper career as books editor of the Express titles.

Graham is remembered by many as a kind and big-hearted man; a great conversationalist and humorist, still collecting stories wherever he happened to be. He is survived by Tessa, whom he married in 1976, his children, Oscar, Thomas and Rebecca, and four grandchildren.

Tim Minogue

The GuardianTramp

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