Mark Bygraves obituary

Other lives: Guardian picture editor with a profound love and understanding of sports and arts

My friend and former colleague Mark Bygraves, who has died aged 62, was the loudest person at the Guardian – by a long way. Mark, a picture editor who worked with us for 28 years, was also probably the funniest, toughest, filthiest, sweariest, bluntest, warmest, loyalest (if he liked you), smartest, and rudest man at the Guardian. It’s impossible to do Mark justice in a family newspaper.

Mark was born in south London to Bill, a printer maintenance worker at the News of the World, and Eileen (nee Latuske), a cleaner and tea lady. He had a mild form of cerebral palsy, and as a young child was in and out of Evelina children’s hospital with leg problems that left him with a limp.

Leaving Walworth school after his A-levels, he followed his father to the Sun, where he worked in the picture library. In 1986, Mark and Bill joined the picket line at Wapping, where workers went on strike for 54 weeks over the introduction of new technology. Both father and son were made redundant, and Mark joined the Guardian’s picture desk in 1988. When he left in 2016, he was picture editor of the Saturday literary Review.

In a newspaper office that can be ivory-towered and a tad puritanical, Mark was the perfect antidote – just the kind of raconteur and bon vivant you might hope to meet in such a place. Even though he worked in the arts, he was known in all departments. It was impossible not to know Mark – you could hear him on the floor above and the floor below.

I’ve never met anybody who knew so much about so many things. Yes, he was stupendous on a quiz team, but his knowledge was never merely anorakish. He had a profound love and understanding of all sports and arts – an aesthete’s sensibility. He educated so many of us about new films, artists, musicians, footballers, books before we had even heard of them. Often the only reason the paper covered brilliant but obscure artists was because of Mark.

In the early 1990s, he wrote some music reviews but decided he preferred talking to writing. Talking was his speciality – and he had lots of sayings. One of his favourites was “I’m an expert in my field”, and, the thing is, he was an expert in so many fields. He would befriend one person who adored science fiction, and that’s all they’d talk about; with another, they would talk of nothing but crime fiction; theatre experts assumed theatre was his expertise, soul experts that soul was his thing. And on it went. Mark was largely self-taught while many of his colleagues had been Oxbridge-educated, but they soon realised he knew more than they did. Another of his favourite expressions, said with a huge, Wallace-like grin, was “I’m surrounded by fackin’ philistines!” He was one of the few people who could get away with wearing shades indoors.

Mark Bygraves.
Mark Bygraves in the Guardian office: he was great at getting the picture he wanted, and PRs and agencies loved talking to him. Photograph: Mee-Lai Stone

He had a photographic memory and was often the only person to know of an obscure but relevant picture and where to find it. His phone manner was incredible. PRs and agencies loved talking to him because he would chat and chat in that deafening sarf London accent, and always about something they were interested in. He was also great at getting what he wanted. He would tell agencies “my good lady editor” is “furious” or “raging” when they played hard to get over a photo, even though his good lady editor was anything but.

Although he liked to portray himself as a misanthrope, he was often the first person to welcome and help Guardian newbies. He was devoted to his family, and went part-time to nurse his beloved mother in her last few years, and he was a wonderful uncle to his nieces Lucy and Rebecca, whom he called “my girls”. He had plenty of girlfriends, but wasn’t the settling-down type, largely because he wasn’t prepared to commit to a relationship that took him away from his many passions.

In 2019, he contracted pancreatitis, and was hospitalised for seven months. At one point he seemed to have given up – even losing his love for reading and listening to music. But he recovered. Over the past year, he had grown stronger and moved back into his own home (his sister Lorraine looked after him for much of his recuperation) and recovered his love for the arts and sport.

Although he had taken voluntary redundancy from the Guardian in 2016, he was hoping he would return as a freelance – as were his colleagues. The place had been too quiet for too long without him.

Mark is survived by his older brother, Ronnie, and younger sister, Lorraine, and by Lucy and Rebecca.


Simon Hattenstone

The GuardianTramp

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