Barbara Hall composed her first nationally published crossword in 1938 at the age of 15. Since then she has continually composed crossword puzzles.
She planned to become an elocution teacher, having been accepted to study at LAMDA. But her plans were disrupted by the Second World War, during which time she served in the WRNS working with codes.
After the war, she returned to crossword compilation for a various publications including Oxford university magazine Isis, the Yorkshire Post, World Digest, Readers Digest and the Daily Mail.
Between 1955 and 1967, she lived in Northern Rhodesia and (as it became) Zambia. She worked as a journalist for the Northern Rhodesia Government Information Office and devised puzzles in three African languages – Tonga, Bemba and Nyanja – to encourage literacy. Subsequently, she provided weekly puzzles for the African Mail, Central African Examiner, Broken Hill Observer and Gemini Commonwealth News Services. She started the country’s first-ever personal advice column, “Tell Me, Josephine” – extracts of this were published as a book. Her journalist activities also included reporting trips to India and Taiwan.
Her interest in Zambia continued on her return to Britain. She became a founding member of the Zambia Society, served on its committee for thirty years and was an official guest of the Zambian Government for the 10th Independence Day celebrations.
Following returning to Britain she composed crosswords for national newspapers including the Daily Mail, The Times and the Observer as well as specialist publications including Banking World, Executive Travel, in-flight magazines, Times Health Supplement, Railways and Harbours Gazette and Forum. In 1969 the Daily Mail commissioned the world’s biggest cryptic crossword, on a Christmas theme. She made a speciality of themed puzzles and produced scores of these in a wide variety of subjects including railways, yachting, wine, food and gardening. In 1984, The Times commissioned a puzzle based on George Orwell’s book of that name. Her puzzles have been syndicated internationally, and she was a regular contributor to The Australian. She also regularly appeared on radio programmes commenting on crosswords and lexicography.
She became the primary compiler of crosswords for The Sunday Times, delighting crossword enthusiasts around the world with her idiosyncratic style. Unlike younger compilers, she eschews computer aids in favour of a phenomenal memory and a copious supply of black ledgers, and prides herself on never repeating a clue. Having composed non-stop for more than seventy years, there is no definitive count of the number puzzles of that she has produced, but it adds up to nearly ten thousand.
She became Sunday Times Puzzles Editor in 1977, a role which she continued to fill on a full-time basis for more than thirty years. During her career, she also served as Mother of the NUJ Chapel. Her weekly “Bookwise” literary quiz, initially planned as a run of 12 editions, was still going strong twenty years later. Barbara finally retired (and gave up driving through the London traffic to the offices in Wapping) in 2010 at the age of 87.
In 2007, she was awarded the Order of the British Empire, MBE for services to the Newspaper Industry.
Barbara was married to Richard Hall. She has five sons (Robin, Nick, Simon, Crispin and Jeremy), ten grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
© Barbara Hall 2020