Barbara Hall was born in February 1923 in Derby, England and grew up in the village of Aston-on-Trent.
Her father Lawrence Shelton Taylor was a ship’s Marconi wireless operator, who then served during WW1 initially as a Royal Navy radio operator and then in the Royal Naval Air Service as an air navigator. After the war, he became an accountant on the railways. During WW2 he re-joined the Royal Navy as a trainer for the Royal Observer Corps.
Her mother Olive also served in France in WW1 in Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps attached to the Royal Artillery, and subsequently became a Braille teacher.
After gaining a scholarship to Parkfield Cedars school, Barbara Hall had her first crossword published when she was 15 years old in the Northern edition of the Daily Mail as a result of winning a competition, for which she was paid 2 guineas. She intended to become an elocution teacher, having been accepted to study at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. However, her plans were disrupted by the Second World War.
From 1940 until 1945 Barbara served with the Women’s Royal Naval Service, working as a coder, preparing orders for ships of the North Sea Coastal Command. After the end of the war she married the journalist Richard Seymour Hall, whom she had met during her time in the Navy, whilst he was also working as a decoder. 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.
The Halls moved to Northern Rhodesia and (as it became) Zambia in 1955. Barbara 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. When her husband founded the Central African Mail newspaper, she worked part time as a journalist. Her advice column, Tell me Josephine, was one of the paper’s most popular features, and resulted in a book, with a forward by Dr Kenneth Kaunda, first President of Zambia, which was translated into over 19 languages. Whilst working in the newspaper industry in Zambia she met many eminent people including Jomo Kenyatta, Indira Gandhi and Chiang Kai-shek. She was close friends with Dr Kenneth Kaunda and his family. She provided weekly crossword puzzles for the African Mail, Central African Examiner, Broken Hill Observer, Gemini Commonwealth News Services and several trade publications. Her journalist activities also included reporting trips to India and Taiwan.
The Hall family returned to Britain in 1967. Barbara 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.
Barbara continue to compose 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 was regularly interviewed commenting on crosswords and lexicography on the BBC and other broadcast media
She became the primary compiler of crosswords for The Sunday Times, delighting crossword enthusiasts around the world with her idiosyncratic style. 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.
Unlike younger compilers, she eschewed computer aids in favour of a phenomenal memory and a copious supply of black ledgers. She prided 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.
In 2007, she was awarded the Order of the British Empire, MBE for services to the Newspaper Industry.
Barbara finally retired (and gave up driving through London traffic to the Times Newspapers offices in Wapping – to the relief of other motorists) in 2010 at the age of 87.
Barbara Hall died in Camberwell at her home of 45 years on 18th April 2022, aged 99.
Her funeral was held at West Norwood Crematorium on 8th May 2022 (click here to see the Service of Celebration and Thanksgiving).
Barbara was married to Richard Hall. She has five sons (Robin, Nick, Simon, Crispin and Jeremy), ten grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.
In her own words and handwriting: