Richard Hall was born in Margate, where his father made a shaky living running boat-trips for holidaymakers. The family emigrated to Australia when the boy was three, and shortly afterwards his father abandoned both him and his mother. Hall’s early years were spent on Bondi Beach, but when he was eight he and his mother Gladys, a strong and resourceful woman, returned to England.
Educated at Hastings Grammar School, he began his career on the Evening Argus in Sussex where he earned 7s 6d a week with 2s 6d bicycle allowance.

He joined the Navy and did war service as a decoder in the Mediterranean on HMS Chiddingfold, damaging his eyesight in the process. It was during this time that he met his first wife Barbara Taylor, a Wren from Derbyshire, who was also working with naval codes.

After leaving the Navy he went up to Keble College, Oxford, where among his friends were Kenneth Tynan and Anthony Sampson. Later he joined the Daily Mail, where he worked with his friend Derek Ingram, but found domestic reporting restricting.

Having a strong entrepreneurial streak, and a spirit of adventure, he moved with his family to Northern Rhodesia in 1955, where he ran house magazines for the copper mines for three years. Moving from Mufulira to Lusaka, he worked for a while for the government press office.

In 1960 he launched the Central African Mail, with help from David Astor who supplied a printing press. In 1961 Sir Roy Welensky (Prime Minister of the Federation of Rhodesia & Nyasaland) attempted to close the paper with a libel suit – the court case failed.

The Central African Mail was taken over after independence, but Hall, who by now was friendly with Kenneth Kaunda, became the Editor of the Times of Zambia. It was there that he came into contact with Tiny Rowland, who owned the paper.

During his time in Africa, he also freelanced for various papers and news agencies, and covered the trouble spots of Africa, and prided himself on a number of notable scoops. He reported on the vicious colonial war in the Congo in the early 1960s, and was the first journalist on the spot when Dag Hammarskjold (Secretary-General of the United Nations) was killed in an air crash in 1961. A passionate protagonist of the Biafrans, he was the last correspondent to leave before their fight for independence collapsed.

In 1967 political pressures forced him to leave Zambia, and he returned to Britain to work for the Observer as a foreign correspondent, covering not only African but Commonwealth news with distinction and courage.

He had always asserted that Tiny Rowland had never interfered with his editorial independence during his time in Zambia. So when Rowland launched his controversial bid for ownership of the Observer, Hall supported him. He may have hoped to be editor, but the job was retained by Donald Trelford. Rowland may have found Hall’s obstinate sense of independence a barrier. Gradually, he began to believe that Rowland was not, after all, the ideal proprietor, and left the Observer. He was a senior columnist for the Financial Times during the early 1980s.

He also contributed to Gemini News Agency, which was run by Derek Ingram. In 1986 he founded an influential newsletter Africa Analysis, which combined his business and political expertise of African affairs. 

Drawing on his experiences and his unbeatable network of contacts, he wrote many books, including a controversial account of his friendship with Rowland; Lovers on the Nile; and Empires of the Monsoon, a history of the Indian Ocean.

After his first marriage ended in divorce, he married again, to Carol Cattley, a former Observer journalist. They lived near Oxford, where Hall enjoyed gardening, reading poetry and listening to music until his death in 1997.

Articles and obituaries about Richard Hall

Article in Roan Selection Trust “Horizon” magazine, 1965

Obituary in The Observer

Obituary in The Guardian

Obituary in The Times

Obituary written by Dr. Kenneth Kaunda, President of Zambia