Mirror news sub Ben Noble, a much loved craftsman of words from the days of hot metal who carried his talents into the computer age, has died aged 80.
With his flinty eye and greying beard, Aberdonian Ben was the very picture of the grizzled Scotsman. But that occasionally forbidding exterior masked a compassion for the underdog, a wary suspicion of power and a rich sense of often eccentric mischief that endeared him to colleagues.
A consummate professional, Ben was a key member of the subs desk in the days when the Mirror was selling four million, rewriting major stories under pressure with typical flair and a rigorous attention to accuracy on which he rightly prided himself. He was never afraid to voice his opinion when he thought the paper had made an incorrect decision. But his forthrightness was always founded on an unflinching belief in the values of the Mirror and a zeal that they should be maintained. A lifelong Socialist and committed member of the NUJ, he was proud to work for a Labour-supporting paper and proud of the Mirror’s unrivalled bond with its readers.
Ben was the youngest of three brothers whose parents met and married in New York before returning to Scotland to escape the US Depression. Brought up in Aberdeen, he studied Modern History, French and German at Aberdeen University then moved to Bonn where he taught English and Literature. After the death of his mother, Ben returned to Scotland where, without previous reporting experience, he joined the Glasgow Herald as a trainee sub. From there, he moved to the Scottish Daily Express, joining the Mirror subs desk in 1968.
In August 1974, to the surprise of fellow subs, Ben announced that he intended to travel the world, starting in Europe and continuing to Asia and New Zealand where his brother Alistair was living. As a farewell gift, colleagues bought him a pair of stout walking boots. Ben could not resist returning to his beloved Scotland before leaving on his trip. It became increasingly clear that any further travel was out of the question. By January the following year, Ben was back on the subs desk where he remained until his retirement in 1995, moving in his latter years from news to features. He retained the boots which fitted very badly.
Ben met wife Lela, to whom he was devoted and who survives him, in 1973. Both shared a passion for walking, visits to the theatre and art galleries and a love of literature and classical music. After his retirement, Ben could often be found in his local pub in Sawbridgeworth, Herts, head bowed over a book or the Guardian cryptic crossword, a copy of which he always carried. A lover of words and a wordsmith to the end.
Retired Mirror news sub Crawford McAfee probably has the oldest professional memories of Ben. He writes:
I first met Ben on 1 January, 1962, when I joined the Scottish Daily Express in Glasgow as an 18-year-old copy boy.
He was already subbing and even then, at the age of 26, had a grey beard and a reputation as an engaging, eccentric personality. Ben was notorious for his fierce concentration as he wrestled with stories, occasionally emitting an anguished cry of “Oh, for Pete’s sake!” as the words took shape.
One memorable night, for some reason, the retired boxing champion Sugar Ray Robinson was being shown round the office by the editor, deputy editor and other assorted chiefs. Ben, mired in a story, was oblivious of their presence.
As Sugar Ray passed behind him, he exploded in greater than normal frustration “Oh, for f***’s sake!” The champ was amused. The bosses were not and Ben was given a roasting. Moving up to subbing, I sat next to Ben for a few months picking up on his experience before our paths diverged. Ten years later, I was sitting beside him again on the subs desk at Holborn. It was a pleasure. He was a true original.