Don Hale's Career -
Journalist, sportsman, author and so much more
Don Hale OBE is an author, sports writer, and a former investigative journalist, who has written many books about a host of varied subjects. An ex-professional footballer, Don was a senior journalist for over 40-years and has edited about five regional newspapers, in addition to working with the BBC and national newspapers.
He won a host of regional and national media awards during an extraordinary career, which included the 'Journalist of the Year' prize on three separate occasions, and the prestigious 'What the Papers Say' award. In 2001, he was also the Observer newspaper's 'Man of the Year,' as voted for by readers of their Sunday newspaper.
He retired in 2001 from mainstream media to work as an associate editor of the North Wales Weekly News, and later edited their monthly magazine North Wales Living.
Don continued to work with many top barristers to provide advice on miscarriage of justice cases and with key research analysis, whilst also writing a succession of best-selling true-life books.
His updated and revised book - Murder in the Graveyard – published in June 2019 by Harper Collins - is a true account of his extensive campaign to successfully overturn the conviction of Stephen Downing, a man jailed in 1973 for a murder he did not commit. He has also narrated the audio version. Don spent over six years on the case and eventually helped to quash Downing's murder conviction. He has since worked on many high-profile cases and human rights campaigns.
Another popular book is the best-seller MALLARD, How the Blue Streak Broke the World Steam Record. His book was used as the basis for a special TV documentary for the Discovery Channel, Channel 4, and National Geographic for Trains, Fast, Faster etc, which examined the development of speed on the railways. Don helped present the programme, and travelled on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, riding in the cab of A4 Sir Nigel Gresley.
Another top-selling genre has been his pop and rock books, The Joe Cocker Story; Sounds of the Sixties, and Club 60 & the Esquire, and latterly his wonderful book - SHERLOCK HOLMES and the Ghost Ship Mystery - examined a controversial and historic inquiry into the role of Sherlock Holmes creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
A more recent book, is his fascinating story about Buster Crabb, the brave naval spy who disappeared in mysterious circumstances in 1956 during a visit by Russian warships to the UK. This new book entitled - Buster Crabb - Ian Fleming's favourite spy and the inspiration for James Bond, revealed a massive Cold War cover-up, and revealed many bizarre links to Fleming, his former wartime boss, and identified numerous storylines from Crabb’s own WW2 exploits that were later incorporated into Fleming’s Bond books.
*Although semi-retired, Don continues to produce interesting and exciting books, and now helps other budding authors to publish their works and reach their target audience via Amazon and other search engines: www.bookpublishing4u.co.uk
A SPORTING PATH
Don Hale recalls his early days in sport and professional football
Presentations at Bury FC
It was hard to decide on whether to play football or take part in athletics events as they often clashed. Duncan Lewis was a brilliant football coach, teacher and tactician, who coached several teams in the Cheshire League, or the old Lancashire Combination Football League. He was light years ahead of his rivals and took many FA coaching badges with senior professionals at proper league clubs.
Often, I had a difficult and at times uneasy relationship with him, yet regularly attended his special coaching sessions at Radcliffe with players from the local Radcliffe Borough team – who were then a very good Cheshire league/non-league team, and played with many quality ex-professionals.
I played and trained with Borough from the age of just 14 and I am sure this interaction helped develop my footballing skills and stamina. In addition, I also signed schoolboy forms for my local team Bury FC, who were then in the old Division Two (now Championship), with a wealth of experienced former International, and highly skilful players.
They were a bit of a yo-yo side though, and from memory they were always hovering around the relegation areas of the division battling with the likes of Charlton Athletic, Crystal Palace, Leyton Orient, Cardiff City, Carlisle United etc.
The excitement however, was of playing for their junior and youth sides in the morning at places like The Cliff – Manchester United’s training ground of the late 1960s – or at then league clubs such as Southport, Barrow, Bradford, etc, and then racing back to Gigg Lane to watch the lads play at home.
Half the time, the young players would be assigned cleaning or laundry duties on match days but I had the time to talk with home and visiting players.
Many of the top clubs of that division included the likes of Southampton, Manchester City, Huddersfield Town, Wolves, Birmingham City, and Bolton Wanderers, who all brought a huge army of travelling supporters to Gigg Lane to help create a great atmosphere.
That division meant Bury were often very close to stardom and the promised land of Division One (now the Premier League), who at that time was bereft of many overseas players – so local home-grown kids, theoretically always had a chance to make the grade.
Bury was one of the top feeder clubs with a great reputation for producing future stars who would then be sold on to keep the club going. During my time as a kid playing there, I was coached by the likes of Colin Bell (Manchester City & England), Ray Parry (Bolton Wanderers & England), Paul Hince (Manchester City), Bobby Collins (Leeds United & Scotland), Alf Arrowsmith (Liverpool), and a host of other former stars.
I trained hard every Tuesday and Thursday night after school at Gigg Lane for the football, and often on either a Monday or Wednesday for athletics training with Bury Athletics Club on their Market Street track, in-between, there regular soccer and fitness sessions at Radcliffe with Mr Lewis, or athletics coaching at lunchtimes with Mr Bennett.
My fitness and stamina improved tremendously and I was soon representing the town team at both football and athletics. I even appeared in two English Schools athletics final events, one in Lancaster, the other at Peterborough, competing in the 100 metres heats and finals. I think my best place was 4th but I thought I had won and only lost out by a few hundredths of a second due to looking across the line – for which I duly received a good rollicking!
During this period, the school also won the highly prestigious Panter Cup – a coveted inter-schools relay competition – and I was proud to captain the team through the heats to win the trophy for the first and only time. We only retained the prize for about a week however, before thieves read about our success and duly broke into the school and nicked it!
On the football side, we had a great team and reached the latter stages of the All-England Schools’ trophy on two consecutive seasons. In defence we had Don McAllister, a rough tough centre-half who eventually played for Bolton Wanderers and Spurs, whilst my midfield colleague was another fellow athlete in Stuart Jump, a former junior school pal, who eventually went on the play for Stoke City, and Malcolm Alison’s Crystal Palace.
The scouts obviously came to watch Don or Stuart, but when they realised they were already spoken for, looked for alternatives – hence my invite to join Bury.
I was fast rather than furious or particularly skilful but my time at Bury lasted for about six years, playing for the juniors, A, B, C, youth side and reserves, with a few first team games in Lancashire cup matches, pre-season friendly’s or Manchester senior cup outings. I was fortunate to play in many reserve team games at many top First division grounds, where sometimes the crowds were often much larger than Bury’s own first team home gates.
I hoped to become a professional player and left school with ambitions rather than firm intentions. I signed apprentice forms at Bury but spent time loaned at other clubs such at Shrewsbury Town, York City or Blackburn Rovers, to gain experience.
Terry McDermott was a good player, and colleague at that time, along with Malcolm Alison’s son David, David Holt, and Charlie Gisbourne, who went on to star for many years with Crewe.
Each club I visited had varied coaching and training methods. Some hardly bothered with a ball during the week, concentrating on running and fitness so that players would be hungry for the ball on a Saturday. Others did little fitness work during the season and played endless attack and defence scenarios.
Bury introduced a top international athletics coach in Joe Lancaster to help boost fitness. This meant regular visits to the track at Leverhulme Park in Bolton. Joe was a legend in athletics and although I was familiar with some of his training methods, I think we all struggled at first to incorporate this type of cross training with football. I found they did not always mix well and picked up a few niggling injuries.
Injuries though, were always a problem for me, as an ambitious, and aspiring young lad, and I often became frustrated and impatient just sat on the side-lines, or on the subs-bench. Often this meant I was sat in the stands next to the journalists and radio commentators.
At one match I was annoyed by the BBC man constantly getting things wrong and started to chip in with side comments. He didn’t like it, but the producers in Manchester told him to allow me to speak about free kicks, tactics or general news about players – so quickly I became one of the very first pundits!
This association became a regular and popular occurrence with listeners until the manager found out, and banned me from talking about Bury, saying that the opposition coaches could hear my comments in the coaching dug-out, so they could make alternative moves. I didn’t really believe this, but I was given no option, and in the end, I was only allowed to talk about other teams.
My injuries however, continued to hamper any sporting progress, and as I enjoyed my outings to other grounds when unavailable for selection, I soon found myself in demand and co-commenting on First, Second and Third Division games all over the country for the BBC. I was also a regular at the old Maine Road stadium, and covering top of the table matches with City, United, Newcastle, Liverpool, or Sunderland.
And for several seasons, I was selected by BBC local radio and BBC Sports, to commentate and report on matches for Carlisle United, Torquay United and Darlington Town. The work with Carlisle at that time was especially exciting as they travelled up and down all the various leagues in very quick succession.
Bury had a succession of managers during my time at the club, and after first signing for Les Shannon, I think I played under about five others, including former player Les Hart (a great inspiration), and eventually Jack Marshall & Jimmy Meadows.
Jimmy had been a great player at Manchester City and came to Gigg Lane after successfully managing Stockport County. The pair formed an uneasy alliance and I had already clashed with Jack Marshall during stints at Blackburn over a few general maintenance issues, where I preferred playing or radio work to cleaning boots, painting the stands, or doing the dirty laundry.
The arrival of these men coincided with a period of enforced injury and despite my best efforts to achieve fitness I became the unexpected winner of the sack race – without either of them ever seeing me play!
So, after 200-plus matches in Bury’s colours, and scoring about 60-plus goals, my full time professional football days were over, so I was now reliant on other regular work and opportunities that might beckon?
I was devastated by my release from Bury but received many offers to play in non-league, and after a season or so in the wilderness, played for amateur sides, where I could score at will, I joined Lytham St Anne’s, and played Cheshire league and/or Lancashire Combination football. This also coincided with an exciting cup replay against Wigan Athletic.
This all worked out well for a while, but I was getting more and more involved with sports writing, radio commentary and special features, so I gradually stopped playing regularly, opting just to appear in charity matches, or special fundraising events, where I received several surprise opportunities to appear with top stars from the world of football, showbiz, stage and screen.
From a turbulent few years of playing, travelling, and injuries, suddenly I was embroiled in a whole new world, where my early sporting career seemed to be now opening a few doors…
At school, and even from my time at the junior school, I was always considered a good athlete, and excelled at the long jump, relay, 100 & 200-yards events. I was also very keen on cross country running and football, and I am sure that it was my speed over short distances that first attracted a host of talent scouts from several football league clubs.
I loved to play on the right wing and regularly cut inside for shots or crosses. It was this ability to play on either flank that often confused more rigid defences who were still rather uneducated in the art of tactics in the early 1960s.
I was lucky, because at my secondary school in Whitefield, north Manchester, we had a couple of very good football and athletics coaches who introduced me to a new range of coaching methods that seemed to bring the best out of my limitations to excel in mixed sporting events.
RADIO AND TV CAREER
In Tune with running
After leaving the football scene, I managed to retain many contacts throughout the sporting world and with obtaining commissions on the radio I was soon able to expand a growing portfolio of names to encompass the world of showbiz, sport, leisure and pleasure.
And by writing a variety of features for the Manchester Evening News, local newspapers, and having regular spots on BBC Radio Manchester, I managed to obtain exclusive interviews with sporting stars, marathon runners, or footballers.
I recall interviewing star runner Steve Jones at Reebok in Bolton just before he made a name for himself at the Chicago and London marathons. He was a rather shy but polite RAF mechanic then, who had a gruelling training schedule and seemed set for glory.
Don as a BBC sports presenter at Radio Rochdale
I also attended the London Marathon press promotions and did interviews with Ron Pickering, the veteran Madge Sharples, and the wheelchair champion Tammy Grey Thompson.
My regular scribblings eventually persuaded David Hulme, an experienced senior producer at BBC Radio Manchester to give me a break presenting on some of the new community satellite radio stations being launched around the region.
He invited me to produce and present a twice-daily sports programme at BBC Radio Bury – and backed by an excellent management team, we soon attracted a good audience and completed some great outside broadcasts from varied events.
This new show also allowed me to commentate and present a live radio programme from Gigg Lane about American Football – of which I knew very little – but enjoyed a long programme full of dazzling and attractive cheerleaders, and dozens of mighty men dressed in a mass of colourful ultra-padding.
We even organised a few fun-runs and charity events in and around Bury despite a terrible winter and freezing conditions in nearby Clarence Park. The format seemed to work well and I was pleased to be invited to continue in a similar role at BBC Radio Rochdale with producer Tony Coll.
Rochdale was a great place to work and right from the start we made a huge hit with the community broadcasting from the centre of town. With the addition of warm spring weather, we organised a major fun run and family day in Springfield Park, which attracted thousands of people. Another popular community day took place at the rugby ground, where once again we were besieged with support.
The only problem I had involved our faces being shown about 20-feet high on the side of buses. When I reached the rugby ground however, I lost my security tag and despite showing the ‘jobsworth’ guy on the gate that my face was on one of the buses, he still insisted on getting my entry approved by A.N. Other!
The Rochdale experience again proved invaluable and I interviewed rugby stars – including Iolo Williams – who later went on to present bird and wildlife programmes for TV, a young Lisa Stansfield, together with Goodies star Bill Oddie, and plenty of other celebrities with local connections.
We also played charity cricket matches against the fire and rescue services, football specials with comedian Jimmy Cricket and alternative features with Dr David Bellamy, Hollywood star Charlton Heston, Oxo TV star Lynda Bellingham, and eccentric steeplejack/steam engine driver extraordinaire Fred Dibnah.
During this time, I was also working with BBC Radio Lancashire at Blackburn presenting a Saturday morning show with lots of OB’s all over Lancashire, reporting for BBC Radio 2 sports commentaries and doing odd shifts for BBC Radio Manchester on London Rd.
One of our most talented researchers and receptionists was Caroline Hook (Aherne) who was a tremendous (if not sometimes controversial) character who created the lovable Mrs Merton character, and writer of the Royle family and several comedy shows.
We were then keen rivals with independent Piccadilly Radio, who had Timmy Mallett hosting their main daytime show, with Michaela Strachan and a young Chris Evans working as a runabout researcher and contributor.
Despite working for the opposition and taking many listeners away with some seriously good OB’s, I continued to take part in several Piccadilly marathons and one of their top executives Tom Tyrell even let me run in their special 097 number.
Work on the radio attracted other offers from newspapers including Eddie Shah and an offer to work on his Messenger group sports publications.
One of my first regular columns in the newspapers was fondly called ‘Joggers Corner.’ It was a basic information site to start with, simply giving details of forthcoming running events, race meetings, and fitness or charity challenges. It seemed to capture the atmosphere of a new wave of running fever that was now sweeping across the country.
My columns also ran with ‘In Town Tonight’ celebrity reviews for top shows in the north, and ‘where are they now,’ reviews of former stars from the world of showbiz, sport, or pop music.
My running continued with a host of strange and challenging events all over the Manchester region and even a special training programme with local Bury North MP Alistair Burt, raising funds for the local hospice and helping him to run his first London Marathon. He later went on to become a senior Conservative cabinet minister.
Work however was often patchy and unreliable as a freelance and having a family to support, when the opportunity came for more regular work and a chance to run my own newspaper again, I accepted the challenge and moved to Derbyshire in 1985 to take over as editor at the Matlock Mercury and so begin a fascinating 16 years plus on a temporary contract that was to change my life forever…
JOURNALISM - THE EARLY DAYS AND NOW
The extraordinary career of Don Hale, and bizarre links to his ancestors
During his hey-day Don Hale was probably one of Britain’s most colourful and controversial investigative journalists. He worked with many national newspapers, and for several regional newspapers as an editor, and presented a mixed series of radio and television programmes for the BBC and independent broadcasting companies.
It is claimed that he won more prestigious awards than any other UK journalist, including ‘Journalist of the Year’ three times, ‘Campaign of the year,’ ‘Scoop of the year,’ ‘Man of the Year – voted by the readers of the Observer,’ and BBC regional ‘Presenter of the year,’ and ‘International Peace Prize,’ to name but a few.
He received his ‘What the Paper’s Say,’ Journalist of the Year award at a star-studded ceremony in London attended by his wife and Matlock Mercury team. The award was announced by TV host Clive Anderson, and ironically it was presented by former Tory Prisons’ Minister Ann Widdecombe, who had once turned down Downing’s claims of innocence despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
Don receiving an international award from Michael Parkinson
From 1994-2002 he became a familiar face on national and international television screens whilst battling to free Stephen Downing, who had been jailed more than 20-plus years earlier for a crime he did not commit.
Don campaigned for justice and eventually had the conviction overturned. He won an international peace prize for his efforts, and helped change Parole Board reviews, and both British and European Justice by a review of the IDOM (In Denial of Murder) ruling at the European Court of Human Rights.
In addition, he successfully worked as lead investigator on many other high-profile miscarriage of justice cases, including that of Barry George, who had been wrongly convicted of the murder of popular TV presenter Jill Dando.
His work has also been highlighted in TV documentaries by BBC and ITV, and on Judge Rinder’s Crime Series.
In 2002, Don was nominated for an OBE by Prime Minister Tony Blair for his campaign journalism, and later received the award from HRH Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, at Buckingham Palace.
This particular award seemed ironic as Don’s great grandfather was the first Royal Bodyguard to the Prince of Wales in the early 1900’s, working as a detective superintendent in Victorian & Edwardian Manchester.
His family background is fascinating, if not remarkable, and within some of his historical works, he revisits his ancestors to tell about his own father and uncle’s activities with British military Intelligence during WW2. He also tells about his grandfather’s life-saving role in the trenches and battles of WW1.
'Buster' Crabb: Ian Fleming’s Favourite Spy, The Inspiration for James Bond by Don Hale
Commander Lionel 'Buster' Crabb was Ian Fleming's inspiration for James Bond. A British naval frogman, Crabb disappeared under mysterious circumstances in 1957 following a secret dive beneath a Russian warship which brought Soviet leaders Khrushchev and Bulganin to Britain. Fifty years after the event, award-winning investigative journalist Don Hale uncovers who sanctioned Crabb's final dive in a case which claimed the jobs of Admiralty top brass and Intelligence people and contributed to the downfall of Prime Minister Anthony Eden.
Crabb and diver
Murder in the Graveyard:
A Brutal Murder. A Wrongful Conviction. A 27-Year Fight for Justice by Don Hale.
A gripping true crime investigation into the longest miscarriage of justice in British legal history. In September 1973, Stephen Downing was convicted and indefinitely sentenced for the murder of Wendy Sewell, a young legal secretary in the town of Bakewell in the Peak District. Wendy was attacked in broad daylight in Bakewell Cemetery. Stephen Downing, the 17-year-old groundskeeper with learning difficulties and a reading age of 11, was the primary suspect. He was immediately arrested, questioned for nine hours, without a solicitor present, and pressured into signing a confession full of words he did not understand.
21 years later, local newspaper editor Don Hale was thrust into the case. Determined to take it to appeal, as he investigated the details, he found himself inextricably linked to the narrative. He faced obstacles at every turn, and suffered several attempts on his life. All of this merely strengthened his resolve: why should anyone threaten him if Downing had committed the crime?
In 2002, Stephen Downing was finally acquitted, having served 27 years in prison.
Stephen Downing in 2002
Stephen Downing and Don Hale
How the 'Blue Streak' Broke the World Speed Record by Don Hale
Just over eighty years ago on the East Coast main line, the streamlined A4 Pacific Locomotive Mallard reached a top speed of 126mph a world record for steam locomotives that still stands. Since then, millions have seen this famous locomotive, resplendent in her blue livery, on display at the National Railway Museum in York.Here, Don Hale tells the full story of how the record was broken: from the nineteenth-century London Scotland speed race and, surprisingly, traces Mallard's futuristic design back to the Bugatti car and the influence of Germany's nascent Third Reich, which propelled the train into an instrument of national prestige. He also celebrates Mallard's designer, Sir Nigel Gresley, one of Britain's most gifted engineers. Mallard is a wonderful tribute to one of British technology's finest hours.
Sir Nigel Gresley with his son
Sir Nigel next to his namesake,
an A4 Pacific Locomotive
BEST SELLING BOOKS
About the author: Don Hale:
Don Hale is a British author and journalist previously known for his investigative work. He has been National Journalist of the Year on three occasions.
His campaign to free Stephen Downing won the National Campaign of the Year Award and helped force a change in British and European law allowing any prisoner in denial of any offence the right to appeal for parole.
In 2002 Don Hale was made an OBE for his efforts and campaigning journalism in this case. His OBE was nominated by Prime Minister Tony Blair and endorsed by the Queen and Prince Phillip. Following the Stephen Downing case, he was asked to help, as lead investigator on several other high profile cases, including the re-trial of the Jill Dando case, which ultimately found Barry George innocent.
Don with actors Gary Lewis and Tam Dean Burn who gave a dramatic reading of his book at the Wirksworth Festival
He is a former professional footballer, and although now semi-retired, he remains a keen athlete and sports writer, and continues to write many best-selling books, and additionally, now helps other potential authors to publish their work.
*Read more about Don's experiences as an author, and doing a US book tour, in his blog Writers on the Road
MURDER IN THE GRAVEYARD
Review by top crime author Sophie Draper
‘It's an extraordinary story of innocence and persecution, determination and grit, the heroic pursuit of the truth that even now frustratingly evades the beautiful Derbyshire town of Bakewell. It reads like a thriller from the word go, from the opening moments when journalist Don Hale fears for his life through to the twists and turns of his investigation. Written with crisp clarity and journalistic authority, it had me rattling through the pages despite what was a drawn out and complicated case, so that by the end I was breathless, both with outrage at how Stephen Downing had been treated and the circumstances and outcome of the police investigations.’
Sherlock Holmes and the Ghost Ship Mystery:
How a true story inspired Conan Doyle to write a fictional tale accepted as fact by Don Hale
This is a story about how a ghost ship inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to investigate one of the world's most fascinating mysteries: When the brigantine Mary Celeste was first found abandoned and drifting helplessly in the Azores, just off the coast of Portugal in December 1872, speculative news of the crew being abducted or murdered by aliens, huge sea monsters, or pirates, no doubt inspired an inquisitive young Scottish schoolboy, Arthur Conan Doyle, to eventually write his own fictional tale.
Then aged just 13, and setting his mind to a medical career, it would be another 12-years before he finally put pen to paper whilst working as a surgeon on a whaling ship bound for an Arctic adventure. His story about the incident, entitled: J. Habakuk Jephson’s Statement, was first published anonymously in the Cornhill magazine in January 1884 and created a worldwide sensation, promoting news about the bizarre abandonment.
Fiction however, soon became interpreted as fact, with newspapers and journals worldwide promoting his tale and creating an unstoppable roller coaster of intrigue about this mysterious ghost ship, and what was thought to have really happened. In later years, it has been compared to Orson Welles, when in October 1938, his dramatic reading of a 62-minute radio play in New York based on HG Wells science fiction novel – The War of the Worlds – suddenly created a mass panic with many thousands of listeners believing every word.
Although Conan Doyle changed the names of crew members, and some other varied details, including altering the ‘Mary Celeste’ to the ‘Marie Celeste,’ he still retained the name of the rescue ship Dei Gratia, and introduced many similar facts that helped persuade a rather gullible audience. If he had not written his own fictional account, readers though would have been completely unaware of several other similar abandonments and ghost ships, which occurred around the same period, and captivated audiences, all eager for more news about these extraordinary events.
And just a year later after publishing his story, the real Mary Celeste finally ended her career in dramatic style, after she was deliberately wrecked on a coral reef off Haiti by a skipper, who had become embroiled in a fraudulent conspiracy.
So perhaps it was a fresh inquiry and a revelation of other previous dramatic events that put Conan Doyle back in the spotlight, but whatever the reason, his story was again accepted as genuine with even Admiralty officials forced to review their original findings.
The real incident would have been worthy of investigation by his notable Sherlock Holmes character, a fictional detective, introduced just three years later.
This book examines the whole incident, before, during and after, and compares fact with fiction to analyse the brilliant workings of Conan Doyle, who used many of his experiences to later develop some memorable characters.