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Journalist who held ‘virtually every role’ at daily dies aged 77

David BellA journalist who occupied “virtually every role” in newspapers has died aged 77.

Tributes have been paid to David Bell, pictured, who worked for the Birmingham Mail between 1976 and 2007.

During his time with the Mail he held many different posts, including women’s editor at one point.

But he was better known as the newspaper’s municipal editor with a “voluminous local government knowledge”, who exposed a catalogue of scandals, financial mismanagement, corruption and barmy town hall schemes.

According to an obituary written for the Mail, he would work at the paper’s then-headquarters at Weaman Street during the first part of the morning before moving most days to his “other office”, the city’s Old Joint Stock pub, from 10.31am onwards.

At the pub, a “constant stream of councillors and contacts alike arrived to talk with him, offer tip-offs and generally chew the fat, sometimes queuing for their turn”, former Birmingham Post business editor John Duckers said.

John added: “He was a man of direct opinions and gruff asides but whose heart was in the right place.

“An old school journalist who loved nothing better than to dig out a tale who someone somewhere wanted buried.

“Both loveable and cantankerous, he still followed Birmingham and national events closely, enjoying nothing better than to scheme and gossip at the bar while putting the world to rights.

“Predicting both Brexit and a Donald Trump victory. A life which richly deserves a classic wake but sadly coronavirus means that at best it will be delayed for months.”

Former city council Deputy Leader Andy Howell added: “David Bell was one the last great municipal journalists, perhaps the very last. He could sniff out insincerity at half a mile.

“Treat him with respect, be honest with what you knew and could reasonably say and he treated you in a similar way.

“Over the years I became very fond of David. Our political views were very different. To him I was a wet, Guardian reading leftie; I regularly pointed out that his own views were to the right of Attila the Hun.

“He was a private person but every meeting with David, and every Guinness shared, was one of fun and laughter. The demise of the municipal correspondent — who held councils to account — has left us all the poorer.”

Hartlepool-born David lived in Cradley Heath, near Dudley.

He had recently been admitted to Russells Hall Hospital in Dudley and died peacefully in his sleep.

Birmingham City Council policy adviser Tony Smith said: “David annoyed and antagonised many in local government over the years and he remained firmly and resolutely ‘unreconstructed’.

“But underneath all of that was his innate sense that local democracy mattered. He also had deep rooted values of fairness and honesty and a straightforward northern sense of fair play.

“Above all, David was a great storyteller, whether in the pages of the Evening Mail or sitting on a bar stool in the Wellington or the Old Joint Stock. He had a mischievous sense of humour and adventure and told his tales with a twinkle in the eye that was irresistible.

“The gossip was always flowing, and the tales of his misadventures on foreign trips were legendary. He never lost his boyish charm and I will miss him.”