Kenneth Graves was born in Birmingham into working class family on the 31st January 1923. His education was severely disrupted due to his father having to move around to get work. The young Ken fully expected to get an apprenticeship in a factory, but when he was 15 a road accident broke his right arm and never healed properly. This left him writing with his left but his dexterity was so restricted that it limited the work he was able to do. He left school with no qualifications but enthusiastically set about self-education in a way that never quite left him.
He joined the Communist Party during the Second World War and the party's education programme helped fill in the gaps in his schooling. In the 1950s, he became a full-time Party organiser, first in Devon and Cornwall, and then back in Birmingham, where he became a regional Daily Worker circulation representative. Later, he became the Midlands correspondent for the Daily Worker, later the Morning Star, from the early 1960s. Inevitably, given his remit, Graves focused on building up contacts in local factories and unions; through this he regularly landed national exclusives.
He married his wife Joan in 1962 and their son, David (1963-93), became one of the first pupils from a state school in Coventry to win an Oxford scholarship. The couple lived in a block of council flats in one of the roughest parts of Coventry – Hillfields. But, such was the respect in which Ken was held locally, that in 1969 the deposit for a modest but pleasant house in Earlsdon was provided.
In the 1970s, he started working for union papers, including the T&GWU `Record’, partly in tandem with the role at the Star, later, concentrating on just that work from around 1980. In his time, he contributed to the journals of ASTMS, NUPE, ISTC, TASS, MSF, Metal Mechanics, and the Gold & Silver Workers (both strong locally) all of which unions have subsequently merged.
He was often unofficially invited into the Joint Shop Steward Committee meetings at many Midlands plants, which aided a reputation for scoops. This included the sleeping bag dispute at Rover, the Ansell's Brewery strike and what the Edwardes' reorganisation plan for British Leyland really meant. His take on the latter proved to be wholly accurate.
Like not a few, Ken left the Communist Party in the difficult days of the late 1980s, but unlike many of these he joined the Labour Party. This was partly eased due to his personal links with Jim Cunningham, initially a local union activist and then council leader in 1988 and MP in 1992. Ken was nonetheless opposed to the invasion of Iraq and hardly seemed to have fundamentally changed his general political stance much in his last years.
He was editor of the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust's magazine for many years – his first scoop was the first red kite spotted in the county since records began.
Graves was made an Honorary Life Member of the National Union of Journalists in July 1990; the former T&G General Secretary Jack Jones presented him with Certificate to mark his 25 years' service to the union.
Ken Graves died in Coventry on 9th January 2012, aged 89 years.
Sources: GS personal knowledge; Morning Star February 1st 2012; The Independent January 31st 2012