Shan Davies Obituary

Shan Davies was, quite simply, the toughest female reporter ever known in the Sunday People’s long history. From the time she started working for the paper in 1976, she would enthusiastically undertake assignments that would make even the most hardened male reporters wince and shake their heads.

Determined to be one of the ‘lads’, Shan would drink, smoke and banter along with the best of them. But always, her main concern was to nail the story, however difficult or unlikely.

Her first assignment for the People, as a freelance reporter aged 23, was to expose a farm in deepest Wales which bred dogs for vivisection. For this, she had to go undercover and work there as a kennelmaid. Getting the story involved taking secret pictures and phoning over copy from public telephone boxes, in the days before email or mobile phones were invented.  Shan just managed to send off the last roll of pictures before the farm’s owner became suspicious, smashed her camera in front of her and ordered her immediately off the premises.

The story made the front page with the headline Born to Die, and carried a heartbreaking picture of a newborn puppy scratching helplessly against a wire-netted cage. The farm owner sued the paper which of course resulted in another scoop: the story they tried to ban. Later, the farm was closed down, thanks entirely to Shan. The paper’s head of investigations, Laurie Manifold, realised she was just the kind of girl he wanted, and she was soon taken onto the staff, first as a general reporter and later as the paper’s – and Fleet Street’s – first female crime correspondent.

When she joined the staff, Shan was one of only four women in editorial, out of a total staff of about 150 journalists on the five-million circulation paper.

She seemed game for anything and consorted with criminals, even locking up a notorious murderer in her bathroom and later taking him to a pub to meet her strict Welsh chapel parents. This was only hours after the criminal’s girlfriend had knocked Shan unconscious in another pub, as the girlfriend had expected a male reporter, and assumed, when she saw a very young woman instead, that her criminal boyfriend was cheating on her.

Shan pretended to be a prostitute to get the inside track on the porn industry, and was even offered a part in a raunchy film. This time her cover was almost blown when she dropped her notebook on her way to the ladies’, and it was picked up by the lighting cameraman. After leafing though the book, he handed it back to Shan, saying: “There can’t be many prostitutes with perfect Pitman’s shorthand.” She quickly replied: “Oh, I used to be a secretary. But I couldn’t make enough money at it.”

On one occasion news editor David Farr rang to ask if she was in any danger, to which she replied, “Yes, I am.” Farr said: “Jolly good, pet.”  As crime correspondent, Shan became friendly with Charlie Kray, who introduced her to his contacts and even acted as her minder. She was sent to walk in the footsteps of the Yorkshire Ripper, when he was still at large and FOC Frank Murphy, worrying about her being on her own, asked about protection. People reporter

Trevor Aspinall replied: “Don’t worry, the Ripper can look after himself.”

That’s what people thought about Shan; here was a go-getting girl who would go and get any story at all.

And she did. She got a job as a cleaner in an old people’s home to expose the cruel, inhuman way the residents were treated, she broke into Parkhurst Prison, and armed with her perfect Pitman’s shorthand, covered all the big Old Bailey trials of the day, such as that of the spanking colonel and Michael Fagan, the man who broke into the Queen’s bedroom and surprised her Maj while asleep.

In its heyday the Sunday People specialised in daft, fun stories as well as serious investigations, and the versatile Shan soon showed that she could turn her hand to these as well. She became a barmaid at a pub owned by the Pope’s cousin, thus scooping all of Fleet Street, she proposed to ‘Diddy’ David Hamilton, going down on bended knee, and was a friend of such showbiz luminaries as Barbara Windsor and PJ Proby. Katie Boyle, a famous TV personality of the day, became angry at one of Shan’s stories but again, her perfect Pitman’s stood her in good stead.

She could take any amount of ribbing and laughed along with the rest when working undercover as a freelance at the Sunday Mirror, where her identity could not be revealed. Revel Barker, then in charge of investigations on the paper, said: “Don’t worry, I’ll say it was an attractive blonde in her 20s and nobody will guess it was you.” In later years, Shan often repeated this joke against herself.

Shan Davies grew up in Sheen, South-West London, the second daughter of Margaret and Jack Davies, a bank manager. She was educated at Richmond County School for Girls and left at 16 to attend the Anne Godden Secretarial College in Putney, where her mother was a teacher.  Her burning ambition was always to get to Fleet Street and her excellent shorthand and typing skills landed her a job at the Kilburn Times, where she was indentured. She went on day release to the NCTJ training scheme at Hendon, where one contemporary was Richard Littlejohn.  Her potential was spotted by investigative reporter PJ Wilson, who claims credit for launching her Fleet Street career in the days when the People undertook properly-researched investigations. Often, a witness was required, and Shan came from her local paper in Kilburn to witness a key interview.  PJ was so impressed with her determination and willingness to doorstep for hours that he recommended her to David Farr for shift work.

Before landing a staff job at the People, Shan worked freelance for the Sunday Mirror and also on the group’s house magazine.

I got to know Shan well as not only did we sit next to each other in the People newsroom, we both lived in Richmond and used to travel into work together. Never the neatest of individuals, she was once given the day off work by the fastidious Farr simply to tidy her desk. But although she could present a dishevelled, devil-may-care appearance and attitude, Shan’s mind worked neatly and methodically to get the story, and she could be an amusing writer as well as a hard-hitting investigative reporter.

There was always a showbizzy, actressy side to Shan so it is not all that surprising she married an actor, Hugh Lloyd. She became the story herself when the unlikely romance was leaked to the Sun before her own paper could reveal it. Hugh, a household name at the time, was 30 years Shan’s senior and had been married three times before, so onlookers did not give the marriage much of a chance. In the event, they were true soulmates and would have celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary this year.

After her marriage, Shan left the People to freelance and accompany Hugh on his acting assignments. For several years, they were a double act on cruise liners and after they moved to Worthing, they took part in many local campaigns, often dressing up in daft costumes.  Shan became known as the Poet Launderette, for her Ode to a Dirty Sock and other such gems.

When I bought a flat in Worthing, Shan and I met up again and relived many hilarious moments at the People. We then got together to write our stories of women in Fleet Street and Revel Barker commissioned two books from us. One, A Girl on the Street, was to contain Shan’s amazing stories and scoops and the other, Ladies of the Street, was to be a history and celebration of Fleet Street’s finest females.

Shan is duly celebrated in LOTS but her own book never got written. After Hugh died in July this year aged 85, all the fight went out of her and she just wanted to die herself. For the last few months of her life, she was downing a litre of vodka a day and protesting that she had nothing left to live for. She refused all help and died after lapsing into an alcoholic coma, aged just 55.  She never knew that LOTS had been published.

Shan Lloyd, nee Davies, born 1 July 1953; died December 13, 2008. She leaves an older sister, Lynne and her 92-year old mother, Margaret. There were no children from her marriage to Hugh.

Gentlemen Ranters web site - December 2008