John “the Welsh” Lloyd, a sports sub on the Daily Express for around 40 years, died in London yesterday, April 6, after a short illness. PETER JACKSON pays tribute
That part of the Pantheon reserved for unforgettable characters from the golden days of Fleet Street has suddenly become a bit more crowded. The local residents have had to make room for the entry of a jovial Welshman from Merthyr Tydfil, the inimitable John Lloyd.
Had they cleared a way for him to walk straight through the serried ranks of unforgettables and up to the top table, nobody who knew him would have been the least bit surprised. In some respects, John Lloyd, who has died, aged 87, was the most unforgettable of them all.
He graduated to Fleet Street in time-honoured fashion, taking the classical route from a weekly newspaper (Merthyr Express) to a regional evening in Cardiff (South Wales Echo). And when he went east to London in his late 20s, it wasn’t to join any national daily but the biggest and best in the business.
The Daily Express thought they had signed a sports sub with a flair for lay-out. They can never have imagined that he would become an ambassador par excellence for Wales and the Welsh, a quality that extended beyond the Monday morning page written from Cardiff by the excellent Jim Hill and produced in London by his irrepressible compatriot.
Their combined efforts would leave the rest of us in Wales playing catch-up. When it came to making a fuss of the Welsh in London, “Lloydie” did so on a scale so lavish that his generosity alone must have kept the circulation figures moving upwards.
Nothing was too much trouble, or so it seemed. Who else would have found the nerve and the ingenuity to delay the departure from Paddington of an InterCity 125 long enough for the Cardiff City football team to catch it after an accident-prone match at Leyton Orient?
John did that all by himself. I can see him now, standing on the platform, chatting to the driver for what seemed an eternity until the players arrived. From memory, the train pulled away six minutes behind schedule.
The story reinforced my belief that that there was nobody in London John Lloyd didn’t know. I first met him at another football match in the late 1960s when he took a group of us back-stage at The Talk of the Town where he gave the distinct impression that he had the run of the place.
Doors opened for John as readily in showbiz circles as they did in football, boxing, rugby and any other sport. He never missed a trick to promote Welsh stars in general and one in particular, Dorothy Squires, the 1950s and 1960s singer whose marriage to Roger Moore and their subsequent divorce demanded front-page treatment.
No matter how tempestuous Dot’s life became, John Lloyd of Merthyr was always there, ever-willing to man the lifeboat and steer her safely through the storm.
Heaven knows, the lady from Pontyberem found more of them than most. Officially, he was the honourable secretary of the Dorothy Squires’ Fan Club. Unofficially, he was her equally honourable agent.
How he found the time to manage it all defied belief but manage it he did, from the mid-1950s until his retirement some four decades later. And long before then he had mastered the art of catching forty winks in a corner of the sports desk with a telephone cradled to one ear.
The back bench assumed their Welsh sports editor was cracking another story and let him be. Maybe he wasn’t asleep at all but pretending to be, a pre-emptive strike to avoid another call from Dorothy Squires…