Wed, 19 June, 2024

Alan Shillum

Posted: March 27th, 2024

ALAN SHILLUM – Al to one and all – former Daily Mirror news editor, pensions trustee and AMP committee member, died peacefully in a care home in Wickford, Essex, on March 21 [2024]. He was 89, and had been suffering from Alzheimer’s. His funeral will be private, but a memorial gathering is planned on Thursday, June 20, from 12.30pm – 5pm, at The Humble Grape, 1 St Bride’s Passage, London, EC4Y 8EJ (formerly known as the City Golf Club). If you’re planning to attend, please let Jill Palmer know here: – so that the catering can be estimated

ALAN was born in East London on December 3, 1939, one of three children. His fireman father was killed in World War II, and as the war raged on in London, Alan was evacuated to Totnes to live, briefly, with another family.

He later won a scholarship to Reeds School in Cobham, Surrey. Alan originally studied engineering, but entered newspapers in 1958, aged 24, as a reporter on the Walthamstow Guardian. You can read Al’s own account of his journalistic journey here: In his own words

In 1961 he became news editor of the Stratford Express while also casualling for the Daily Mirror, until he joined its news desk in 1967. He was deputy night news editor under Dan Ferrari, and replaced him as night news editor before becoming Daily Mirror news editor from 1976–1983.

Alan was Daily Mirror managing editor and Group managing editor under Robert Maxwell, working on a number of foreign newspaper projects including Moscow News and the Hungarian daily Magyar Hirlap.

In 1993 Al took early retirement, although for a time remained a trustee of the post-Maxwell pension scheme. Apart from continuing committee duties for the Association of Mirror Pensioners, he spent much of his retirement at home on Mersea Island, happily painting and drawing. He discovered his incredible artistic gifts later in life, and linked up with other artists to open the East Mersea art gallery in “the spare room of a not-very-well patronised café”.

His work was commended more than once in a national art competition run by The Oldie magazine. One year Al was a top ten finalist, and his pen and ink picture of a steam locomotive works was exhibited at the final judging ceremony. (Self portrait, below.)

Alan was a great jazz aficionado, and also indulged another great passion in later years – miniature steam locomotives that can be driven just like the real thing. First he bought one, then he built one (or more).

Reminiscing, he said: “I became what I always secretly wanted to be – an engine driver! At weekends I would light up and drive my pride and joy on a local club track, while the rest of the week was spent in my garage – by now a fully-equipped workshop – slowly building a locomotive of my own as the garden went to pot.

“And twice a year, you would find me at the controls of a third full-size engine, courtesy of the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Railway driver experience team, chuffing along their South Coast track. Although dressed like all the proper drivers in overalls and grease-top hat, you could easily spot me. I was the one also wearing an outsize grin.”

Alan was a great family man. Husband to Sylv, father of three to Dan, Scott and Mat, father-in-law to Nicky, Sue and Andrea, and grandfather to Emily, Ruby and Ollie. His wife Sylvia and son Dan predeceased him. Scott said: “He loved his time at the Mirror. He was a journalist to his core.” Mat added: “I’m pleased Dad’s now at peace. The end of an era for sure, but what an interesting life he had. And what a great Dad we had.”

Tony Patey: “This is immensely sad news for me and my wife Ann. Al defined an era of our lives in the mid-1960s when we both worked on the Stratford Express in London’s East End, where he was news editor. They were wild times, but Al – much older than us – was a quiet, solid presence with a tough, no-nonsense approach.

“Of course, he was doing shifts on the Mirror at that time, and we always knew when he had bagged a story because copies of the Mirror would appear on our desks early the next morning! It was no surprise when he went full-time. Naturally, it was great to work under him again at the Mirror when I joined in 1973, although my direct boss was city editor Bob Head.

In the years since, his name has often cropped up in our day-to-day conversation. Our thoughts are with Al’s family, especially his son Scott with whom I worked on The European. Al was definitely a one-off, a true hard-news journalist and a genuinely nice person. RIP Al, Ann and I will always remember you.”

Jill Palmer: “Alan Shillum was my first boss. He was news editor of the Stratford Express in East London when I joined the staff as a trainee reporter in 1964.

In the sixties, the East End was a brilliant news area, the height of the Kray twins reign of terror and killing, along with lorry hijackings from the docks, and union disputes in local factories. Alan was a brilliant news editor, ruling the newsroom with a rod of iron.

“On one occasion I came into the office in white, thigh-high leather boots I had bought with my first week’s wages. He told me in no uncertain terms they were not suitable dress for a reporter. What if I had to interview the Queen? He sent me home to change. By train from Stratford to Romford.

“As well as being news editor of the Stratford Express, he did casual shifts on the night news desk of the Daily Mirror on a Friday. He told me that one day he would be news editor of the Mirror and when he was, he would give me a job.

“And that is exactly what happened – in 1976. White thigh-high leather boots forgotten.”

“I was the only female reporter on the Stratford Express and Alan banned me from wearing trousers for the same reason as my boots – I might have to interview the Queen. I never wore trousers to work from that day onwards. And I still can’t bring myself to wear trousers unless I am at home or walking the dog. I never interviewed the Queen.

Alastair McQueen:  “Al Shillum wasn’t just a very good, award-winning news editor – he was an outstanding one, head and shoulders above those who aspired to his throne and some who followed. I used to tell him he had the worst job in the world having to deal with people like Ron Ricketts and me and a few others, and then when the brown stuff hit the revolving blades and the editor’s acolytes got in a flap it was he who had to sort it. His reply: ‘You’re right but… is also the BEST job on the paper!I last saw him six or so years ago when we had a ‘proper’ lunch – from 12.30 until 18.00 – in Colchester when he was visiting a specialist artists’ supplies shop. He was also a civilised and very competent managing editor. Farewell to another real newspaperman.”

Sue Bullivant: “He was a real friend to me at a time when I was at rock bottom. His support and kindness (and drinks cabinet) helped to get me through. A lovely man I’ll never forget.”

Colin Dunne: “So sorry to hear this. He was the real thing, wasn’t he? Not many of them around.”

John Husband: “So sorry Al’s now hot-desking upstairs. But I won’t miss his midnight news desk calls! Regards all survivors.”

Malcolm Speed: I was saddened to learn that Alan Shillum has died. I knew him when I was on the Record news desk as senior assistant news editor, and he was news editor of the Mirror, and a giant in newspapers. I found him to be the consummate professional. We met again in 1994 on the pension scheme trustee board – and he always had searching questions when we were scrabbling for survival. Condolences to Alan’s family and friends.

Caro Cluskey: “Al was a great mate to Basso and me, and then just me. He was a one-off and I’m proud to have had him as a friend.”

David Thompson: “What more can be said about Al Shillum than has already been said? Mentor, great man, lovely man, character. Well, Al was a professional journalist of the highest order. Everywhere. Shortly after the Mirror days, Malawi was moving from a one-party state to an elected democracy (allegedly). Al and I were asked to revamp the only newspaper, the Daily Times, Blantyre, and talk to the staff about the change in the way they would be reporting in a democracy. We went out to Malawi together, then took mainly individual eight-day turns for a couple of months. The journalists were suspicious of us to start with, but warmed, especially, to Al.”

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