Victor Davis, doyen of showbiz writers

davis 2014.jpg

SIMPLY THE BEST: Victor Davis with photographers Harry Benson, left and Steve Wood in 2014


Victor Davis, former Showbusiness Editor of the Daily Express and the doyen of entertainment writers, died at his home in Notting Hill, London on 12 November.
He was 89.

ALAN FRAME writes:

For the doyen of Fleet St showbiz writers, Victor Davis cut a less than dashing figure. He would walk through Aitken House with his signature plastic carrier bag containing God knows what — there was speculation it contained vast piles of cash and shares certificates accumulated over the years thanks to his eye for wise investments.

But the slightly shambolic Victor, who died on November 12, aged 89 after a long illness, was greeted as a friend by the biggest names in film and theatre and his interviews with his pals were, quite simply, the best. 

So good in fact that nine years ago he generously donated three decades of recorded interviews and his notebooks to Cardiff University School of Journalism. He indexed all the interviews; under B for instance were  David Bowie, Richard Burton, Marlon Brando, Warren Beatty, Charles Bronson and Drew Barrymore.

When I was appointed features editor in 1981 I was blessed with the finest showbiz writers in newspapers: Victor, David Wigg, Judith Simons, Maureen Paton, James Murray and Ian Christie, all corralled by secretaries Hettie Myers and Esther Harrod. Victor was a joy to work with, a great professional with the best contacts book in Fleet Street. And he was proud of his Elephant and Castle roots, something he shared with his pal Michael Caine.

He began as a copy boy at the Express in 1945 moving to a reporter’s job at the weekly Streatham News in 1950 and then to the Daily Sketch in 1956; he was later night news editor of the Sketch and, simultaneously, The People (ah, the joys of the Saturday shift!)  

From 1960 to 1962 he was a foreign corr for the Express, reporting the brutal events in the Congo. He was night news editor from 1962-5 and then in our New York bureau from 1965-7. In 1967 Victor was appointed show business editor before being lured to the Mail on Sunday in 1984 much to our collective disappointment.

He was also an accomplished novelist with four titles published by Gollancz, The Ghostmaker, Queens’ Ransom, Getting Away With It and Life Sentence.

Victor and I would lunch at Joe Allen (where else?) and he was immensely modest and unshowbizzy, the exact opposite of most of the people he interviewed. He was devoted to his wife, the lovely Janice, who died four years ago. Most recently he was looked after by carers at his home in Notting Hill. 

Victor Davis was, quite simply, the best of that remarkable Golden Age we were so privileged to be part of. 

Here’s a great piece Victor wrote for the Mail on Sunday in 2009


DICK DISMORE:

He belonged to a Golden Age, not just of Fleet Street but of showbiz reporting, when journalists such as Victor actually knew the people they wrote about and didn't just meet them in West End hotel rooms surrounded by PR ninnies. Vic was up there with Donald Zec and there is no higher praise.


TERRY MANNERS:

I didn't know Victor well but he was always so courteous and sincere in my dealings with him. As others have said he came from the days of the real interview ... and not the snatch phone call or cuttings fill-in of the staged PR meeting. Actually I could have read a lot more about him and it is such a shame we don't have some of his anecdotes on our beloved Daily Drone. Good to know that he has so many friends. 


GEOFFREY LEVY:

Vic and the others really knew people, got stories. My main recollection of him, though, is when he was night news editor sitting behind that curious glass screen and bellowing in a huge voice at reporters demanding copy. Terrific journalist in all areas.


TOM BROWN:

A first-class journalist and, even more important, the best of colleagues. I owe him a lot for his help when I first arrived in London and for the way he kept me on the ball when he had a big showbiz story. And he made the heyday of Fleet Street fun.


GILL MARTIN:

He was a joy to work with, kind, generous and immensely entertaining. He’ll enjoy interviewing the heavenly bodies.


STEVE WOOD:

I miss Victor and Robin Leach [showbiz writer who died in August]. Both of them had fantastic lives and enriched mine so much. They were both pillars of strength for me, we live in sad times. They were so wonderful, they looked after me and I looked after them. I will continue to look up to them.


MAUREEN PATON

Lovely tributes here to a real one-off who inspired lots of us. Victor once told me how he got an exclusive with Charlie Chaplin because they came from the same desperately poor part of London and Charlie was so intrigued that he couldn't wait to reminisce. As Victor said in that inimitable rasp of his, "We were both born with the arse hanging out of our trousers.” 

In Victor's case, the odds against him were stacked even higher since he was born with ankylosing spondylitis, hence the lifelong problems with his gait. That didn't stop him hitting the campaign trail with Martin Luther King, captured in a great photo — and the rest is celebrity history.

A hugely talented, clever and quick-witted man, yet never remotely grand about himself. I remember him sitting at his typewriter in the showbusiness office one day, staring into space and saying, "An intro, an intro, my kingdom for an intro...How about 'Once upon a time’?"

RODERICK GILCHRIST tribute in Mail On Sunday



© 2005-2018 Alastair McIntyre