Patrick Shovelton: Senior civil servant and obituarist for 'The Independent'


At one level Patrick Shovelton was the epitome of a conventional British senior civil servant whose education at a top public school and Oxford endowed him with a cut-glass accent. A Royal Artillery officer during the war, he rose to the highest echelons of the civil service and was awarded a CB and CMG. He was married to the daughter of the official historian of the RAF, who was herself a Dame of the British Empire.

At another level he was anything but conventional. He was immensely and openly proud of the fact that a cousin, Patrick Pearse, had led the Dublin Easter Rising against the British in 1916. Pearse and his brother Willie were afterwards executed by firing squad for the crime of treason. Yet to Patrick Shovelton Pearse was not a traitor but a remarkable man who led "a gallant show of what strength could be mustered against overwhelming odds". He often visited the Pearse family in Ireland, and in his Who's Who entry proclaimed himself as "cousin of Patrick and Willie Pearse, Irish patriots".

Like Pearse himself, Patrick Shovelton was born to an English father and Irish mother. His father was a London mathematician and university administrator who married an Irishwoman, May Kelly. A first cousin of Pearse, she was brought up in his household after she was orphaned. Three years after Pearse was executed she named her son after the republican leader.

Shovelton remembered having a golden childhood, despite developing asthma at the age of three. He won scholarships to both Charterhouse school and Keble College, Oxford, where he read Classics. His studies were interrupted by the Second World War, in which he achieved the rank of major. He forever regretted the fact that while on his way to fight in Egypt his asthma became so bad that he was taken to hospital – although this may have saved his life, since almost all his close colleagues met their deaths in Africa.

At the end of the war he stayed on briefly as an administrator in the army, a role which gave him a taste for the Civil Service, where his first job was helping dispose of the German merchant fleet. In the years that followed he held many posts in many ministries, working on projects such as Concorde, and air-services agreements with the US. In 1978, as deputy secretary for civil aviation and shipping, he was Britain's chief negotiator in talks which led to an important air-services agreement with the US. At one point, adopting a not particularly diplomatic tone, he briefed the media in Washington that the two governments had agreed on a more liberal charter agreement.

This pact was "dashed from our lips" at the last minute when Washington backed away from it because, he charged, US carriers "obviously felt they couldn't stand the competition". The agreement, when it was eventually signed, allowed more low-cost flights across the Atlantic. He was also a leading member of the UK negotiating team for entry into the EEC in the 1970s when the Heath government took Britain into Europe. The opportunity arose after General de Gaulle, who had blocked previous attempts, lost power in France.

Although many of his tasks involved far-reaching issues the thing he was most proud of was his part in having life rafts made compulsory on fishing vessels. He reckoned that this saved 55 lives in the first year alone.

He worked closely with a variety of ministers, who generally viewed him affectionately due to his ability to be both serious and fun: one of his talents was to make and keep friends easily. Among ministers, he particularly admired Geoffrey Howe and Shirley Williams, with both of whom he remained in touch. He retired from the Civil Service aged 58 with the post of deputy secretary, his streak of unorthodoxy possibly denying him the top rank of permanent secretary.

He joined the General Council of British Shipping as director-general before, at the age of 66, moving on to hold senior positions in transportation. In particular he became first a UK director and then UK vice-chairman of the worldwide shipping and aviation conglomerate Maersk, which, operating in 130 countries, is one of the world's largest shipping companies. He was a lifelong friend of its driving force, Maersk McKinney Moller, the man he thought of as "the Agamemnon of the Sea" who, at 98, is now aiming to reach 100 years of age.

After an early marriage which ended in divorce Shovelton married Helena Richards in 1968 following a whirlwind romance. She has been chairman of the Audit Commission and held numerous other positions.

Late in life Shovelton developed a new interest after writing an obituary for The Independent of his father-in-law Denis Richards, the RAF historian. He went on to write others, generally of people he knew personally. He developed a concise yet flowing style, replete with anecdotes. In one obituary he recounted how a Lieutenant-Colonel had become suspicious "of a yellow-faced Lieutenant-Colonel of the Royal Warwicks taking too close an interest in the maps and plans of the 14th Army". He had him arrested as a Japanese spy. It turned out to be the future Brigadier Enoch Powell, his yellow face the result of jaundice.

David McKittrick

Walter Patrick Shovelton, civil servant and obituarist: born London 18 August 1919; Civil Service 1946-78; Director-General, General Council of British Shipping 1978-85; CMG 1972, CB 1976; married 1942 Marjorie Manners (divorced 1967; one daughter), 1968 Helena Richards; died London 20 January 2012.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event
filmBut why were Back to the Future screenings cancelled?
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Lewis Hamilton walks back to the pit lane with his Mercedes burning in the background
Formula 1
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con
comic-con 2014
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BI Developer - Sheffield - £35,000 ~ £40,000 DOE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

Employment Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Day In a Page

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride