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Shirley Douglas

When skiffle was at the height of its craze in the late 1950s, Chas McDevitt scored an enormous hit on both sides of the Atlantic with Freight Train, an American folk song he recorded with Nancy Whiskey. But his partnership with her successor, Shirley Douglas, lasted much longer and, although there were no further chart entries, the couple successfully reinvented themselves once the mania for skiffle had dissipated.

When McDevitt, who was born in Glasgow, went into the studios to record Freight Train, it was suggested that the addition of Whiskey, another Glaswegian, would turn a good record into a great one. Following its success, Whiskey went on to carve out her own career, and McDevitt held auditions for her replacement. Of the 1,000 girls who applied, Douglas, who became McDevitt’s first wife, was chosen.

A number of the couple’s singles were issued for audiences in Britain, America, Canada, Germany and Norway, most notably Dream Talk (1960), but had little impact. Even so, Bernard Delfont employed them for a number of one-night performances. They also appeared in such summer shows as The Gaiety Whirl of 1964 at the Gaiety Theatre, Ayr; Let’s Make a Night of It (1965) at the Knightstone Theatre, Weston-super-Mare; and Showtime (1967), starring Max Bygraves, at the Princess Theatre, Torquay.

Douglas and McDevitt enjoyed a long tour of Hong Kong and the Far East, as well as appearances in Egypt, Norway and the Seychelles. By then, they were described as “young veterans of the now-forgotten skiffle era”. The Stage epitomised their new act as “an exceptionally pleasing, neatly produced and semi-sophisticated routine, which encompasses country and western, calypso, folk and rhythm and blues.”

Shirley Douglas, who was born in Athlone, County Westmeath, on December 3, 1939, died in Spain on January 15, aged 73.

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