Remembering our supporter & friend Lynn Faulds Wood

29 April, 2020

Lynn Faulds Wood, the brilliant journalist, broadcaster and health campaigner was fearless and funny, warm and wise. A good friend to anyone with a grievance or in need of help, it seems fitting that just before she had the massive stroke on Thursday night, which led to her death, she had been outside her Twickenham home clapping for NHS and care workers.

Such was her energy and dynamism that it was easy to forget she had spent a lot of time in hospitals. In 1991 she was diagnosed with advanced bowel cancer. Five years after surgery, she was given the all-clear; at the time only a third of sufferers with her grade three cancer survived. “It was like the Dark Ages,” she said later. “The quality of colonoscopy was often poor and some of the surgery shameful. While we had some of the best surgeons, we also had some of the worst.”

She threw her celebrity status – gained in the 80s  as presenter of Watchdog and TV-AM’s This Morning programme –  to campaign for better diagnosis and treatment of bowel cancer. She founded the charity Beating Bowel Cancer in 1997 and helped to set up the European Cancer Patient Coalition and MEPs Against Cancer to get the disease on governments’ agendas.

In her 1993 World in Action documentary Doctor Knows Best?, she found research funding for a surgeon whose wife, a GP, died of bowel cancer. The results showed that the symptoms were different from those taught in medical schools leading to the British government eventually publishing new guidance.

In the programme Bobby Moore and Me, Lynn interviewed Moore’s wife, Stephanie, revealing that the England footballer had been misdiagnosed and treated for irritable bowel syndrome for four years before he died aged 51 of bowel cancer – what they both called an “unnecessary death”. She spent the next few months answering the ‘ human misery’ mailbag of 30,000 letters. Her 1995 series The Lady Killers, about women being threatened by diseases such as cervical cancer, led to the British Medical Association naming her medical broadcaster of the year.

She was also treated for skin cancer, and in 2009, she chaired Action Against Cancer, discussing a new European plan to combat all cancers, in Brussels.

But it was not just in the field of cancer where she made a difference.  While writing her Action Line column for The Sun she drummed up reader support for the closure of Club Row, a live animal market in the East End of London. She led thousands of readers on a march to Downing Street. The passing of a private member’s bill closing the market in 1983 was a direct result of Lynn’s commitment to a cause. As co-presenter of Watchdog first with Nick Ross, and then her husband John Stapleton, she was the fearless journalist who conmen and sharks most feared and vulnerable people most loved.

But another cause close to her heart was gender equality.  She poured her formidable energy into doing everything she could to redress the balance. A fervent supporter of Women in Journalism she attended almost every party, every event and took such pleasure in encouraging younger women journalists. Sophie Raworth, whose parents lived next door, credits Lynn as her inspiration for becoming a journalist, describing her as”the most wonderful, generous, kind friend.”  Nicky Campbell tweeted ” She was the real thing. She cared genuinely and passionately about people and their rights. When I joined Watchdog hers was the legacy we all aspired to.’

Alex Milner, editor of BBC Briefing, who was mentored by Lynn, wrote to us of her sadness.’ ” She was not only an amazing and caring WIJ mentor to me but also became a wonderful friend and we were in regular contact right up to this month. She was a fantastic role model for so many in the industry, recognising the importance of encouraging each other and we should be celebrating and honouring her contribution and her wonderful charisma and energy.”

As an interviewer for the Henley Literary Festival she delighted in always selecting inspirational women as her on stage subjects. The older and feistier the better. Not a person to ever to say no to anything worthwhile I recall ringing her at 6pm when the interviewer for the following morning’s session with Baroness Trumpington fell sick. She didn’t hesitate and stayed up all night reading the hastily biked-over book so that she could be as professional in her interviews as was her norm.

She became a judge both for the Society of Editors and London Press Awards and nothing gave her greater pleasure than when she was able to fight for one of the female nominees to be a winner. She would bounce into the room afterwards having persuaded her fellow panellists to back her choice, as triumphant as an athlete that had made it first past the post.

She was supported in this, as in everything she did, by her husband the respected journalist John Stapleton.  Born in Glasgow, to James Wood, general secretary of the Scottish Youth Hostel Association, and his wife, Betty, a journalist on the Helensburgh Advertiser she grew up in Auchendennan, on the western shore of Loch Lomond, and attended the Vale of Leven Academy. She gained an MA in languages from Glasgow University and met John, a Nationwide reporter when she was supplementing her teacher’s salary in Notting Hill by working behind a bar. They married in 1997 and their friends have witnessed one of the strongest marriages imaginable. Both he and their son Nick were at her bedside when she died on Friday morning.

She was nominated for an MBE in 2016 after she had chaired a government independent review into the UK’s system for the recall of dangerous products. She feared it had been kicked into the long grass and said she would have been a hypocrite to accept it.

But the public – and the journalistic community of which she was so proud – don’t require a medal to acknowledge her integrity, generosity and public-spiritedness for the tangible achievements are there for us all to see.

Like so many of her friends- and they are many – I will miss her more than I can say.

Sue Ryan

Journalists’ Charity Trustee