Obituaries: David Gilroy Bevan

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The Independent Online
The first word that comes to mind when one thinks of David Gilroy Bevan is boisterous. That is in no way to suggest that he was a roisterer: he was, in fact, a teetotaller. But he was a man who campaigned in the General Election of 1979 in a red bus, followed by a fire engine which, he said, was to carry away bodies unburied by local authorities during Lord Callaghan's winter of discontent in 1978, and who went on to win the supposedly safe Labour seat of Birmingham, Yardley with a majority of over 2,000 in a general election year in which most opinion polls predicted a Conservative defeat.

Gilroy Bevan began his political career at a tender age: he was only 14 when he went canvassing his neighbours in the Conservative interest. Over the years, he acquired a quite exceptional knowledge of how local authorities worked (he served on Birmingham City Council and later the West Midlands County Council from 1959 to 1981); and it was this knowledge that he put to good use in winning Yardley. His achievement can be compared to that of Charles Morrison, who - totally against the then odds - won Devizes for the Tories in 1963 and Teddy (now Sir Teddy) Taylor who served as MP for the same party in the working-class constituency of Glasgow from 1964 to 1979, when the seat was so radically altered by the Boundaries Commission that even a heroically active candidate could not hold it.

One of the great things about Gilroy Bevan was how much he enjoyed the mundane, and often simply boring, business of local government. The combination of flamboyance and assiduity in his character appealed mightily to his constituents: in 1983 he even won applause from them by declaring that the only thing he had against Yardley was the fact that it lacked a yacht basin.

It was, alas for him, the exuberance of his nature which denied him governmental office. Whips - and ministers or shadow ministers - are invariably consulted on appointments. William Whitelaw considered Gilroy Bevan not reliable enough even to enjoy the pleasures and pains of being a Parliamentary Private Secretary - the lowest form of governmental life; he was just too difficult.

Whenever his party - quite understandably - wanted to fudge an issue, Gilroy Bevan opposed them. He supported capital punishment in 1981, opposed sanctions on the old South Africa throughout its existence, and managed to hold Yardley until his defeat in 1992.

But he had a life outside politics. Born 68 years ago, the son of an evangelical minister and his equally religiously uncompromising wife, David Gilroy Bevan (like Antony Crosland in the Labour Party) went on to defy the austere instincts of his parents. He made a fortune as an estate agent in Birmingham, and purchased a yacht and a house in Spain.

But all the while, he was known for his combination of indulgence, eccentricity and decency. The yacht was an indulgence; his support of a charity devoted to giving teddy bears to deprived children (including two bears given from his own substantial collection); and his essential - if somewhat derided - support of the "Keep Sunday Special" campaign all testified to the essential honour of the man's character.

David Gilroy Bevan sat, for a while, on the Select House of Commons Committee on Transport. But I will lay odds that he never took money for asking a question. To adapt a phrase, "By their words shall ye know them".

Andrew David Gilroy Bevan, estate agent and politician: born 10 April 1928; MP (Conservative) for Birmingham, Yardley 1979-92; married 1967 Cynthia Ann Villiers Boulstridge (one son, three daughters); died 12 October 1996.