Obituary: T. Dan Smith

Thomas Dan Smith, local councillor: born 11 May 1915; City Councillor, Newcastle upon Tyne 1950-65; Chairman, Northern Economic Planning Council 1965-70; Member, Royal Commission on Local Government 1966-69; Chairman, Peterlee and Aycliffe Development Corporation 1968-70; author of Essays in Local Government 1965, Education, Science and Technology 1970; married 1939 (one son, one daughter); died Newcastle upon Tyne 27 July 1993.

YOU COULD not meet a more engaging character than T. Dan Smith in the years before he went to jail. There was a time, back in the early Sixties, when covering the proceedings of the Newcastle City Council could be a lot more entertaining than a visit to the nearby Theatre Royal, and it was all down to Dan Smith, the extraordinary leader of the Labour group.

He twinkled, he made jokes, he broke stories, indeed he did everything to make the lives of young cub reporters - of which I was one - more felicitous. And he was so smart. This was something that everybody - even the Tories - recognised. Indeed, Smith had few personal critics in those days. It was as if everybody recognised that they had a man who was going places and that his city, and indeed the whole of the north-east, was going with him.

In a region that had been depressed for so long, Smith's mixture of high, wide and handsome plans and low, sometimes earthy witticisms was the tonic that most felt was needed. He called Newcastle 'the Athens of the north-east' and that went down a treat, even though some felt his penchant for tower-block development was less than classically correct. When there was talk of his becoming a cabinet minister in the Labour government it was regarded as an occasion for mourning. It was felt that he was too big a man, and too much of the people, to become yet another political pygmy in Westminster.

Smith was born in 1915, a Durham miner's son, and left school at the age of 14. His early political leanings were to the extreme Left. He was a conscientious objector during the Second World War, joined the Independent Labour Party and the Trotskyist Revolutionary Communist Party, and was expelled from both. He later joined the Labour Party and rose with great speed, becoming a city councillor in Newcastle in 1950.

Smith had begun his working life as a painter and decorator, an experience that came in useful when, as head of the powerful Northern Economic Planning Council, he had the task of refurbishing Northumberland and Durham. He made a fair stab at it too, before he disappointed a region's hopes by getting too greedy.

His reputation only just survived the Sixties. On Jaunary 1970 detectives knocked at the door of his house in Newcastle and he was arrested. Sydney Sporle, a Wandsworth councillor, was accused of taking bribes, and Smith was one of those charged with giving them. Smith got off, but Sporle went to jail. Then in 1972 the well-known Yorkshire architect John Poulson went bankrupt. Examination of his books revealed a web of unexplained payments. As the hearings rolled on, many Establishment names became involved. Reginald Maudling, the Conservative MP, who had formerly been chairman of two of Poulson's companies, resigned as Home Secretary. There were reports of conflicts of interest among councillors nationwide, but particularly in the north-east.

The man they called 'Mr Newcastle' was jailed for six years in 1974 on charges of corruption, after admitting conspiracy to swing cut-price deals for Poulson. It was claimed at his trial that he received pounds 156,000 over seven years from Poulson, usually in the form of payment to public relations companies. Smith served three years of his sentence but always denied lining his own pocket. He explained his guilty plea as being the result of stress suffered during the four years it took for the case to come to trial. He would say: 'I was a broken man living on Valium and Carlsberg Special.'

Prison, if anything, restored something of his bounce. On the day he walked free from Leyhill open prison in Gloucestershire he took part in a radio phone-in programme, and he became assiduous in the cause of penal reform. He would, on a modest salary of pounds 2,500 from the Howard League, induce big names from industry and broadcasting to go into jails and try to persuade old lags to go straight. He was campaigning again.

But he was clearly a man still tortured by the circumstances that had brought him down. And he had much time to reflect on them in his 14th- floor tower-block flat in Cruddas Park, Newcastle, built as part of his crusade against back-to-back hovels. But he would never give up a fighting way of talking.

In one of his last interviews he said he filled his days giving public talks, fighting for pensioners' rights, penning a political history and playing classical records. 'I would never think of retiring,' he said, 'I would drop dead first, preferably while I'm speaking.'

In 1982 he started research work with Amber Films, an independent production company based in Newcastle, to make the drama-documentary T. Dan Smith, in which he played himself. The film, which examined the background to the Poulson affair, had a cinema release in 1987, and was broadcast on Channel 4 the following year.

His final public performance was on BBC Radio Newcastle's Sunday morning Talkback show nine days before he died, when it was said that he showed 'his old verve and fire', but not to those of us who can remember the T. Dan Smith from before the fall. Now that old, untainted Smith was really something to listen to.

(Photograph omitted)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

SharePoint Administrator/Developer (C#, VB.NET, VISUAL STUDIO 2

£35000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SharePoi...

European HR Director, London

£80000 - £95000 per annum: Charter Selection: A leading Global organisation Ja...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit