Obituary: T. Dan Smith

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The Independent Online
WHEN we at Amber Films first approached T. Dan Smith in the early Eighties to record him on film we believed in the myth of the 'local city boss who got caught with his fingers in the till', writes Murray Martin (further to the obituary by Lewis Chester, 28 July).

After two years of debate and analysis, that perception changed. If Dan was so corrupt, why did he live in a high-rise flat which would not even accommodate his beloved piano? He had little interest in money; his real love was power. But not for its own sake. The remarkable thing about Dan was that he never lost his ideology or his vision of how things should be. Nobody who knew him well denied Smith's Trostkyist leanings (he helped organise the Tyneside Apprentices strike during the Second World War). The perception that he was gradually moving to the right is simplistic and inaccurate. He disliked and distrusted the right of the Labour Party. In an interview we did with him he said, 'Give me 10 men with a shared vision and I could take over the country.' When we repeated it to Jack Johnson, one of Smith's fellow Trotskyist travellers, he said, 'Six - there were only six of us.'

Smith was an old-fashioned leader who operated without consensus or democracy. He had a huge ego and was a poor listener. Yet he was fiercely loyal and defended John Poulson to the end: 'the best architect Britain ever produced'.

Smith was interested in the broad sweep which could change the political and physical landscape. It is dangerous for politicians to think they know the hearts and minds of those they represent. It Dan Smith to participate in the destruction of Newcastle, a city he genuinely loved.

For me, Smith's greatest flaw was his belief in experts, be they Le Corbusier or Wilf Burns, his chief planner. It was I believe, a classic case of a working-class man trusting in those better educated than himself. But T. Dan Smith remains a working-class hero none the less.