Refugee from Communism becomes mayor of Poynton

When Gabor Bartos arrived in London in 1978, his only possession was a small black bag filled with a weekend's worth of clothes. The 27-year-old Hungarian was one of a handful of carefully vetted tourists who had been allowed to travel abroad by the Communist authorities who ruled his homeland with an iron fist.

Secret-service agents accompanied the tourists as they shuttled between central London and Wembley stadium, where Hungary went on to lose 4-1 against England. But Mr Bartos managed to slip the net and headed straight for the Home Office to seek asylum.

"All I wanted was to become a British citizen," he recalled. "I promised myself that if they gave me sanctuary I would be a model citizen, a true Brit."

Yesterday the 59-year-old could confidently claim to have more than fulfilled that promise as he toasted being made mayor of Poynton, a village in Cheshire where he has lived with his wife Jessica for the past three decades.

"It's an incredible honour and I feel very humble," he said, in an accent flecked with both central European and Cheshire tones. "I may be from Hungary but I am British first and have been a Brit ever since I came here."

Mr Bartos' story could be deemed a perfect blueprint for successful integration and he is keen to encourage all new arrivals to celebrate and embrace British culture, not shy away from it.

"If you invite me into your home I would be expected to play by your rules," he said. "It's only right that outsiders should respect the cultures and follow the cultures of the countries they want to live in. Some of the people coming to this great country won't integrate, and it really makes me angry."

As soon as he arrived in London he set about learning English and adopting British customs. After meeting Jessica he moved to her native village of Poynton, eventually becoming a Tory councillor. But not before spending a spell as Shirley Bassey's personal piano tutor.

In fact it was music that forced him to flee Hungary in the first place. A picture taken of Mr Bartos just before he fled his homeland for Britain shows a young man in his mid-20s with long brown hair and a hippyish beard. Western Europe had long got used to the look but in Soviet-controlled Hungary listening to pop music on a foreign radio station was enough to land you in jail.

Mr Bartos was obsessed with Western music. He and his friends would travel to circuses specifically to learn how to play Beatles tracks. For some reason the secret police never bothered to crack down on what circus performers listened to.

To start up his first band the young Hungarian and his friends made their own instruments and built themselves an amplifier by rewiring a stolen PA system from a local train station. But it wasn't long before he fell foul of the authorities and was branded a dangerous dissident.

"Socialism and Communism are part of our history now but for us at the time it dominated our lives," he said. "The state monitored everything you did and it controlled every aspect of your life."

Freedom came in the form of a permission slip allowing him to travel to Britain and watch the England vs Hungary game. Mr Bartos knew it might be the only chance he would get cross the Iron Curtain and vowed to escape. It was only when the Soviet empire crumbled following the fall of the Berlin Wall that Mr Bartos, by now a fluent English-speaking British national, was able to pay a return visit to his hometown Erd, on the south-western outskirts of Budapest.

Ironically it was in Hungary that he was finally able to realise his dream of becoming a rock star. In 2002 he had joined a small group of ageing rockers called The Purple Gang. Back in the late 1960s, the band's founding members, who hailed from Cheshire, counted groups like The Who and The Rolling Stones as friends and contemporaries. Up-and-coming pirate radio DJ John Peel was also a fervent fan.

But the band's future was dashed when their first single "Granny Takes a Trip" fell foul of the BBC censors and became the first song to be banned by Radio One. One by one the band members returned to Cheshire, only reforming again to play in the odd pub in the early 2000s. Mr Bartos, by then a local councillor, was brought in as their drummer.

As a local politician, Mr Bartos has been instrumental in the twinning of Poynton with his hometown of Erd and as Hungarian entry into the EU loomed in 2004, he suggested the band play a gig there. Before they left the band sent a few tracks to some of the local radio stations.

Within weeks The Purple Gang's track "Sunset over the Mersey" had climbed to number one in the Hungarian charts, leapfrogging over both Britney Spears and George Michael.

"It was hilarious," Mr Barton recalled. "The band had finally made it after all these years."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist / Physio / Osteopath

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for o...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager / Sales Executive - Contract Hire

£35000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leader provides c...

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most