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T Dan Smith – hero or villain?

Chris Foote Wood, journalist, broadcaster, author; North East councillor

Date/Time: 22nd October 2013

Known as ‘Mr Newcastle’ and ‘The Voice of the North’, T Dan Smith (1915-1993) was the dominant figure in North East politics in the 1960s. Leader of Newcastle City Council for just five years, 1960-65, Smith brought about many changes in the city. From 1965-70, Smith was Chairman of the Northern Economic Planning Council, but the NEPC’s blueprint for the future development of the region, ‘Challenge of the Changing North’, was shelved by government. In 1968 Smith was appointed Chairman of Aycliffe and Peterlee Newtown Corporation. Smith hoped to create a North East ‘silicon valley’ based in Peterlee, but in 1970 he was accused of corruption involving the London Borough of Wandsworth and resigned all his political positions. Although Smith was cleared of that charge, he subsequently pleaded guilty to another charge of corruption and was jailed for six years.

In his comprehensive 2010 biography T Dan Smith, Downfall of a Visionary, author Chris Foote-Wood charts the life of the man he regards as the most charismatic and visionary politician the North East has ever produced. While accepting that Smith probably did break the law, Foote-Wood quotes witness statements that confirm his belief – and Smith’s own contention – that he was not guilty of the crime for which he was jailed, but was compelled to plead guilty through force of circumstance.

In this talk, twenty years after Smith’s death, Foote-Wood argued that it is time for Smith to be honoured for his achievements as a pioneering Leader of Newcastle City Council who transformed the city, started the modern development of Newcastle Airport and the clean-up of the River Tyne, and who also introduced new ways of working in local government that have since been adopted nationwide.

After spending most of his working life as a journalist and broadcaster, Chris Foote-Wood is now mainly occupied writing and performing. He is currently touring the UK with his one-man show An Evening with Charles Dickens. Born in Cheshire and brought up in Bury, Lancashire, Chris is the elder brother of award-winning comedian, actor and producer Victoria Wood. He completed a four-year honours degree course in civil engineering at Newcastle University – then King’s College – in 1962, but was not awarded a degree. He first worked as a civil engineer before pioneering commercial free press newspapers in the UK with his company Durham Free Press (1968-71). In 1974 Chris set up his own regional press agency North Press News & Sport and ran it for 30 years. He writes, edits and publishes books with his company Northern Writers, recently adding Three Kings Productions for his theatre work.

Chris was a district councillor in Bishop Auckland for 40 years, including six years as Leader of Wear Valley Council. He was also a Durham County Councillor and a Dene Valley Parish Councillor. He stood down in 2007 and is now an Honorary Alderman of both Wear Valley and County Durham. Chris has contested eight parliamentary and five European elections for the Liberal Party/Liberal Democrats, all in the North East. He also stood for elected mayor of Middlesbrough in 2011.