T. Dan Smith

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T. Dan Smith
T Dan Smith on After Dark.jpg
Appearing on television programme After Dark in 1988
Leader of Newcastle City Council
In office
Lord MayorCatherine Campbell Scott
Gladys Robson
Henry Russell
George Jacobson
Henry Simm
Peter Henry Renwick
Theresa Science Russell
Preceded byPosition Established
Succeeded byFrank Butterfield
Chairman of Newcastle Labour Party
In office
Newcastle City Councillor
for Walker
In office
Personal details
Thomas Daniel Smith

(1915-05-11)11 May 1915
Wallsend, Northumberland, England
Died27 July 1993(1993-07-27) (aged 78)
Newcastle upon Tyne, England
Political partyLabour
OccupationPolitician Councillor
Nickname(s)Mr Newcastle
Mouth of the Tyne

Thomas Daniel Smith (11 May 1915 – 27 July 1993) was a British politician who was Leader of Newcastle City Council from 1960 to 1965. He was a prominent figure in the Labour Party in North East England, such that he was nicknamed Mr Newcastle.[1][2]

Smith sought to clear Newcastle of slum housing and put a great deal of effort into regeneration plans, suggesting that the city should become "The Brasilia of the North".[3] He also supported the expansion of higher education in Newcastle[4] and funded local arts institutions. Among the developments Smith's council participated in were the Eldon Square Shopping Centre, Newcastle Civic Centre and Swan House. The latter led to the demolition of John Dobson's Royal Arcade, though Smith's council had planned to rebuild it nearby. Smith's legacy became associated with the destruction of historic buildings in favour of unpopular concrete structures,[4] though the key developments happened partly under other council leaders.

Through his later work running a public relations firm, Smith formed business links with architect John Poulson, which led to his trial for accepting bribes in April 1974. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six years' imprisonment. In his later life he campaigned for prisoners' issues and continued to comment on public affairs. He starred in a film of his life released in 1987.[5]

Early life[edit]

Smith was born in Wallsend, the son of a Durham miner.[6] His father drank heavily and was a gambler. His mother worked long hours cleaning the Wallsend telephone exchange and washing floors at the Shell-Mex office.[7]

He attended Western Boys School in Wallsend and became a printer's apprentice at the age of 14.[8] After a period of unemployment he founded his own painting and decorating business in 1937. During the economically difficult years of the 1930s, he grew his business painting cinema exteriors across Tyneside.[7]

Both his parents were communists and Smith adopted left-wing opinions himself.[9] During World War II, Smith registered as a conscientious objector[6] and was initially active in opposing the war and organising strikes against it; he supported the war after the German invasion of the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941. During the war, Smith joined several left-wing organisations. He was a regional representative for the Independent Labour Party in 1943, and later joined the Revolutionary Communist Party where he led a shipyard strike.[10]

By 1945, he was a member of the Labour Party and in 1950 he was elected to Newcastle City Council as a Labour member representing the Walker ward. He became chairman of the Labour Group in 1953.[6]

It was around this time that he began using his first initial in his name, after an incident at Newcastle Airport when he was confused with another person called Dan Smith.

Council leadership[edit]

When the Labour Party won the 1958 local elections and took control of Newcastle, Smith was appointed Chairman of the Housing Committee. He was elected as Leader of the City Council in 1959, and created one of the country's first free-standing Planning Departments and made it the most powerful department in the council.[11] As Leader he instituted a personality-based leadership, creating an 'inner Cabinet' of his own supporters. So influential did Smith become that Lord Hailsham was sent up to Newcastle by the Conservative cabinet to try to counter him.

Smith was enthusiastic about town planning and the arts as means of improving the quality of life.[11] He believed strongly in improving Newcastle's housing stock and put a great deal of effort into regeneration plans developed by his chief planning officer Wilfred Burns, suggesting that the city be nicknamed "The Brasilia of the North".[11] Smith's council also began the planning for Eldon Square Shopping Centre, which would be completed in 1977, on plans drawn up in 1972, by Taylor Chapman and Partners.[10] Other projects he supported included cleaning up the River Tyne[citation needed] and the expansion of Newcastle International Airport, which was completed in 1967.[12]

Redevelopment was concentrated in the eastern part of the city centre, which had until then been occupied by 18th and 19th century housing. Buildings were built primarily with brutalist architecture and the streetscape design favoured a strong segregation between traffic and pedestrians. The plans also favoured the preservation of the historic core around Grey Street. Though it continued under subsequent councils, the development was left substantially incomplete.[13]

Smith continued to run his painting business, which employed 250 by 1965.[7] In 1962, he established a public relations firm to support redevelopment of other urban centres in the north-east, and later nationwide. This company formed links with John Poulson, an architect keen for the business and known for paying those who could supply it. Smith eventually received £156,000 from Poulson for his work, which typically involved signing up local councillors on to the payroll of his companies and getting them to push their councils to accept Poulson's prepackaged redevelopment schemes. Poulson earned more than £1,000,000 through Smith, who regarded him as the "best architect Britain ever produced."[14] Poulson did not design any buildings in Newcastle.[citation needed]

He attracted criticism from fellow Labour Party members for his extravagant spending, driving a Jaguar with the private plate "DAN 68", educating his children privately and purchasing a pied-à-terre in St James's, London. In 1962, the press reported that Smith's painting and decorating firm was receiving more than half of the contracts for council housing.[13] Smith was a political contemporary and ally of North East Labour stalwart Andy Cunningham, who was also brought down by the Poulson scandal and served a jail sentence.[15]

Political advancement[edit]

On the day after the 1964 general election, Smith waited for what he thought would be a certain phone call to invite him to become a cabinet minister in Harold Wilson's government. However, Wilson had a vague suspicion of Smith, and Smith's alliance with the more moderate side of the Labour Party meant that no such invitation was made. In early 1965, George Brown appointed Smith as chairman of the Northern Economic Planning Council, an advisory body. He resigned his council leadership to take this post, and served in it until 1970.[3]

Smith was also to serve on the Buchanan Committee on traffic management and the Redcliffe-Maud Commission on local government. On the latter he promoted a scheme whereby England would be divided into five provinces with wide devolution, making Manchester the capital of the North province with 17,000,000 people.[1]

He was a member of the Royal Commission on Local Government in England from 1966 to 1969 and was chairman of the Peterlee and Aycliffe Development Corporation from 1968 to 1970.[3]

Corruption trials[edit]

Smith's PR firm was involved with Wandsworth Borough Council in pushing a redevelopment scheme, where its contact was Alderman Sidney Sporle. Sporle fell under police suspicion of corruption in the late 1960s and an inquiry led to Smith being charged with bribery in January 1970.[6] Although acquitted at trial in July 1971, Smith was forced to resign all his political offices.

Poulson's company was declared bankrupt in 1972. The subsequent hearings disclosed extensive bribery and in October 1973 Smith was again arrested on corruption charges. At his trial, it was claimed that he had received £156,000 over seven years, usually in the form of payment to his public relations company.[6] He pleaded guilty in 1974 and was sentenced to six years' imprisonment; despite his plea he continued to assert his innocence.[6][3]

After prison[edit]

While in prison, Smith became involved in amateur dramatics where he met and encouraged Leslie Grantham to pursue his career as a professional. After his release, Grantham was to later star in the BBC soap opera EastEnders. On release from Leyhill Open Prison in 1977 Smith attempted to rebuild a political career, but was initially refused re-admission to the Labour Party. He worked for the Howard League for Penal Reform and campaigned for the rights of released prisoners,[8] and occasionally commented on municipal housing issues. In 1985 he wrote that "Thatcherism, in an odd sort of way, could reasonably be described as legalised Poulsonism. Contributions to Tory Party funds will be repaid by the handing over of public assets for private gain."[1]

In 1987, he was readmitted into the Labour Party.[8]

By 1990 he was a member of the executive committee of the Newcastle Tenants Association, and living on the 14th floor of Mill House, a tower block in the Spital Tongues area of the City.[16]

Smith died of a suspected heart attack on 27 July 1993, in the Freeman Hospital, Newcastle upon Tyne.[17] He had undergone surgery after collapsing at home.[3]

Personal life[edit]

Smith was married to Ada (1919–2018) from 1939 until his death.[18] He was the father of three children, a son and two daughters.[17][7]


Smith was remembered for the personality and charisma he showed during his political career. He has been praised for championing North East England at a time when the region was in decline.[6][4] Among his well-regarded achievements are slum clearance,[19] helping establish an independent Newcastle University[4][19] and modernising the local administration.[20] Conversely, few defend his ethical conduct in the corruption case, although biographer Chris Foote Wood argues that Smith was treated unfairly and that the scandal was mainly the fault of Poulson.[20][21]

Jeremy Beecham, a later leader of Newcastle City Council, argued that the corruption scandal had overshadowed the positive aspects of Smith's legacy.[19] He praised Smith's charisma, vision, role in creating Eldon Square Shopping Centre and reforms to the local government, though he believed Smith made mistakes with his conduct and the demolition of certain historic buildings.[20][19] The loss of John Dobson's Royal Arcade in 1963-64 became particularly symbolic,[20] as well as Old Eldon Square.[4] Owen Hatherley writes that in addition to being overly car-centred, "The problem with the idea of the Brasilia of the North is that Newcastle never found a northern Oscar Niemeyer."[10] John Shipley, another council leader, said that "his plan to turn Newcastle into the Brasilia of the North was way over the top. Newcastle has a long and proud history and we have to build on that – not just ignore it and look for the next big thing."[20]

In the media[edit]

Smith starred in a drama-documentary film, T. Dan Smith: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Utopia[22] about his life story and the regeneration of Newcastle. Produced by Amber Films, the production was based on Smith's autobiography.[23] It had a cinema release in 1987, and was broadcast on Channel 4 the following year.[6] In that year Smith appeared on an episode of After Dark, a live British discussion television programme entitled Freemasonry: Beyond the Law?, along with David Napley and others.

Smith's career was the inspiration for Austin Donohue, a character in Peter Flannery's play, Our Friends in the North. The part was first played by Jim Broadbent in the Royal Shakespeare Company production in 1982, and then by Alun Armstrong in the 1996 BBC television drama version.[24]

In his final years, Smith was a pundit on North East matters. He took part in a Radio Newcastle phone-in just a few[clarification needed] before his death.

The song "Dan the plan" by Alan Hull, featured in his album Squire (1975), refers to T. Dan Smith [17].


  1. ^ a b c Waterhouse, Robert (28 July 1993). "T. Dan Smith (Obituary)". The Guardian.
  2. ^ "Southern Discomfort" (leading article), The Times, 3 August 1993.
  3. ^ a b c d e "Powerbroker who fell from grace". The Financial Times. London, England. 28 July 1993.
  4. ^ a b c d e "Newcastle photos by 'flawed visionary' T Dan Smith go on show". BBC News. 19 May 2018. Retrieved 12 October 2018.
  5. ^ T. Dan Smith on IMDb
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Chester, Lewis (28 July 1993). "Obituary: T. Dan Smith". The Independent. Retrieved 26 December 2011.
  7. ^ a b c d "T Dan Smith". The Times. London, England. 28 July 1993.
  8. ^ a b c McCord, Norman. "Smith, Thomas Daniel [T. Dan]". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
  9. ^ Niven, Alex (18 May 2019). "The Socialism of T. Dan Smith". Tribune. London, England.
  10. ^ a b c Hatherley, Owen (30 October 2009). "Tyneside Modernism". 3am magazine. Retrieved 26 December 2011.
  11. ^ a b c Pendlebury 2001, p. 119
  12. ^ Morton, David (17 February 2017). "How Newcastle Airport's shiny, new terminal was opened on this day 50 years ago". Evening Chronicle. Archived from the original on 29 August 2018. Retrieved 28 August 2018.
  13. ^ a b Whitney, Karl (7 February 2017). "'A brave new world': what happened to Newcastle's dream for a vertical city?". The Guardian. Retrieved 15 October 2019.
  14. ^ Martin, Murray (31 July 1993). "T Dan Smith". The Independent. London, England.
  15. ^ "Andrew Cunningham". Daily Telegraph. 28 October 2010. Retrieved 27 December 2011.
  16. ^ Anna Flowers and Vanessa Histon, eds. (2011). All Right Now: 1970s Newcastle. Tyne Bridge Publishing. p. 166. ISBN 978-1-85795-205-6.CS1 maint: uses editors parameter (link)
  17. ^ a b "T Dan Smith dies at 78". Daily Mail. London, England. 28 July 1993.
  18. ^ Dickinson, Katie (8 April 2018). "'She was the family's rock': Tributes paid to wife of 'Mr Newcastle' T Dan Smith". Evening Chronicle.
  19. ^ a b c d Pearson, Adrian (9 June 2014). "Stories that shocked Tyneside: The high rise and fall of a leader who got greedy". Evening Chronicle. Retrieved 12 August 2019.
  20. ^ a b c d e Pearson, Adrian (23 March 2010). "Has history painted us the wrong picture of T. Dan Smith?". The Journal. Retrieved 12 August 2019.
  21. ^ Foote Wood, Chris (2010). T Dan Smith "Voice of the North". Northern writers. p. 13. ISBN 978-0-9553869-9-2.
  22. ^ "T Dan Smith – Film Archive". Amber Online. Retrieved 8 January 2013.
  23. ^ Smith, T.Dan (1970). An Autobiography. Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Oriel Press. ISBN 0-85362-095-4.
  24. ^ Flannery, Peter. Retrospective – An interview with the creators of the series. Included as a bonus feature on the Our Friends in the North DVD release. (BMG DVD 74321 941149).


  • Pendlebury, John (2001). "Alas Smith and Burns? Conservation in Newcastle upon Tyne city centre 1959–68". Planning Perspectives (16): 115–141. doi:10.1080/02665430010018239.

External links[edit]

Party political offices
Preceded by
Norman Winters
North East Division representative on the Independent Labour Party National Administrative Council
Succeeded by
Norman Winters