Memories : Darlington Town Hall, August 1979 / Updated

Well, I thought, if Keith can do some, then why the hell not. So relax in mayoral pomp and ceremony…

Frank Benson hands the keys to the newly-elected Mayor, Councillor Alan Gill. His chauffeur and Mrs Gill look chuffed to bits don’t they? Wonder if they still were upon discovering it’s not a 2.2-litre – their thoughts on this were never recorded…

The place is Darlington in August 1979 and the newly-elected Mayor, Councillor Alan Gill’s, timing is spot on. Not only has he been elected leader of the local Labour Council and recently become the town’s Mayor, it’s coincided with the 1 August registration change. Here he is seen with his wife, his chauffeur (yes, they really did have them back then) and the sales manager of the supplying dealer outside the huge monstrosity that is the Town Hall located on Feethams.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that, thanks to its mayoral duties, this Princess would be the silky-smooth 2200 version, but it wasn’t. Thrift was the buzzword in the fourth floor Purchasing Department and this resplendent ebony beauty is, in fact, a 1700 – albeit in top line HLS trim level. No doubt Mr Gill would have appreciated the sumptuous velour trim along with the other rear seat frivolities like the reading lamps, cigar lighter and arm-rest. Mr Benson would have barely pushed the choke home on handover as the massive dealership was 300 yards to the right of this picture.

Yet this one has a few tenuous links for me. Councillor Gill was a good friend of my late Grandfather and the boss of the man handing they keys over – Sales Director of Darlington Motor Delivery Co., David Beer, had our next door neighbour at number 31, Rhoda North as his Personal Assistant. Indeed, it doesn’t end there either. The town ran its own bus company until 1994 and the works Foreman, Colin Pearson, was our neighbour the other side at number 35.

For the icing on the cake, the General Manager of the bus company – Darlington Corporation Transport – was Stuart Hyslop and he lived a few doors up on the other side of the same road, I went to school with his twin daughters. As you may guess cars and buses were drummed into me at a very early age. Sadly, Mr Gill, who, until his rise to the top of local Borough Council hierarchy, had been a train driver, passed away in 2017 at the ripe old age of 95. Meanwhile, the Princess went to its maker in 1990. The dealership closed in 1984.

Update

It just goes to show that you never know just who reads this stuff. Former Darlington mayor (1988-89) and retired Councillor Barrie Lamb got in touch with me via Facebook with a nice piece of added value for your delectation. Mr Lamb said: ‘Scalextric used to hold big national competitions back in the day and one of the regional heats to publicise the Mini was held at the Darlington Motor Delivery BL showroom around 1976 if I recall rightly.’ He added: ‘Our family once ran a large toy store in the town and I was asked to set up the massive track layout in the showroom, the national winners received a brand new Mini.’

Thanks Barrie!

Image by courtesy of the Northern Echo

11 Comments

  1. Glad to see you’re still contributing Mr. Humble! Great article, but a mere 11 years from cradle to grave? Reminds me how a classic car mag in 1980 was restoring a 1969 Minor. No-one would care about restoring am 11 year old car now as it’s no big deal. Glad they don’t build them like they used to, even if the interior tech is getting pretty grim.

  2. Maybe the council chose a 1.7 litre Princess due to the energy crisis at the time, as the 2.2 was quite a thirsty car. However, it was an HLS and would have been nice for the mayor to ride in with the comfortable velour seats.
    I wouldn’t think 11 years was a bad life for a car made in 1979. While rust protection and mechanical durability had improved throughout the seventies, many cars were still rust prone and unreliable and would have gone by their tenth birthday. Also the Princess was fitted with the new O series engine, which was quite a reliable unit, and the early issues on the car had been beaten by 1979.

  3. Been in that building many times. Lovely Council Chamber. It’s not such a montrosity on the inside!

  4. In the early episodes of Yes, Minister Jim Hacker had a black Princess as his official car, complete with driver.

    • @richardpd, the late Alan Clark noted in his diaries that the Princess was a car used by junior ministers in the early eighties and I did see an Ambassador in use as a ministerial car during a documentary about Margaret Thatcher shown on BBC Two last year.
      Actually both cars were ideal ministerial and mayoral transport, my local authority using an Ambassador 1.7 HL for the mayor for a few years. They boasted a huge interior, rode extremely well and had a presence on the road that a Cortina or a Cavalier lacked.

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