Jailed North-East council leader featured in latest Oxford Edition of National Biography

The Northern Echo: ODNB entry: The late Andrew Cunningham ODNB entry: The late Andrew Cunningham

A SHAMED North-East council leader jailed in the infamous Poulson scandal is featured in the latest edition of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

The life of one-time Durham County Council leader Andrew Cunningham, who was jailed for five years in 1973 after pleading guilty to corruption, features in the online update of the ODNB that is available from January 16.

It contains the lives of 55,000 noteable people who have shaped Britain - and the latest online version also celebrates such figures as Norman Wisdom, Bernard Matthews and Alex "Hurricane" Higgins. 

Mr Cunningham, from Felling, Gateshead, lived for many years in Chester-le-Street, and died aged 100 in the University Hospital of North Durham in 2010.

He was the father of Jack Cunningham, a Labour MP in West Cumbria for many years. A minister in Tony Blair’s government and now Lord Cunningham of Felling, he was recently cleared by the Parliamentary standards watchdog over a 'cash for access' allegation.

Andrew Cunningham, the son of a coal trimmer who worked on the River Tyne, became one of the most powerful men in County Durham in the 1960s, when the county included Gateshead and Sunderland, and a prominent figure in North-East Labour and trade union politics.

The Poulson scandal, which also brought down “Mr Newcastle”, the flamboyant T Dan Smith, involved councillors and officials receiving payments and gifts for awarding building contracts to the Yorkshire architect John Poulson.

Part of ODNB reads: “In his heyday, Cunningham was known as ‘Handy Andy’, admired for the 7, 000 houses, Olympic-size swimming pool, arts centre, library, and schools constructed during his leadership of Felling Council.

“By the early 1970s, with growing rumours of corruption and anger over the poor building quality of local tower blocks, he was increasingly referred to as ‘Andy Backhandy’. His arrest as part of the Poulson scandal in 1973 came to many as no surprise.”

ODNB editor Dr Lawrence Goldman said: “In the 1970s Andrew Cunningham was a central figure in one of the largest corruption trials of 20th Century Britain.

“At the time, his trial was a national talking point with implications for regional and national politics.

“Today, Cunningham’s story reveals to us a very different world of regional politics, trade union strength, and rapid urban development, then commonplace in the post-war era.”

The ODNB, available by subscription, already includes biographies of T Dan Smith and John Poulson.

The OBND can be viewed online for free at all public libraries.

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