ONE of Darlington’s most colourful and controversial former councillors has died at the age of 79.

Peter Jones represented the Pierremont ward for more than a decade in the 1980s and 1990s, and was chairman of the local Conservative association. At a time when the council was hung and meetings drifted on long into the night, he became renowned for the pugnacious way in which he took the fight to Labour.

According to the Gadfly column in The Northern Echo written in 1993 after there had been a row over NHS cuts in which he had threatened to place a candle in the nose of the Labour MP Alan Milburn, Mr Jones had “a profile as high as the World Trade Centre”.

But for all the column inches he garnered railing against what he saw as Labour’s “abuse of taxpayers’ money”, Mr Jones was also good at grassroots politics, looking after his ward, and raising money for charities through his auctions.

Mr Jones was born in London during the Blitz, and his earliest memory was of an air raid on the family home. "The only thing between me and Adolf Hitler was a cot side and a very thin blanket," he once told the Echo. "I can still remember seeing the sky where the roof had been."

Two family homes were bombed, and a third was struck before they could move into it, and so they were evacuated to Northampton. At 15, he joined the Army, became a Drum Major and was stationed at Barnard Castle for three years, where he met his wife, Jean, at a dance in the YMCA. They married in 1962.

After serving as a physical training instructor at the British Army base of Rheindahlen in Germany, he left the forces in 1965 and settled with Jean in Darlington. He started off managing radio and television shops, including Tates in Newton Aycliffe, but then in 1973 with his brother-in-law bought into Station Taxis.

In 1979, he set up his own auctionhouse in Blackwellgate, and he came to specialise in medals and coins.

In 1983, he was elected to Darlington council having helped Michael Fallon become the town’s Conservative MP, and in 1989, he was elected to represent the town on Durham County Council where he advocated Darlington gaining unitary status.

He lost his borough council seat in 1995, when the local Conservatives were in disarray, but as party chairman for eight years, he helped turn their fortunes around. In 1996, at the party conference in Bournemouth, he won a best campaigning and training award, the prize for which was a visit to meet Chancellor Kenneth Clarke in No 11, Downing Street. He was also invited to meet Prime Minister John Major in No 10.

Darlington council leader Heather Scott said: “It is sad to hear of the death of a former councillor who served his electorate well, and I send my sincere condolences to his wife, Jean.”

Former Darlington Labour leader Bill Dixon said: “Peter was a character, very good value, and although I rarely – if ever – agreed with him, he always fought his corner and, like most councillors, he had the best interests of the town at heart.”

Beyond his antiques, Mr Jones other interests included playing the piano and the cats that lived with him and Jean.

Darlington’s current MP, Peter Gibson, said: “The passing of people from the public life of our community is always sad, and whilst I did not know Peter Jones, I extend my sympathy and condolences to his family at this difficult time.”

Mr Jones died on January 10 after having a stroke. Because of current restrictions, his funeral on January 25 at Darlington crematorium will be a private affair.