FORTY years ago, Darlington’s mayor was a man who had profited from a life of crime: he was Bill Newton who wrote 125 thrillers, featuring heroic cops like Joey Binns and Miles Dresser, which had been translated into 13 different languages.

Indeed, in the early years of his career, one of his stories was considered too racy for America where it was banned by magistrates and his publishers were ordered to pulp 1,200 copies.

And his year wearing the golden chains of office began when he published his 84th novel, The Way to Get Dead. It was, said the Evening Despatch newspaper, “a pacey tale of crime and killing from the Darlington mayor, including a fair dollop of sex”, and the front cover featured a dead young lady in a brassiere.

The Despatch quoted an enticing line from the book: “Her breasts swayed with movements of her body as though they were made of rubber.”

Although only 40 years ago, those were very different times, and Bill kept scores of scrapbooks filled with copious cuttings that tell of a town that was very different to the one that Councillor Cyndi Hughes has just become the mayor of.

Politics were very different then: the council was grappling with whether to declare itself a nuclear-free zone.

The times were very different then: Bill was head judge of the first Miss Darlington contest which controversially selected a 5ft 7ins brunette model (whose vital statistics, 34-24-34, were printed in the papers) from Bradford to represent the town in the Miss England pageant.

And the town looked very different: one of the highlights of Bill’s year was when the Olympic miler Sir Roger Bannister came to officially open the Dolphin Centre – a leisure centre that Bill, as chair of the recreation committee, had been championing for many years.

Bill himself was born in Sunderland in 1923 and he came to Darlington as a sales rep for Vaux brewery in 1968. However, as a young man, he had been injured in the RAF. As he recovered in an air force hospital, he read paperbacks from the ward trolley, thought he could do better, and dashed off a thriller on a hospital typewriter.

"I sent the manuscript to the address on the back of one of the books,” he once told the Echo, “and within two weeks I got a letter back with a £50 cheque and a contract to write more books."

During the 1950s, his publisher would send him a lurid book cover – usually featuring plenty of cleavage and a sinister silhouette – with a graphic title and ask him to write a story to fit at 30 shillings for 1,000 words.

“His mum, Lily, was very proud of him but had all of his books covered in green velvet, which we still have,” says his son, Graham.

The books were also too spicey for American magistrates who banned You’re Dead My Lovely, which he had written in 1958 under the pen name of Gene Ross. This, of course, was great publicity and he found himself in the News of the World, establishing a reputation among young male readers for being the hottest writer about.

Soon after Bill came to Darlington, he was elected as a Conservative to the council and he became a magistrate. He retired from the brewery and become a full time writer – he was billed as “Darlington’s answer to Raymond Chandler”.

He was supported throughout by his wife, Margot, who had been involved in code-breaking at Bletchley Park during the war. She really was his partner-in-crime. She worked as a clerk at the Department of Education at Mowden Hall but used her analytical skills to research the factual background to Bill’s thrilling plots.

His early works were published under 15 nom-de-plumes, including Gilroy Mitchum, MacDonald Newton, Ben Satro and Spike Morrelli. They often featured a daring gangster called Hank Jansen.

Once he went full time, he wrote under his own name, and his characters became inspired by the shops he saw on High Row: Joey Binns was a private eye and Miles Dresser was a Los Angeles detective.

Bill, like some of his characters, led something of a double life. He’d work at the typewriter at his fantasy thrillers until 3am and then during the day, he’d chair the magistrates bench or, from 1976 to 1979, lead Darlington council. He was the town’s leading Tory and in the mid-1970s was expected to be chosen to stand for Parliament.

During the 1980s, he chaired the health authority during the tough times of the Thatcher years. In 1982, there was a strike at the Memorial Hospital and pickets prevented a surgeon from reaching the operating theatre on time. When, having completed his five hour operation, the surgeon returned to his Porsche 924, he found it had been damaged.

Another big hospital controversy came in 1986 when the Memorial had to suspend its accident and emergency cover at nights and weekends because it couldn’t recruit enough junior staff to cover.

In May 1982, Bill took over from Cllr Bill Stenson as mayor, and he announced he was leaving the Conservative Party as he felt politics should play no part in the ceremonial role.

He said: “I don’t believe any man can be given a greater privilege than to become mayor of the town he belongs to.”

One of his earliest jobs was to accompany the Duke of Gloucester as he opened the Post Office beside the inner ring road, and he also opened an Esso filling station on Victoria Road where there were 5,500 gallons of four star for sale at an introductory price of £1.61 or two star for £1.56½. We reckon that a gallon sold on the same street today, but priced in litres, would cost £5.62.

One job Bill did not do was take the first flight from Teesside airport to London Gatwick operated by Cosair. The Echo said the route represented a £1½m gamble by the airline, and return tickets cost £100 (this week on Loganair, you can get a return to Heathrow from Teesside for £160).

Margot and Cllr Sheila Brown graced the first flight. Bill didn’t go because he revealed – and always had at least one eye on a story that might get him in the papers – that following a vivid nightmare, he had a fear of flying. A picture of him clutching an airline seat in terror accompanied the story.

His biggest moment came towards the end of his tenure when he got to announce the winner of the Darlington by-election to a television audience. Labour narrowly held the seat but Ossie O’Brien was defeated only months later in the general election by Michael Fallon.

In May 1983, Bill handed the chains of mayoral office onto the Labour leader, Jim Skinner, and went to Buckingham Palace to collect his MBE. He stood down from the council in 1988, and devoted his later years to his 565-page history of the Darlington and Simpson Rolling Mills which he completed in 1999 just as the Rise Carr mills were closing after 130 years.

He died in 2009, and as well as leaving a library of thrilling stories he left a collection of cuttings and pictures which act as a window onto a very different time.