The ebullient and controversial Wilf Proudfoot has served his community as a shopkeeper, hypnotherapist and Conservative MP. Even his socks are true blue…

HE was a council school kid from Crook, failed the 11+ but became a Conservative MP and minister, piled high a successful supermarket group, set sail with a pirate radio ship and is now one of the country’s leading hypnotherapists.

Wilf Proudfoot will be 87 next month. “I suppose I am content,” he muses, “I just wish I’d done a lot more different things.”

He was brought up in a terraced house in Gladstone Street, Crook, the County Durham town where his father managed the Brough’s store and where, as a 12-year-old, he earned pocket money by filling blue bags with sugar. Crook’s unemployment rate, he recalls, was 39 per cent.

For the last 50-odd years he has lived in the same handsome detached house on the outskirts of Scarborough, also owns a villa in Spain – “it only cost us £30,000, it’s a ridiculous price now” – and recently gave half his huge garden to one of his sons so he could build a posh new place of his own.

He himself answers the door wearing the sort of woolly cardigan of which Norman Clegg would be proud and the sort of blue jeans which once prompted a Scarborough Conservative Club official to ask him to leave.

“I wouldn’t care, they were my best ones,” he says.

His feet are unshod, his socks true blue. On the table beside him are a couple of new-fangled gadgets – “bloody things,” says Wilf. “I’ve loads and half of them I can’t even start.”

He’s recently given up jogging but still goes almost every day to the gym.

“I’d recommend it to anyone. The first time might be a bit embarrassing, but after that it’s great.”

His capacious cuttings file reveals that once we called him a “jolly Scarborough grocer” and on another occasion an ebullient man, bubbling with ideas. One of them, aired during an hour-long Commons speech at about half past two in the morning, was that The Northern Echo should drop the qualifying “Northern” – as The Guardian had at that time recently dropped “Manchester” – in order to boost sales.

And jolly? “I suppose that people did see me as jolly, but don’t forget I was a retailer. To me the customers were the most important people and I suppose I saw the electorate as customers.”

Another cutting recalls the national outcry after he called a goods clerk at Seamer railway station a “nit” in a row over a missing parcel – the poor clerk reported him not just to the station master but to the NUR – another his £1,000, nine-hour facelift operation in Beverley Hills in 1977.

For an unassuming man – self-effacing, as it were – it seemed surprising.

“I’d lost a lot of weight, as I should again, and I resembled a bloody tortoise,” he protests.

“The surgeon had been married to Zsa Zsa Gabor and didn’t operate in a hospital but from an office in a skyscraper.

It was a very interesting experience.”

Punch magazine had reckoned him to the right of Enoch Powell. “They didn’t mean on immigration, of course, we’d be lost without the immigrants, but on economic policy and trade issues,” he quickly explains. “I don’t suppose there were many lads like that from Crook.”

HIS father, his hero, had won the Military Cross in the First World War – “captured 13 Jerries single-handedly” – but had to decline invitations to stand as a Tory in local government elections in Crook, akin to capturing about 300 Jerries, because Brough’s disapproved.

“That always disappointed me,”

says Wilf. “The council was becoming a monopoly. Whether it was the BBC or whatever, I’ve always been against monopolies.”

At school, he’d not only failed what kids called the scholarship – “a very good thing to do” – but was kept down a year. “It was the only time I was ever top of the class. I’d done the same work twice.”

He worked during the holidays for local farmer Tommy Gibson, still remembers his surprise that the adult workforce was given time off to sign on the dole, wrote in one of those “What I want to be after leaving school” essays that his ambition was to become an MP and to own lots of shops. His mother found the exercise book many years later. “I’d forgotten all about it,” says Wilf, “I suppose that it’s what the army calls maintenance of aim.”

Another ambition was to live to be 100. He continues apace.

At 14 he moved to Scarborough, stayed with maiden aunts who had a boarding house, gained the school certificate and began as a junior with an accountancy practice in Durham Market Place. “We overlooked the policeman in his box,” he recalls.

He joined the RAF, discovered that he enjoyed being an instructor, returned to Scarborough where his parents had bought a shop and, with the help of his £120 Air Force gratuity, bought one of his own in nearby Seamer.

“Half the floor was still soil, a chemical toilet out the back. We took £122 in the first week; we’d take that in a minute today.”

Again the entrepreneurial spirit stirred. “We were the first in the area to cut prices after the war. Other grocers resented it and the villagers thought there must be something wrong with the stuff, but the last chap had had the shop three months and we still have it.”

The chain quickly lengthened.

Though some have been sold – “the massive boys made us offers we simply couldn’t refuse” – three familyowned Scarborough supermarkets still prosper.

They also thrived, he says, after he became an MP. “I was always good at delegation, it comes from being idle.

I always say that the secret of delegation is being idle.”

SCARBOROUGH’S youngest town councillor in 1950, he twice fought unwinnable parliamentary seats for the Conservatives before in 1959 taking from Labour the Redcar-centred Cleveland constituency.

It was the time, he recalls, that ICI was fast expanding on Teesside and that white collar workers were moving in. “The constituency was divided.

The newcomers had a window either end of the lounge and a standard lamp. They were snobs.”

He lasted five years, perhaps more appreciated among the standard lamp set than among the former ironstone mining villages around Loftus.

Though unseated in 1964, he returned to Westminster six years later as member for Brighouse and Spenborough, chosen from a list of 96, and was an under-secretary to both Willie Whitelaw and Sir Keith Joseph.

“I’m not sure that I ever really thought about the Cabinet,” he says.

“All the others had been to university.

Crook council school was different. In any case, the Labour feller won it back.”

HE became interested in hypnotism in the late 1970s, formed the Proudfoot School of Clinical Hypnosis and Psychotherapy, has taught hundreds of other hypnotherapists.

“It’s not at all as it’s perceived.

It’s not about willpower or domination and I wouldn’t touch if for a minute if it was. It’s about what people can do for themselves and I never cease to be amazed at what they can.

The hypnotist is just the facilitator.

“I don’t advertise but I still have all the work I want. I do it because I’m happy doing it, and it helps other people.”

On one occasion, when he himself agreed to be hypnotised, he regressed to the 1930s in Crook when two of his friends were murdered. “I’d played with them in a hen house made from an old bus. I could still see them walking across the field.

“I often think of Crook, how it’s changed and what it did for me. I don’t know where the entrepreneurial urge came from, but I suppose none of it’s done me any harm.”

Proudfoot's privaters

IF Wilf Proudfoot seemed unlikely ever to be making pirate radio waves, the Oceaana 7 – smallest and lightest of all the offshore outlaws in the 1960s – was a barely more credible corsair.

Originally a Dutch lugger, she had been commandeered by the Germans during the war, used extensively as a fishing craft, refitted for a relatively modest £75,000 and registered in the Honduras before anchoring just over three miles off Scarborough.

Launch date for Radio 270 was due to be April 1, 1966, proceedings delayed for two months when the radio mast snapped in a gale. “It was seriously terrifying. It was my first day at sea and I thought it was going to be the end,” DJ Paul Burnett tells the Pirate Radio Hall of Fame website.

Though clearly in the same boat – just 139ft long, weighing 160 tons – the sailors and the DJs frequently fell out, a motley crew on a shrinking ship. For some, at least, Radio 270 became a flag of inconvenience.

“The narrow confines of life on Oceaana 7 could easily drive one demented,” recalls ex-DJ David Sinclair on the website. “The ambience of fish, both ancient and modern, still permeated the ship to a considerable degree.”

Another DJ was made to walk the plank, metaphorically at any rate, after telling the press that the ship was a “death trap”.

Little Norman, a cook who had been in a sea collision, would patrol the deck in foggy weather, ceaselessly ringing a bell. Sting in the tail, jellyfish would be sucked up with the water intake, blocking the air conditioning.

Paul Burnett, who’d bought himself out of the RAF and was living with his mother in Darlington before joining the pirates, was voicing a live commercial for Danish bacon when he was violently sick on air. “I tried to reach for what we call the cough button, which cuts out your voice, but it was too late,” he recalled.

He subsequently broadcast with Radio 1 and Radio Luxembourg and now works for a commercial radio station in Hull. He was 65 yesterday. Philip Hayton, later to become a BBC Television news presenter, once spun records for 19 hours non-stop because all the other DJs on board were too seasick to continue.

Wilf Proudfoot first read of Radio 270 – inaccurately named, since it broadcast on 269 metres – in the local evening paper in Scarborough. “I rang one of the people concerned and within ten minutes he was in this room.

“They had no plans, not even on the back of a cigarette packet. I wrote them a business plan and then we held a meeting of potential investors in a hotel.

“I told them it was a high risk enterprise and that they might as well go out onto the cliff and throw their bank notes in the air, but they still came aboard.”

He became managing director, is credited with changing the intended balance from “Light Programme” to “Top 40”. Though he occasionally joined the clandestine trips to take supplies to the ship, he never spent a night on her.

Radio 270 broadcast 18 hours a day, 7am-1am, to an area from Newcastle to the Wash. At its peak, says Wilf, it had 1.5 million listeners, charged around £30 for a 30 second commercial and rewrote BBC news bulletins. The DJs worked one week on and one week off.

The best customer, says Wilf, was an evangelical agency which paid £60 for a 30-minute slot at 5pm every day.

“There was perpetual tension between the DJs and crew. The DJs thought they were God’s gift to the universe, but most of the time they were sitting around doing nothing.

It must have been pretty boring.” Paul Burnett recalls on the Hall of Fame website that Proudfoot said anyone could be a disc jockey after sacking three of them. “There was a young spotty local lad, probably about 17, delivering groceries. Proudfoot asked him if he fancied being a DJ and he was promptly given the breakfast show. He lasted a week and didn’t come back.”

Wilf Proudfoot himself admits that there were troubled waters. “One of the captains had sailed sugar boats to the West Indies and knew that in a storm you sailed out to sea, not back in.

“The crew didn’t want to do it. Most of them had probably never lost sight of Scarborough Castle in their lives.”

All the time the government, led by Postmaster General Ted Short, was manoeuvring to lower the pirates’ colours. After just 14 months on air, Radio 270 fell silent on August 14 1967, scuppered by the Marine Offences (Broadcasting) Act.

Philip Hayton, then just 18, recalls a cheering crowd of 2,000 awaiting their return to port, The Oceaana 7 was laid up in Whitby and eventually towed to Scotland to be scrapped.

“I never expected it to make money and it didn’t,” says Wilf. If not quite without trace, the privateers were sunk.