Lord Bilston, Dennis Turner
According to Labour MP Pat McFadden, Dennis Turner’s successor in Parliament, “few MPs knew their constituents so well and so closely”. In fact a common story to be told about him is that if you had ever walked through the centre of his beloved Bilston with him then you would quickly realise that not only did he know the name of every person who said hello to him but also the name of their dogs. This is just one explanation for why the University of Wolverhampton has decided to dedicate its new Opportunity Fund in his name. Not only did he firmly believe that you are NEVER too old to learn & was vociferous in his backing of local educational projects to help enhance the lives of his constituents but he stood side by side with them to fight for them & the lives they were trying to create.
Born and raised in Bilston, Dennis Turner grew up with a strong belief in the Black Country with a sense of social justice which epitomises the local widening participation that the University has been so fervently striving towards ever since gaining University status back in 1992. Lord Bilston reflects our belief that ANYONE has the capacity of achieving a higher educational qualification no matter what their background.
He was always trying to find out what united people as opposed to what could tear them apart and actively contributed, whether creating a petition to keep bus passes for pensioners or getting local brewery Banks’s bitter stocked in the members bar in Parliament.
He believed in people and what they could achieve if just given the chance and so we honour his legacy by continuing to give our students the help & support they need to allow them to succeed in his name.
Dennis Turner is born in Bradley, the son of Thomas Herbert Turner & Mary Peasley
1948 – joins the St Martins church choir
Educated at Stonefield Secondary Modern School (later Hall Green Comprehensive then Bilston High School and now South Wolverhampton & Bilston Academy)
Studied office accounting at Bilston College
1959 - worked as salesman at Betterware kitchen company
Going door to door in the 1960’s and seeing the poor conditions of slum housing, gave Lord Bilston the interest he would have in politics for the rest of his life and the belief that he could help to make things better
1960 – leads the church choir out on strike in a row over low wages
1964 - gets a job as a stocktaker in Bilstons steel industry, later becoming a transport controller
1966 – elected to Wolverhampton Council. At 22, he is one of the youngest ever councillors
Local government roles included chairing its social services, special education, further education, housing services & the committee overseeing the beloved Grand Theatre
1973 - Elected to the now defunct West Midlands County Council
1974 – unsuccessfully contests the Parliamentary elections in Halesowen and Stourbridge
1976 – marries Pat Narroway – later have son & daughter - Wife Pat, son Brendon, daughter Jenny & granddaughter Bella
Late 1970’s at the forefront of a five year fight to save Bilston Steelworks as chair of the Joint Trade Union Action Committee – he was devastated when this ultimately failed with the loss of thousands of jobs “it was traumatic to see the demise of the steel industry” “There were many problems, but local people have belief in themselves which comes from their Black Country breeding.”
1980 - he became deputy leader of Wolverhampton Council
1981 – becomes chairman of Springvale Cooperative Limited. Also becomes president of Springvale Cricket Club
1982 - he began a five-year spell as a director of the West Midlands Enterprise Board, a body to encourage local enterprise.
1986 – selected as Labour candidate for Wolverhampton South East; resigns from council roles to concentrate on campaign
1987 – elected an MP with a majority of 6,398. He was so popular amongst his political peers that even Tory Party members contributed to his campaign fund. Also becomes president of Bilston Community Association - Elected to parliament in 1987 he became one of the most popular parliamentarians of his era
In the Commons he applied a down-to-earth touch: as chairman of the catering committee he introduced chips to the menu; he often reminded MPs that he had once been a market trader and had run a social club. He introduced a private member's bill to legislate for the correct amount of froth to be at the top of a pint of beer. He also once chaired a committee to choose the best curry cook in England and a restaurant in Bilston won the award. When he visited the restaurant, though, he chose fish and chips, revealing he was not fond of curry. He liked a bet and once kept a greyhound called Division Belle.
1992 – re-elected with an increased majority, selected as an opposition whip until 1997
1993 – he gathered 5,000 signatures on 2 petitions, 2,500 on each, campaigning against plans to impose VAT on fuel and another against threats to strip pensioners of free travel passes. Not only were bus passes preserved but eventually beefed up to allow pensioners to use them wherever they were in the country
1998 – successfully gets a private members’ bill adopted calling for pubs to sell a full pint of beer, a campaign he will continue for years. Wanted to persuade the beer industry to adopt oversized lined glasses so that beer drinkers could get the full 20 fluid ounces they had paid for with the head on top
Active player in campaign for city status which was finally achieved in 2000 as one of the Millennium cities
2003 – as an official aide to international development secretary Clare Short, Dennis Turner says he will join her & resign his post if she steps down in opposition to the Iraq war. She did eventually resign, meaning he lost his unpaid position - Parliamentary private secretary to Cabinet Minister Clare Short
2005 – announces plans to stand down as MP due to an upcoming operation on his lung. That year he is also made a life peer, choosing the name Lord Bilston
In the Lords, he remained passionately Labour and was universally respected for his warmth and straightforwardness.
2006 – awarded Freedom of the City of Wolverhampton (means he could graze his sheep in ST. Peters Square or set up an unregulated business)