Like father like son

Councillor Robert Wynne pictured at home with his father, Edmund Wynne.
Councillor Robert Wynne pictured at home with his father, Edmund Wynne.

A large folder, some eight to 10 inches thick, is borne into the living room of former councillors Edmund and the (Honourable) Nancy Wynne, of Squires Gate.

It is carried by their youngest child, and only son, Robert, in his mid-50s, who will stand down at the next council election, in May.

He sits, child-like, at his parents’ feet, to leaf through the contents of a scrapbook that has utterly outgrown its source material.

“A little light reading,” he explains. It’s a testament to the battles royal of the old Blackpool Council, his father’s bid to establish an exhibition centre at South Shore, which would have linked to the airport, and proved a lifeline of a conference centre – quashed long ago.

The fight to keep the Derby Baths open, to lure Disney to open an amusement park here, or nail a notorious Blackpool rock-smuggling ring...! Quixotic campaigns and no end of triumphs to enhance local life in Alexandra, Highfield or Squires Gate (his son’s ward today) wards over the years.

Robert’s parents were ward councillors for more years than either cares to remember, lifelong Liberals, and, more latterly, in relative terms, as both are in their 90s, Liberal Democrats.

Robert’s decision to pack in local politics before the next election stems from his growing disillusionment with, and distaste for, the local government system.

“It strikes me I can be far more effective outside the council than within,” he adds. “Those who really hold sway are the officials.”

Nancy disagrees. Far better, she says, to work from within the system. His parents are sad to see Robert leave the council but accept he’s done “more than his bit” (Edmund) and “should go if his heart is no longer in it” (Nancy).

It ends a family council affair which dates back to when his father was a young businessman – and Edmund celebrates his 94th birthday on Sunday. He stood down from Squires Gate ward in 2000, after almost 50 years on the council, to give his daughter-in-law Gaynor a chance of winning and serving with her husband.

Edmund and Nancy had Liberal politics in common but came from very different backgrounds.

Edmund, born in Yorkshire, hailed from what his son describes as a “working class Scottish background,” the son of a shop manager.

The Honourable Nancy Eden was to the manor born, at Castle Howard, her mother’s family residence, daughter of Lord and Lady Henley of Northamptonshire, father a baron, maternal grandfather an earl.

The family traces ancestry back to Charles II.

The Liberals grew out of the Whigs, which originated in an aristocratic faction in that same reign.

The pair met at a dance while serving in the armed forces during the Second World War.

Nancy’s family held high office within the Liberal Party, while Edmund’s family were party activists. Coincidentally, both had links with the teetotal movement (as well as suffrage on Nancy’s part).

Edmund’s grandfather, abandoned as a child by alcoholic parents, spoke out against the demon drink as president of the Yorkshire Temperance Society.

Nancy’s mother, a strict teetotaller, was president of the British Temperance Society.

What she made of her daughter becoming a Blackpool guesthouse landlady is anyone’s guess.

Today, Robert, who has five sisters, owns a string of pubs, as well as his cherished West Coast Rock Cafe.

It’s another reason he needs a break from politics, but it gives him a valuable touchstone to town centre issues. “This is my town. I love it and want it to do well.”

The family still talk politics constantly and gently poke fun at each other in the manner of those who sit down to dine together nightly.

Father and son have another thing in common - mayoralties - which set the benchmark, in functions covered, or phenomenal sums raised.

Even Gaynor, who quit after one term with the council rather than die of boredom, loved the mayoralty. “People are nice to you and you can achieve so much.”

Robert, feted not just for fundraising, but for sporting his Blackpool FC tangerine suit admits the mayoralty made him question how effective politicians could be.

“I saw the good I could do, the links I could make with ordinary people who would have never thought of asking the mayor to an event, and politics took a back seat. It made me realise how much could be achieved – outside the council.”

The last word goes to Edmund: “Politics should have no place in local government. It should be about working together to help people, and get the best for the town, but too many are in it for what they can get out of it – and that’s as true today as it was in my day.”