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Council mourns loss of ex-politician once dubbed ‘Mr Bedford’

By Bedfordshire On Sunday  |  Posted: July 26, 2009

By SIMON HUTCHINSON

A young Bob Elford in the RAF

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A long-serving councillor described as ‘Mr Bedford’ has died at the age of 78 just days after being awarded the title of Honorary Alderman.

Bob Elford was a councillor on North Bedfordshire and Bedford Borough Councils from 1973 until the elections in June this year when he lost his seat.

Mr Elford was known throughout the town as a greengrocer but he also played a key part in setting up Bedfordshire on Sunday alongside Frank Branston, now Bedford’s Mayor.

Mr Branston said: “It was 1976. I was freelancing – in other words, unemployed and scraping a living – but planning to start a free Sunday newspaper in Bedford. There were already two frees and two paid-fors at that time so it might have seemed a bit crazy to launch another.

“In fact, it was a bit crazy and most of the people I had approached for support were not interested. I had one backer, former police officer turned private inquiry agent Bryan Constant, and was looking for another.

“I don’t remember how Bob came into the equation but I know he had backed a friend in another enterprise and come unstuck, but he consulted his wife Betty, who died in April last year (2008), and she thought it sounded promising.

“We each put in the laughably small sum of £3,000, augmented by another £700 each a few months later.

“We rented some grotty first floor rooms in Midland Road and spent Boxing Day 1976 splashing some paint around.

“Bob was painting over the window sashes and I said that it would mean that the offices would get very hot in summer, as indeed they did.

“Bob’s reply was: ‘Who knows if we’ll be here in summer’. I chided him for his pessimism and with that false naivety which I came to know well he said: ‘I meant we might be in better offices by then.’

“We launched in March 1977. After a rocky start, BoS began to stabilise but by 1986 a rift was developing between me and my partners who sought to arrange a sale of the company. It didn’t go through and that year I bought Bob and Bryan out.

“Bob hadn’t done badly out of the deal and our relations were soon repaired.

“He was always a good source of stories, both about the council and his many friends and acquaintances.

“I retired from active involvement with the paper in 2000 and became Mayor of Bedford two years later. Bob was one of my immediate picks for the cabinet, not out of sentimentality, but because I wanted to tap into his great well of common-sense.

“As his health began to fail he carried on, almost always getting to important meetings.

“His decision to leave the Labour group last year and go Independent caused him to lose his Cauldwell seat.

“In a way I am sorry about that although I recognised that his health was limiting his activities, but he had always expressed a desire to leave the Town Hall feet first. He missed that by seven weeks.

“I will miss Bob as will his friends in all parts of the council, officers and members alike.”

Bob served in the RAF as a policeman and it was the link to the services that resulted in him and Cllr Jim Brandon, who served in the Navy, becoming close friends.

Cllr Brandon, who referred to Bob as Mr Bedford, said: “We would spend hours at Town Hall talking about our time in the services and Bob would often tell me tales about people he had arrested and why – they were very funny but I couldn’t say what they were.

“I got to know Bob in the 1970s when we were on the council and it is fair to say that we hit it off really well.

“He was one of the ‘early’ Labour members trying to put the world to rights and always saying his piece, but it wasn’t all one-sided.

“Bob was so proud to have been given the Honorary Alderman title and it is a real shame that he is not here to treasure it.

“It would have given him the feeling of still being involved with the council.

“Everyone at the Town Hall and Borough Hall loved Bob, and there’s not too many people that you can say that about.

“It really shook me when I heard that he had died and I know he will be sadly missed.”

Conservative councillor Roger Gwynne Jones said: “Bob and I joined the council together in 1973 and he was a true man of Bedford who worked very hard for the town taking his work seriously, especially planning.

“Bob hated pomposity but he gave generous time to his friends and to new councillors.

"He had a quirky sense of humour that he maintained until the end and I will miss the old boy.”

Bob is survived by his father Robert Senior, 99, his children Stephen, Beverley, Sharon and Robert as well as his grandchildren and great grandchildren.

His funeral will take place at 2pm on August 3 at St Mary’s Church, Goldington.

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