Happy 50th birthday, Bedford Borough Council!

The Bedfordshire Times three-page feature on the demise of Bedford Borough Council in 1974

This month marks 50 years of Bedford Borough Council, as April 1974 saw sweeping reforms which re-shaped local government across the UK.

The event was marked with a three-page farewell feature in the Bedfordshire Times, where the reporting team bade a sad farewell to a different council which was being abolished to make way. And what was the name of the authority that was being replaced? Bedford Borough Council!

In retrospect it was a strange time, where sweeping reforms were taking place, only for many of them to be reversed – some sooner than others.

The all-new authority was initially known as Bedford District Council. One year later, it was renamed North Bedfordshire Borough Council. And in 1992 it was retitled again – as Bedford Borough Council.

There was, however, a new system of local government. The Bedfordshire Times bemoaned how the days of the Mayor as a “powerful figure” were now over, with the new ceremonial mayors being a “toothless shadow of the office” and “stripped of <their> powers”. That too would be reversed – but not for a few more years.

The first Mayor of the new-look council was one of the youngest in Bedford’s history, and 33-year-old Brian Dillingham promised to be a moderniser. What did that mean in 1974?

Reporter David Reading wrote; “Instead of cheese and wine parties there could be Bedfordshire clanger gatherings.

“Or else civic get-togethers could revolve around the theme of Bedfordshire lace.”

Mayor Dillingham would go on to spend many decades on the Council, and even became mayor again in 1986, before he stood down as a councillor in 2011. But he was not the only familiar face on that first intake of councillors.

Kay Burley served multiple terms over the course of 49 years before retiring last year. And Bob Elford became one of the most familiar faces in the old Town Hall until he finally left politics shortly before his death in 2009. He may be best remembered as one of the eventual co-founders of newspaper the Bedfordshire On Sunday.

Another name which might be familiar to long-time Bedfordians is Frank Garrick, who stood unsuccessfully for election at the first-ever Bedford Borough Council poll. Frank was later elected in Queens Park and was subsequently succeeded in his seat by Mohammad Yasin – today’s MP for Bedford and Kempston.

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