Goodbye Harry

Harry Woodford will be remembered for many things.

Being Lord Mayor of Hull.

A legendary Hull City Council Deputy Leader who helped to rebuild a city bombed by the Nazis.

And an East Hull local legend.

But to me, he was a family friend. A Grandad in all but blood.

Harry stood against my father in the selection to choose Labour’s parliamentary candidate when Harry Pursey stood down.

Harry had been Pursey’s political agent since 1945 and must have assumed he’d be in with a chance to succeed him.

When JP won, Harry Woodford didn’t skulk away. My father asked him to stay on and be his agent for the 1970 General Election. And he happily agreed.

It was a political partnership and friendship that spanned 10 elections and more than half a century.

My first memory of campaigning was the second 1974 election in Harry’s ward on Spring Cottage.

Every year Harry and his wife Dora would spend Boxing Day with us. 

Harry would regale us with jokes and stories from his time as a Desert Rat (because he was so short we dubbed him the Desert Mouse) and his long life in politics.

Harry was one of the key allies of Leo Schultz – the man who helped to rebuild Hull after World War 2. 

For those who don’t know, Hull was the most bombed city outside London. The Government refused to name it so Hull was famously referred to in BBC News reports from Jimmy Goodrick as the ‘North East Coastal Town.’

After the war, Leo as Hull City Council leader with Harry as his deputy, helped to transform the city for the good. 

The smooth talking middle class leader and his blunt speaking working class deputy. 

Sound familiar. Leo and Harry were the Blair/Prescott double act of their time.

They both shared the belief that Hull was special. It’s people, it’s history and its culture.

Leo once said “Some may think that Hull is at the end of the line.

“But I know and will tell you that the line starts in Hull.”

As well as being a formidable councillor, Harry was the best political agent an MP could have.

And he didn’t take any crap.

As JP was Deputy Leader and later DPM, he would spend less time than most candidates campaigning in his constituency during the election. 

So Harry would effectively run the campaign in East Hull in his absence. He was a proxy candidate. 

One day JP came to campaign in East Hull and ended up having an argument with Harry.

They then went out in the Jag with the loudspeaker and microphone.

But when JP went to meet the punters in East Park, Harry stayed in the car talking to a comrade.

Harry said: “Get that bugger Prescott out of Hull so I can get on with this campaign. He’s only up here for the day!”

Unknown to Harry, JP had left the microphone on and the whole of East Park could hear exactly what he thought of his candidate.

But Harry was also a great politician in his own right.

As well as being Leo Schultz’s right hand man, he also was one of the few Labour politicians who got money out of the Thatcher Government for regeneration.

Harry secured funding to turn the derlict Princes Quay into a shopping centre.

He was also the only person I’ve known who had a public building named after him whilst he was still alive! 

The Woodford Sports Centre was named after him after he helped to raise funds for a sporting facility in East Hull.

When JP stood down, I decided to throw my hat in the ring to become the Labour candidate for Hull East. It was 40 years on from when Harry stood for selection.

Harry was fully supportive and even turned up at his local ward nomination meeting to speak for me – at the age of 89.

And when I lost, he was there to lift my spirits. Harry, of course, had been there himself.

I always popped in to see him in the Wilton Lodge care home on Holderness Road.

Even in his later years, his mind was still pin sharp.

Harry Woodford was a great inspiration to me. 

He gave me the confidence and support to get involved in politics on my own terms.

And I reckon Harry saw JP as the son he never had.

Hull has lost a great public servant.

Labour has lost a tireless comrade.

And our family has lost a good friend.

Rest in peace Harry.

The line from Hull started with you.

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