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George " Wilf " Proudfoot

PIONEERING Scarborough businessman and former Conservative MP, Wilf Proudfoot, has died at the age of 91

 

Born at Crook in County Durham, he gained his early knowledge of the food retailing industry by working in the local grocery shop which his father managed in the town.

He moved to Scarborough at the age of 14 and attended Scarborough College, later being conscripted into the RAF where he was commissioned, serving in the education branch and teaching mathematics and technical skills to recruits from an educationally disadvantage background. He was an aircraft fitter in his beloved Allahabad, India.

His entrepreneurial talent came to the fore when in 1946 he invested £300 from his RAF gratuity to buy a former blacksmith’s building in Seamer and fitting it out as a supermarket. He developed the business using the self-service and high volume/low price model he had experienced on a trip to America in the 1950’s. The company went on to develop stores at Newby, Eastfield, Withernsea and Barton-on-Humber.

He opened the town's first supermarket in Huntriss Row at what is now McDonald's Restaurant.

He became the youngest member of Scarborough Town Council in 1950 when he was elected as a Conservative member, and once recalled how his informal dress sense did not endear him to some other party members, and was once asked to leave the Conservative Club when he walked in wearing jeans and a cardigan!

His Parliamentary career saw him win the Cleveland constituency in 1959 at the second attempt, after an earlier attempt to become an MP at Hemsworth. Mr Proudfoot served for two terms in Parliament, as MP for Cleveland from 1959 to 1964, and later as the member for Brighouse and Spenborough from 1970 to 1974.

One of the highlights of his Parliamentary career was to put the white paper before Parliament for decimalisation of currency before its introduction in 1971.  He also served as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Sir Keith Joseph, when he was Minister of Housing and Local Government and Private Secretary to the Minister of State of Trade and also to the Minister of Employment.

An avid reader, self-educated economist and outspoken free marketer, vehemently against state ownership of industries, wrote a book entitled “The two factor Nation, or how to make the poor people rich”  which was circulated to all Members of Parliament.

Throughout his political career, Mr Proudfoot was particularly vocal on retail issues, including opposing the use of trading stamps.

In 1965, Mr Proudfoot was a leader in the consortium which set up a pirate radio station off Scarborough, Radio 270, on board a 150 tonne fishing vessel, Ocean 7 and became the station's joint managing director, but its broadcasting career was brought to an end in 1967 as a result of the Marine Broadcasting Offences Act introduced by Harold Wilson’s Labour Government in an attempt to protect the BBC monopoly.  On the closing broadcast of Radio 270, Wilf Proudfoot promised that free independent media will return.

After leaving Parliament in 1974, Mr Proudfoot became a regular visitor to the United States where he developed an interest in hypnotism, establishing the Proudfoot School of Hypnosis in Scarborough, which attracted people from all parts of the world. He lectured on hypnotism, NLP and hypnotherapy in the USA, Spain, India, Singapore, Hong Kong and Britain. 

He leaves his wife, Peggy, to whom he was married for 63 years, sons Mark and Ian, who are joint managing directors of the Proudfoot supermarket company, and a daughter Lyn, and five grandchildren.

In a tribute, Mr Proudfoot’s family said:  “We have lost a very caring and loving family man who was a wonderful husband, father and grandfather and the local business world has lost someone who had great vision.

His entrepreneurial talents, matched by determination and hard work, won him respect from very many people in political life and hypnosis around the world.

As head of our family he will be sorely missed, but he leaves behind him many happy memories and his legacy of honesty, hard work, fairness and caring.  He was an unpretentious man who will always be cherished by us and the people he worked with”.