Born 1943 Died 2006
Born Anthony Louis Banks on the 8th April 1943 at Belfast in Northern Ireland, his father Albert Banks, a former engineering fitter was then a Sergeant Major in the 8th Army, but later joined the diplomatic service and became first secretary at the British Embassy in Warsaw. His parents soon returned to England and Tony was brought up in in Brixton, south London, where he attended the local primary, St John's School, followed by Archbishop Tenison's Grammar School in Kennington. There he rapidly esablished a reputation as a trouble-maker who cheeked the teachers, for which latter crime he was regularly beaten. He subsequently failed his A levels but found himself work as a clerk and attended evening classes in order to gain the necessary qualifications for university.
After attending the University of York and the London School of Economics, in 1969 he became head of research at the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers, before leaving in 1975 to become political adviser to Judith Hart, then Minister for Overseas Development. The following year he returned to the trade union movement as assistant general secretary of the Association of Broadcasting and Allied Staffs, where he remained until he became an MP in 1983.
Like his father Albert, Tony became an active member of the Labour Party, and in 1970 was elected both to the Greater London Council (GLC) (as the representative for Hammersmith) and Lambeth Council. He lost his Hammersmith seat on the GLC in 1977, but was re-elected as the member for Tooting in 1981. It was at this time that he became the chairman of the GLC's Arts Committee (a post which he held until 1983), and earned himself the title of the 'czar of culture'. This was in recognition of such stunts as the decision to close of the Champagne bar at the Festival Hall on the grounds that it was "totally elitist". (Notwithstanding the fact that champagne was in fact Mr Bank's favourite drink.) He was thus recognised as a leading member of what was then known as the 'loony left' and credited with such ideas as the renaming the Jubilee Gardens as the 'Peace Gardens'. He later briefly became chairman of the GLC in 1985 before its abolition in 1986.
Whilst serving on the GLC Tony made a number of attempts to join the House of Commons and finally, at the third attempt, won election as the Labour member of parliament for Newham North West. (Later renamed after some minor boundary changes in 1997 as West Ham.) He briefly served on the Labour front bench as social services spokesman under Neil Kinnock, but resigned rather than vote in favour of a motion supporting the decision to send British troops to the Gulf War. A leading supporter of Tony Benn's ambitions to lead the party, he later became close to John Smith when he succeeded Kinnock as Labour leader, and his political career may well have prospered had Smith not suffered an untimely and unexpected death in 1994.
Thereafter Banks found himself somewhat out-of-step with events as his left-wing political credentials did not quite fit into the New Labour project. Neverthless he was able to moderate his radicalism sufficently to accept a ministerial post under Tony Blair, becoming the Minister for Sport in 1997. His formal response to this promotion was to state that it was "rather like being offered a place in heaven without having to die first". Informally his initial reaction was one of utter surprise, expressed, as he later admited, with the words "Fuck me!".
However, he never appeared entirely at ease whilst in office; he had his fingers crossed when taking his oath of allegiance to the Queen (he claimed it was simply "for luck"), whilst what might be described as his 'caustic wit', got him into trouble on a number of occasions. He once described William Hague as a "foetus" during a speech at the 1997 Labour Party Conference, a remark that offended almost everybody, and led to calls for his resignation. Even the Daily Mirror felt obliged to demand that he should go, running the headline "Sack this clown" on the front page. Neverthless Tony managed to retain his ministerial post, but after a handful or more of similar gaffes he decided to resign as minister in 1999 in order to lead the campaign to bring the World Cup to England. Although he was unsuccesful in this attempt, it was later said that the experience gained was of considerable help in London's successful bid for the 2012 Olympics.
He sought to be selected as Labour's candidate for the 2003 London Mayoral election but was defeated by Nicky Gavron. (In any event Ken Livingstone was later re-admitted to the party and became the official candidate.) This was probably just as well, as Tony always seemed happiest as a bankbench MP free to pursue his own obsessions rather than occupying any kind of political office. (For which, it must be said, he always lacked certain basic prerequisites such as tact and discretion.)
Sport, particularly football, was perhaps the major of these obsessions, and he was a long standing supporter of Chelsea FC, notwithstanding the fact that he was the member for West Ham. His other major obsession was the issue of animal welfare. Described by his colleague Gerald Kaufamn as "the Dr Dolittle of politics", Banks was an ardent vegetarian (it was said that he never ate anything which had a face or a family) and campaigner for animal rights. At the GLC he had been instrumental in banning animal circuses from council land, and later became one of the most vocal campaigners in favour of a ban on hunting, becoming vice-president of the League Against Cruel Sports. Banks himself went so far as to claim that "If animals had votes, I would be Prime Minister by now", which of course led many to simply thank the Good Lord that the franchise remained restricted to members of homo sapiens.
He was additionally keen on the arts; whilst at the GLC he had served on the boards of the National Theatre
, English National Opera
and the London Festival Ballet
, and his only apparent regret on leaving the House of Commons was that he would be forced to relinquish his job as chairman of the Works of Art Committee
, which he had described as was "straightforward fun
" that had given him "intellectual enjoyment
Tony always displayed a certain talent for self-publicity and regulary appeared on television on such programmes as Have I Got News For You and the Richard and Judy show, where he cultivated his image as a 'man of the people'. As one newspaper commented, he "often made more of an impression on his constituents and the wider public than on his parliamentary colleagues"; a somewhat backhanded compliment that reflects the widely held view that he never quite made it in the House of Commons in the way that he originally intended.
The Lord Stratford
In November 2004, Tony announced that he would retire from the House of Commons at the next election. Having been an MP for twenty-years he now complained that the job of a constituency MP had reduced him to being "a sort of high-powered social worker and perhaps not even a good one" and that he found the work "intellectually numbing" and "tedious in the extreme".
On the 23rd June 2005 he was created the Baron Stratford, selecting Stratford in East London as his title since that is where both his constituency office had been based and where he had lived for the past twenty years. Given that he had been arguing in favour of the abolition of the House of Lords since 1977, many expressed surprise when it was announced that the staunchly republican Tony had accepted a life peerage. He justified his actions by arguing that he had only accepted a place in the House of Lords in order to have a platform to continue pursuing his various campaigns. In any event he described his title as a 'nom de politics' and said he still expected to be known as Tony Banks.
In the event, his tenure of a seat in the House of Lords was to prove all too brief. On 5th January 2006 he was staying with friends at Sanibel Island in Florida when he suffered a massive stroke, and was flown by helicopter to hospital at Fort Myers, Florida. According to his friend and fellow Chelsea FC supporter David Mellor he suffered a "colossal brain haemorrhage and that has effectively robbed him of any chance of survival. His body is still fighting on but I'm afraid he is to all intents and purposes brain dead, clinically dead." He was formally pronounced dead on the 8th January.
Curiously the Internet Movie Database has an entry for Tony Banks thanks to his appearance in the 1995 film Solitaire for 2 as 'Man in Bookshop'. He is also credited with playing himself in an episode of Drop the Dead Donkey broadcast on the 12th November 1996.
As noted above, Tony Banks attracted something of a reputation as a wit during his life. A selection of his more infamous quips at one time found its way into print under the title The Wit and Wisdom of Tony Banks (Robson Books, 1998) . In truth he was simly an exponent of the age old art of the creative insult. He once described Margaret Thatcher as having "All the sensitivity of a sex-starved boa constrictor" and on another occasion a "half mad old bag lady". Kenneth Clarke was "a pot-bellied old soak", John Major was "so unpopular, if he became a funeral director people would stop dying", whilst the Liberal Democrats were collectively dismissed as "woolly-hatted, muesli-eating, Tory lick-spittles". However if nothing else came to mind he was quite happy to descend to the level of simply profanity and once condemned the entire Canadian nation as "dickheads" for failing to prevent the clubbing of baby seals. On occasions such remarks were genuinely funny, on occasion they were simply abusive; but then as Tony said of himself: "Good taste was never one of my qualifications".
- Sophie Goodchild, Tony Banks close to death after stroke
Independent on Sunday, 8 January 2006
- Julia Langdon, Tony Banks from The Guardian January 9, 2006
- Private Eye No 1150 20 Jan-2 Feb 2006
- Obituary: Tony Banks 9 January 2006
- Gerald Kaufman, Tony was a Dr Dolittle and a good natured colleague
08/01/2006 from www.telegraph.co.uk/
- Tony Banks at www.imdb.com/name/nm0052257/bio