Wilf Proudfoot

19th December 1921 - 19th July 2013

Wilf Proudfoot

Wilf Proudfoot. A Radio 270 promotional photo kindly provided by Roger Scott.

George Wilfred Proudfoot was born in Crook, Co Durham, in December 1921. His father ran a local grocery store and young Wilf frequently helped out behind the counter. After finishing his education, he served in the RAF. Meanwhile his family had moved to Scarborough. At the end of the war, Wilf opened his first shop in the village of Seamer, not far from Scarborough. It was a ‘self-service’ supermarket - a relatively new concept in the UK - and the business did well. Wilf soon owned a chain of such stores.

The sign on the front of the Proudfoot supermarket in Seamer, as it is now. Photo from www.proudfootsupermarkets.com.

Wilf became involved in local politics and in 1959 became the Conservative MP for Cleveland. He lost the seat in 1964 (although returned to Parliament to represent Brighouse and Spenborough in 1970). He was particularly vocal in support of the introduction of decimal currency, something which was achieved in 1971.
 
Meanwhile, in 1965, entrepreneur Don Robinson began planning an offshore station, originally to be called Radio Yorkshire. Hearing about this new venture, Proudfoot approached Don with the idea of advertising his supermarket chain. This led to Wilf becoming an investor and, by the time the station launched, as Radio 270, in mid-1966, he was Managing Director. The station was run from a building in Scalby Road, Scarborough, which doubled as the Proudfoot family home and the headquarters of his supermarket business.
 
Although a dynamic leader, he was possibly an odd choice to run a Top 40 radio station. It soon became apparent that he did not hold the skills of a disc-jockey in particularly high regard. DJ Paul Burnett remembers (see this page): “When we weren't presenting shows, (Wilf) expected us to be doing odd jobs on the ship - chipping rust, painting, etc. I remember being with him .... he was saying things like ‘anyone can be a DJ’. There was a young spotty lad there, probably about 17, delivering groceries. Proudfoot turned to him and said ‘Ee lad, do you fancy being a disc-jockey?’ The boy rather hesitantly said that he did so Proudfoot hired him and sent him out to the ship - to do the Breakfast Show! He was only there a week. He went off on leave at the end of his first stint and we never saw him again.” As well as carrying out routine maintenance jobs on the ship, the DJs were expected to help sell airtime during their shore-leave. Some enjoyed this - but many did not! Although not all the staff appreciated him, Radio 270 was a well-run operation. During its short life (on air for less than 15 months) the station earned some £100,000 in advertising revenue, paid its initial start-up bill and broke even on its running costs. This was a major achievement and much of the credit must go to its Managing Director, Wilf Proudfoot.

Wilf Proudfoot, as described in ‘The 270 Set’ promotional leaflet issued by Radio 270.

The small size of the Radio 270 ship caused problems. The station had a high turnover of disc-jockeys and suffered a certain amount of technical trouble. This upset the investors and, on a couple of occasions, Wilf had to contend with stormy shareholders meetings. However, he survived any attempts to oust him. The station was also attacked in Parliament. As a former MP himself, Wilf had a great interested in politics and offered airtime on his station to various politicians. Someone who took him up on this offer was right-wing Tory Patrick Wall who spoke in favour of recognising the illegal Smith regime in Rhodesia. Labour MPs were incensed at this broadcast but Mr Proudfoot defended his actions by saying that Labour had been offered equal time but they had refused it. The political broadcasts continued.


Radio 270's ship, mv Oceaan VII. Photo posted on Facebook by former 270 engineer Stephen Muir-Field.

Radio 270 gave free air-time to various charities. Oxfam, the Salvation Army and the Royal National Lifeboat Institute were all promoted on the station. In addition £500 was raised for the Wireless for the Blind Fund by selling car stickers at one (old) penny each. There was also extensive advertising, of course, for Proudfoot Supermarkets with the DJs often mentioning that they were shops “where the doors open by themselves” - this being something of a novelty in the sixties.

click to hear audio click to hear audio David Sinclair, Mike Hayes and Ed Moreno advertise the boss's supermarket chain on Radio 270. Recordings courtesy of Ray Andrews, Martyn Webster and Stuart Russell (duration 2 minutes 15 seconds)

Throughout its existence Radio 270 campaigned heavily for the introduction of licenced commercial radio and, as it made its way through Parliament, against the introduction of the Marine Offences Bill. Sadly their efforts were in vain. The Act became law at midnight on 14th August 1967 and Radio 270 closed down.

click to hear audio click to hear audio A couple of extracts from the last show on Radio 270, 14th August 1967, presented by Vince ‘Rusty’ Allen. Tape courtesy of Ray Andrews (duration 2 minutes 16 seconds)

After leaving Parliament in 1974, Wilf developed an interest in hypnotism and established the Proudfoot School of Hypnosis in Scarborough. He lectured on hypnotism, hypnotherapy and neuro-linguistic programming all over the world. Control of the supermarket business passed to his sons, who still run it. The history of the company is on their website.
 
Wilf Proudfoot died on 19th July 2013, leaving his wife Peggy, to whom he was married for 63 years, sons Mark and Ian, the joint managing directors of the Proudfoot supermarket company, a daughter Lyn and five grandchildren. He was 91.


Radio 270 DJ David Sinclair writes:

“Wilf always struck me as the quintessential Yorkshireman, go-getting, stubborn and mercurial in temperament. He was a very interesting guy!
One time, I had just come off Radio 270 for some leave and was in the office when Wilf said to me ‘Let’s take a ride’. The fact that I was unshaven and in what can only be described as grubby clothes seemed not to matter and I found myself hurtling down to London with him at top speed to meet with (Radio Caroline boss) Ronan O’Rahilly in a restaurant at the London Hilton. From there, we proceeded to the offices of Pye Records, where he gave Vic Wise a lecture on merchandising music.
Then it was off for afternoon tea on the terrace of the House of Commons with Cyril Stapleton. From there it was a rush back to the office in Yorkshire.
Aside from my mortification at my lack of well-groomed appearance, it was an entertaining whirlwind trip, for Wilf was good company and an amusing raconteur. I have always remembered him for that, and I’m sure the world will be a duller place from now on.”

From Radio 270 engineer Stephen Muir-Field:

“We were working shifts of one week on, one week off and complaints had been made about the food and the fact that fresh vegetables were frequently washed overboard in the storms we had to endure. Wilf's reaction: ‘If they want fresh food, we'll send them fishing rods. Fish don't need vegetables!’ On the next tender were six fishing rods. We used them all summer and had a sweepstake for who caught the biggest fish.
Wilf was a very practical Yorkshire man. I owe him and Radio 270 for the start of my career in broadcasting and recording.
He took a lot of young broadcasting talent and blew the magic smoke of radio over us all.
He fought the BBC establishment in his political career, breaking - with others - the monopoly of the Corporation and the stranglehold of needletime that the Musicians Union had over radio.
Radio 270 was one of the first truly local radio stations, freely giving air time to York University Students Union and raising money for Wireless For The Blind and other charitable causes. Much of the advertising revenue was local to the community. There was very little national advertising and the copy was read by local Yorkshire voices (not the slick plum-in-mouth accents). There was a truly local outlook on life.
I thank you Wilfred for all you gave to the Yorkshire community and the magic smoke you gave to me and free radio broadcasting.”

From Radio 270's Jeff Jones:

“Mr Proudfoot was, indeed, the most ‘larger than life’ character I'd ever met.
As you know I'd got the job of Radio 270 newscaster by telephoning him and, in my best (posh) accent, had asked for him by name. He'd said, in his Yorkshire dialect, ‘Are you from Durham, lad?’. I'd replied, in similar tones, ‘Aye lad, that I am’ to which he'd said ‘You start on Monday’.
Meeting him, in person, carried the theme further.
I turned up at 278, Scalby Road, Scarborough in time to be taken out to the boat. He threw a stapled pile of paper to me with the comment ‘These are the rules, read them’ then, minutes later, he asked for them back, piled us all into his Ford Zephyr and drove us to Bridlington to catch the tender out to Oceaan 7.
Not everyone's cup of tea, to me the man was, and will always remain, a legend.”

From Radio 270's launch Programme Director Noel Miller:

“Wilf was the most inspirational and positive man I've known.
His push for free commercial radio in Britain was boundless and revolutionary for that time.
On my days off the boat he carted me all over the north, introducing me to people in clubs, halls, even Leeds University .... ‘This is Neddy Noel, he's from Australia where they have free commercial radio and he'll tell you all about it’.
He had a fantastic life and I'm glad I had a small part in it.”

From Radio 270's Breakfast Show presenter Paul Burnett:

“I was saddened to hear of Wilf's demise .... he truly was quite a character. He and his fellow Radio 270 director Don Robinson were something of a double act. Whenever we raised concerns about conditions on the ship they would go into a sort of ‘good cop - bad cop’ routine! For example, the (Telegraph) obituary points out that Wilf's father had been something of a hero in the First World War which brought back a vivid memory of the time we all walked off the ship in protest at the general set-up we had to work with, two weeks on, one week off, dirty bedding, poor food, etc. Don listened sympathetically .... but after a while Wilf could stand no more of our ‘whinging’ and stood up from behind his imposing desk, pointed at the portrait of his uniformed father hanging over the fire place and with a voice quivering with emotion said ‘See that man there .... when he was your age he was crawling through mud and guts on the Western Front .... And you come to me complaining about mucky sheets....!’
There’s really no answer to that .... however, following that confrontation all our demands were met with one week on, one week off ... bliss!
It’s worth remembering that without men like Wilf, who were prepared to take a chance and put their money into a very risky project, the radio industry as we know it would not exist.
I’d say ‘rest in peace Wilf’ but, quite honestly, I think that’s the last thing he’d want!
‘Thanks for the memories’ will have to do....”

From Radio 270's ‘Wise Guy’ Guy Hamilton:

“Wilf Proudfoot RIP
Those of us who worked for Wilf Proudfoot on Radio 270 in the mid-1960s either loved or hated him. I was a fan – his dry Yorkshire humour broke into chuckles quite a lot, and I forgave him his other sins - if he had any. He loved to talk - even my first phone conversation with him went on about an hour, which worried me financially at the time. But by the end of it I think I had a job, though it fell to the programme director (Neddy Noel) to tell me the giddy heights of what I’d be doing – and earning.
Of course, we only saw Wilf on our week onshore, and not a long time was willingly spent in the 270 office/Proudfoot Supermarkets base-cum-family-home (all the same place then). But I willingly visited the family there later, after leaving the ship in spring 1967 for the London ad biz – and even got asked back on the ship for a week or two, prepaid in cash.
On one memorable occasion, Wilf took me up the road to one of his local supermarkets, where the doors famously opened by themselves. He left me in the then groundbreaking instore café with some luckless grocery rep, who had assumed I was part of the Proudfoot dynasty. I should have ordered a ton of Marmite for the ship’s galley.
Wilf was a born entrepreneur and maverick. Who else could run a pirate radio ship, for goodness sake? Radio 270 may have been a bit rough around the edges (like the North-east Sea), but had it been given more than one year of existence, would have continued to grow into one of the most popular UK stations at the time. Later in my advertising agency, I found a 270 audience survey which showed its audience had been in the millions – bigger even than Radio One achieved later on. It should have made more advertising money, but Wilf had been canny enough to take his money out in the form of ads for his then growing chain of supermarkets. And boy, how those radio ads stick in a 270 DJ’s mind!
A chapter in radio (and parliamentary) history closes with Wilf Proudfoot’s passing. I’m proud to have known him.”

Correspondent Nigel Fell used to work for BBC local radio and remembers an encounter with Wilf Proudfoot:

“I met him during his term as MP for Brighouse and Spenborough. He had the smallest majority (59) of any MP in the country. I seem to recall he also held the record for the greatest number of Parliamentary questions asked.
He paid a visit to Radio Leeds once and told us that he could run a radio station with three staff!”

See also ITV, The Huddersfield Examiner, The Northern Echo, The Scarborough News, The Yorkshire Post, The Times (subscription required for full article), The Daily Telegraph and Madsen Pirie's blog.


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