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Sir Dick Knowles, the former Labour leader who lifted Birmingham out of the "dark ages" of the 1980s depression, has died. He’s credited with inspiring the changes which changed the face of the city.

Knowles succeeded Clive Wilkinson asleader and led his party to victory in the 1984 Council elections after a period of Conservative control.

During the next nine years, he bargained hard for European and central government funding, and won the cash which – allied to the vision of senior councillors and officers - helped refashion the city centre.

The current Labour leader in Birmingham, Sir Albert Bore, described him as “a huge figure."

Bore said: "People have to remember that when he came to power, unemployment across the city was 25%, and in some areas it was 50%.

“Manufacturing was crashing and the economy was at a very low ebb. The city, in terms of all kinds of attributes, rated very badly.

“He helped to ensure that we had a much more mixed economy, and saw that the city became a place of much greater vibrancy and culture, so that it could compare with any part of Europe.

“The ICC and the pedestrianisation of the city centre are all part of his legacy. He was a very significant figure."

Former cabinet colleague Hugh McCallion recalls that he stepped aside to give Sir Dick a free run at leadership in the early 1980s, and said, “I never regretted it for a moment.

“I said to Dick that time was on my side and I would make sure that all the people who might have backed me would back him.

“He was a real character, who had been coughing and spluttering for 30-odd years. He would take a spray to help his breathing – then light up a cigar.

“I remember being interviewed for the televisionwhen I was trying to bring a ‘No Smoking’ policy to Council and he was there as well – smoking all the way through it. But he never voted against it.

“He was a real upfront guy, very capable and very tough when he had to be, but he would never do anything behind your back. When he had an argument that was the end of it.

“He was the last of the working class intellectuals. He had read the Bible until it was coming out of his ears, he had read history, and he was always ready with a quote off the top of his head.

“He never made any real enemies and for someone in his position that is unusual.”

Knowles stood down as leader in 1993, and became Lord Mayor the following year.

In 1991, he was accused of circulating a libellous leaflet by Liberal Democrat rival (and now MP) John Hemming and paid £1,000 (plus costs) to settle the dispute.

He became a governor of University Hospital Trust, but suffered deteriorating health in recent years, and received treatment for cancer.

He's survived by his wife Ann.

More on Dick Knowles life and times to come – meantime, you can add to the thread about him on The Stirrer forum.

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