Hundreds paid their last respects to Lord Bilston today as he was laid to rest in his home town.
MPs, councillors, friends and family packed into St Leonard’s Church in Bilston for Dennis Turner’s funeral.
Mourners lined the streets to say goodbye to the 71-year-old ‘man of the people’, who died last month from cancer.
Streets were closed as the procession came through the town. The church was reduced to standing room only, with dozens more paying their respects outside.
Political colleagues included former Cabinet minister Clare Short, Pat McFadden, the Labour MP who succeeded him in 2005, and former Wolverhampton North East MP Ken Purchase, who described Lord Bilston as his ‘political soulmate’.
Lord Bilston’s coffin was carried by pallbearers, including his brother Councillor Bert Turner. Wife Pat, daughter Jenny and son Brendon led the family into church.
Lord Bilston was Clare Short’s parliamentary aide until she resigned her cabinet post in protest over the Iraq war.
At the funeral today, she said: “I knew him for 40 years and all the stories everyone has told of his incredible friendliness, they are all true.
“Inside that were steely principles but he was such a loveable person and there aren’t many like him.”
Among the other mourners was Ken Purchase, who was MP for Wolverhampton North East from 1992 to 2010.
Mr Purchase said: “This is a very, very sad day for Bilston and for Wolverhampton.” Pat McFadden, who succeeded Lord Bilston as Labour MP for Wolverhampton South East in 2005, said: “Dennis was a true Bilston patriot but he was a strong and serious political campaigner around the issue of employment, housing and education. He raised these issues time after time. He will be greatly missed by the people of this city.”
Gwen Stafford-Good who was mayor of Wolverhampton in 1998, said: “Dennis Turner and I joined the Labour Party together in the 60s and we wanted to put Bilston on the map. Dennis did that more than anyone else.”
And another former mayor Phil Bateman, a Labour councillor in Wednesfield, said: “Dennis was a working class hero, a man who had his roots firmly in the place where he was from and brought up.
“I was fortunate enough to be there when he became Lord Bilston. It was a proud moment for everyone. He never lost his background and Bilston has lost a truly great man.” Described by fellow Labour politicians as a ‘working class hero’, Lord Bilston also earned the respect of others from across the political divide.
Former Tory councillor John Davies, Mayor of Wolverhampton in 2006, called Lord Bilston ‘my friend the enemy’.
He said: “We were great friends despite our political differences. He did an enormous amount for the community and we sadly do not get people like him anymore.
“You could call him my friend the enemy.”
Current councillors were also at St Leonard’s Church today to offer their respects.
Mike Hardacre, a former headteacher of both Northicote and Coppice School said: “Dennis was a fighter for the working class.”
Fellow councillor Alan Bolshaw added: “He was Mr Bilston, he knew everybody and everybody knew him.”
Very moving funeral today for Dennis Turner. Fantastic turnout from the people of Bilston. Great tribute to him.— Pat McFadden (@patmcfaddenmp) March 12, 2014
Councillor Elias Mattu, said: “It’s a very sad day, I knew Dennis for 40 years since I was only a kid. It’s a really great loss but he had a great life. We have to celebrate the life he lived here in Wolverhampton.
“His contribution to the people of Wolverhampton has been immense.”
Friends of Lord Bilston expressed their sadness at his death last month from cancer. Bernadette Butler, aged 65, of Lord Street West, Bradley, said: “He was my best man in 1970 when I got married. It’s very sad. You don’t expect anything to happen like this. It’s so sad to lose him. You thought Dennis would go on forever.
“I knew him for years and he was a very nice person. He was very friendly and down to earth and he would always help you if you needed help.” Mr Turner was also president of the
Wolverhampton Orpheus Male Voice Choir and members were among those at this afternoon’s service. Sid Green said: “He represented us and thought a lot of us. I didn’t meet him very much but he gave presentations to long- serving members and things like that. I didn’t have very much to do with him but he was very much a man of the people.”
His son Brendon, aged 36, said the family had been ‘overwhelmed’ by the tributes, which came from Labour leader Ed Miliband, deputy leader Harriet Harman, former leader Lord Neil Kinnock and former Deputy Prime Minister Lord John Prescott, as well as from Bilston residents.
Brendon Turner, of King Street, Bilston, said: “We went for a walk into Bilston town centre a couple of days ago and it took us an hour to get from one end of the street to the other, as so many people wanted to talk to us about Dad.”
Lord Bilston also leaves a daughter, Jenny Mullins, aged 34, and a granddaughter, Bella, aged three.
He married his wife Pat in 1976.
Lord Bilston’s relatives have asked for donations to Compton Hospice in lieu of flowers.
The father of two was born and raised in Bradley and lived there his whole life.
He was a councillor in Wolverhampton from 1966 to 1986 before standing down to contest the 1987 general election.
He had been at the forefront of the campaign to save Bilston’s steelworks in the 1970s and had chaired Springvale Cooperative and been president of Springvale Cricket Club.
He was awarded Freedom of the City of Wolverhampton shortly after entering the House of Lords.
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