Former Greenwich Conservative councillor Dermot Poston dies

South East London Mercury, May 1968

Former Eltham North councillor Dermot Poston, who was first elected to Woolwich Town Hall in 1968, has died, his colleague Spencer Drury announced on Friday.

A former teacher at Haberdasher’s Askes Hatcham Boys’ School in New Cross, Poston was a stalwart of the local Conservatives, and clocked up 40 years’ service in the town hall.

His first win – in the former Horn Park ward – came in highly unusual circumstances, when the Conservatives won a landslide on Greenwich Council.

Most of London’s boroughs went Tory that night, but it wasn’t to last and he lost his seat – and the Tories lost power, never to return, at the 1971 poll.

Kentish Independent, May 1968

He returned again in New Eltham in 1974, serving until 1990, before returning in a by-election at Eltham Park in 1993. He stayed on until 2014 as that seat was incorporated into Eltham North.

One of the things that looking at council meetings can do is to break your political prejudices; you can find yourself looking forward to hearing contributions by representatives whose national parties you simply can’t abide.

So it was for me with Dermot Poston, who was as likely to take the mickey out of himself as he was to lambast the council’s policies. On one occasion he had the council chamber in stitches by recalling his days as a roller-skater – something you could never imagine this dignified gentleman doing. In a council chamber dominated by spite and petty digs, Poston would tackle opponents hard, but fairly.

He was an astute critic of former leader Chris Roberts and, as an opposition councillor, was able to speak freely on an increasingly politicised planning board – coming out against the Ikea development in Greenwich, a position which saw him accused of “playing to the gallery” by Roberts; even though most of his Eltham constituents would probably back it.

South East London Mercury ad, May 1968

A glance at 1968’s clippings from the South East London Mercury (as was) and the long-defunct Kentish Independent show little of Poston – he was one of a number of people no doubt slightly surprised to find themselves on the council and running it.

But there are lots to show what a different place Greenwich borough was at that point in time – Thamesmead’s first residents were just moving in, the riverside industries were still clinging on, and the A102 was under construction. Indeed, Greenwich borough itself had only just been created out of the old metropolitan boroughs.

Around the time of his retirement, I had thought about contacting him for an interview, to find out what it was like to have been that rarest of creatures – a Tory who could remember being on the winning side in Greenwich – and his thoughts on how politics, his party, and the role of being a councillor had changed over the years. I never got around to doing it, which is something I regret.

In Greenwich, watching council meetings can be as depressing as it can be enlightening – while you will sometimes learn new things about the area you live in, you are just as likely to come away feeling cheapened having been exposed to a intensive dose of arrogance, ignorance and rudeness.

In the time I watched him on the council, you never got that with Dermot Poston, who treated the sometimes dull, sometimes bitter business of the town hall with dignity and wit. Hopefully there will be some way of commemorating his contribution – even if it is just councillors treating each other – and the public who pay their allowances – with a little more respect. He’ll be much missed in local public life, and my condolences go to his family, friends and colleagues.

Clippings above from the South East London Mercury (top and bottom) and Kentish Independent (centre) from May 1968, courtesy of Greenwich Heritage Centre.

9 comments

  1. I’m sad to hear this news of Dermot Poston’s passing.

    In my time as a Greenwich Borough Councillor (1986-1990), he, along with John Antcliffe and Robin Henderson, was one of the few Conservative Party councillors I had any time for.

    Whilst obviously we had little point of contact in the context of political ideology, you did know that Dermot had actually put some thought into what he had to say and wasn’t just trotting out the political line of his party.

    Add to that he actually took the role of being a Borough Councillor seriously and recognised both the responsibility and privilege that goes into serving the community, rather than just self-serving, which was just as evident in the 1980’s as it is today on Greenwich Council and other political bodies on this island.

    My condolences to his family and friends.

  2. Darryl,
    Thank you for the above. Whereas on ‘political’ matters I might have tended to disagree with Dermot, on town planning matters his grasp of the wider social and practical issues was usually pretty accurate. Greenwich will be a poorer place for his passing. Although Dermot was a stalwart Conservative he was always willing to listen to, and engage with other points of views, not just at committee, but on the landing before or after meetings.
    An honourable man. My condolences to his family and friends, but I hope they all raise a glass to his memory.
    Bill

  3. Beautifully put, Darryl. There’s nothing to stop people of goodwill working together locally, whatever their politics, but it seems as far as away as Pluto. Opponents of Jeremy Corbyn scream that he is unelectable – they’d prefer to “win ugly” like a mid-table professional football club – but really they are truly terrified of the integrity he represents. That Cllr Poston could laugh at himself is a legacy that we can all learn from.

  4. Dermot Poston was my English teacher at Aske’s for the years from 1969 onwards – a major stroke of luck, as it turned out. A group of us from that year continue to meet regularly and his name always crops up because there is such a large fund of memorable stories from his classes. He was held in great affection and universally high regard, for the intellectual liveliness of his classes and for his genuine dedication to communicating his subject. Condolences to all his friends and family.

  5. How sad. What a simply charming and accomplished human being. Have not seen him since I left school in 1972 but enjoyed reading of his exploits via others. Whenever I have fond memories of my school days then Mr. Dermot Poston is frequently front and centre. Very happy to have been taught by him and will raise a glass in his memory tonight here in Bangkok (my home town).

  6. Just saw this very sad news.
    Dermot was a much loved teacher at Aske’s. He was an Old Boy of the school, who returned to teach English straight after university and spent the rest of his career nurturing creativity and a love of literature in young minds.
    As a tutor master I always found him humane and compassionate; someone who never thought that his position demanded he become less human. A thoroughly nice bloke and a big influence on my life.
    Still happy to come along to Old Askean get togethers well into his early 80s. Lovely man.
    One of the old school One Nation Tories who had no time for greed or privilege.

  7. It was sad to hear the news, and the world was a better place with people like Dermot. I worked with him as a colleague at Haberdashers’ Aske’s, and he was always respected by staff and students alike for his wit, compassion and learning. He was a real gentleman in every aspect f his life.

  8. I have this evening become aware of Dermot’s death. Many politicians have an air of superiority about them; Dermot did not.
    I met him on several occasions and enjoyed talking with him. He was a nice chap.

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