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Backwords: The Name Game

The Colne Valley Labour Party in Yorkshire chose a candidate to fight a General Election – but as Mike Shaw reveals there was confusion as to what to call the would-be MP.

What’s in a name? What indeed, I ask myself after a momentous event in Colne Valley’s political history.

It was a tense business some 50 years ago when the valley’s Labour Party met to pick its man to fight a by-election.

The constituency had been solidly Labour since before the war, so there was no shortage of people jostling for the candidate’s job.

And by the time the selection meeting arrived a talented line-up had been short listed.

Merlyn Rees, later to become a distinguished member of the Cabinet, and Ted Bishop, who went on to be an MP for an even safer seat, were two of the hopefuls.

The big decision was to be taken at a Sunday afternoon meeting at Slaithwaite Civic Hall.

But, because it was a private affair, the world would not be told who was the lucky person until the choice had been made and the meeting wound up.

So it meant dragging myself away from a warm fireside to wait in a cold, cheerless passage while the votes were taken.

At last a few early leavers hopped quickly down the steps from the hall upstairs but remained tight-lipped as I sought a clue to the candidate’s identity.Even when the meeting was over, officials emerged to say they would be making an official announcement in five or ten minutes in the Labour headquarters just along the road.

It was probably nearer half an hour later that all was revealed - but not without a struggle, as things turned out. The candidate was to be A E P Duffy. And that was when the problems started.

There was no hesitation in supplying details of the candidate’s life. Aged 42. Son of a miner. University lecturer. Bachelor of Science and a Doctor of Philosophy. Born in Lancashire but brought up in Yorkshire. Unmarried, living in Doncaster. Fought at Tiverton in the elections of 1950, 1951 and 1955.

But complications set in when it came to the question of his Christian names. The candidate, it seemed, preferred to be known simply as A E P Duffy.

My journalistic training came to the fore. Christian names were essential, I said, at least on this first occasion when Mr Duffy’s name would be appearing in the paper.

A short adjournment was called as the candidate and party officials went into a huddle. Victory was mine. His full name was Albert Edward Patrick Duffy, they said.

Then I innocently threw a second spanner in the works. Seeing as Mr Duffy was a doctor of philosophy, should he be described as Dr Duffy?

Technically yes, said the spokesman. But it was not a point about which there was any strong feelings.

Unfortunately, the confusion didn’t end there. The Huddersfield Daily Examiner, in line with the candidate’s wishes, forever afterwards described him as Mr A E P Duffy.

Other newspapers produced a mixed bag. Some had him as Dr Patrick Duffy, others as Mr Patrick Duffy, one or two Mr Pat Duffy.

Surprise, surprise. When the official Labour posters went up he was Dr Pat Duffy.

A storm in a teacup? Perhaps so. But in the eyes of party managers these things can be important when a dodgy by-election is in the offing.

As the record shows, Pat took the blows and did it his way. He won the by-election but lost the seat three years later.

However, he returned to Parliament in 1970 representing Sheffield Attercliffe.

And he ended up with a knighthood.


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