It’s hard to let go after all these years...

Syd Rapson
Syd Rapson
Lord Mayor of Portsmouth Cllr Ken Ellcome with Jean and Allan Thompson. Picture: Chris Moorhouse

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Syd Rapson’s immaculate garden is his pride and joy, but even here there’s a touch of his deep-rooted rebellious streak.

He manages to grow grapefruit and lemons on his lengthy back garden plot on the slopes of Portsdown Hill, but there are a couple of shrubs of which he is even more particularly chuffed.

‘They came from cuttings I acquired from the gardens at Buckingham Palace when I went to a garden party,’ he admits with the mischievous twinkle in his eye which dominated politics in Portsmouth for decades. ‘I know you’re not supposed to do it, but I couldn’t resist it. They’ve done really well.’

This comes as little surprise for the former Teddy Boy, shop steward, rock ‘n’ roll promoter, Labour Party stalwart, councillor, lord mayor and MP.

During his time as a councillor he played a leading role in giving the city its new-found confidence. He was crucial at the very beginning of the Gunwharf Quays development and helped bring the Tour de France and the Special Olympics to Portsmouth.

There’s more than a hint of the wheeler-dealing Del Boy about the 68-year-old who has served Portsmouth in one capacity or another for the past 40 years. He is a fixer.

And four years after stepping down as the MP for Portsmouth North he still can’t let go of his political life...when he’s not gardening.

Syd has remained true to his roots. He still lives in the former council house in Washbrook Road, Paulsgrove, he and wife Phyllis have occupied for decades.

But there’s a big hint about his past as soon as you arrive at the front door – the house now bears the name plate Rapson Lodge, complete with House of Commons crest.

Inside there are numerous mementoes of his eight years in Parliament lining the walls.

‘I find it very difficult to let go after all these years,’ he said. ‘I watch the Parliamentary Channel all the time and every time I dream I dream of being in an important role in Parliament.

‘If you play the game it’s hard work being an MP, but when I wake up I thank God I don’t have to be responsible for anything any more.

‘I’m an alderman on the city council and I still attend every council meeting, but it’s so frustrating because I’m not allowed to speak. I listen to people making speeches and I think “that’s not right, this is what you should be doing”, but I have to bite my tongue.’

Born on April 17, 1942, he moved to Paulsgrove as a very young child.

‘I first realised I was good at organising and listening when I was at Paulsgrove Secondary Modern School. I set up an unofficial advice centre in the library and, believe it or not, some of the girls used to come to me for advice.’ Those eyes are still twinkling.

After school he got a job at the Royal Naval Air Yard Fleetlands at Gosport as an apprentice aircraft fitter and it was not long before he had found his niche.

‘I had the attitude of being a bit of a leader and I quickly joined the AEEU [Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union, now subsumed by Unite].

‘One of my colleagues, who happened to live at Paulsgrove, was threatened with the sack and the convenor said if I joined the union and got the other apprentices to join too, he’d do something for him. The bloke was still sacked, but from then on I got every apprentice to join the union.

‘They were great days. I also became a bit of a rock ‘n’ roll entrepreneur organising gigs in Gosport and Portsmouth for people like Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich, Screaming Lord Sutch and the Nashville Teens.’

He rose to become a shop steward and it wasn’t long before the Labour Party sought him out. ‘I told them to get lost. They were a bunch of militants.’ He’s now been a member for 43 years.

By 1971 he was representing the party and Buckland on the city council. There were a few years on Hampshire County Council and in 1979 he was back at the Guildhall representing Paulsgrove which he did until he stood down in 1998 to concentrate on his Westminster life.

‘Not bad for a lad from Paulsgrove, eh?’ said Syd.