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Newspaperman who became town mayor dies at 70

A former journalist and newspaper proprietor who became his town’s first directly-elected mayor has died aged 70.

Frank Branston launched Bedfordshire on Sunday in 1977 and was later the main shareholder in Local Sunday Newspapers, a string of Sunday titles.

The papers were sold to Iliffe News and Media in August 2005, three years after Frank had become Bedford’s first directly-elected mayor as an independent candidate and two years before he was re-elected.

Just over two weeks ago Frank suffered an aortic dissection and underwent a four-hour operation in Cambridge. He died on Friday.

Born in 1939, Frank grew up and was education in West London at Sloane Grammar School, where his English master was Robert Pitman, who later became a columnist for the Daily and Sunday Express.

The pair stayed in touch and this relationship secured Frank a job as an office boy with the Sunday Express.

His first job as a reporter came with the Richmond and Twickenham Times where he stayed until he was called up.

Following National Service, Frank worked in PR, with the Fleet Street News Agency, joined The People and travelled the Middle East with Marlies, whom he would later marry.

After returning from their travels, Frank joined The Bedfordshire Times, because it paid 30 shillings a week more than a local competitor, and never moved away from Bedford again.

He would eventually be crowned Provincial Journalist of the Year, the first weekly reporter to win the accolade, and following a second spell with the Fleet Street News Agency, set up BoS with £9,000 capital and a £5,000 bank loan.

He also revelled in exposing corruption and wrongdoing on a local level and found time to write two books.

When a campaign won the right for Bedford Borough to directly elect a mayor, Frank was asked to stand.

He beat seven other candidates and went to work with a chief executive who had previously sued him for libel.

Mike Richardson, MD of Iliffe’s LSN Media division, said: “Far too many people knock journalism for sensationalism.

“But Frank had his own sense of purpose and strong moral editorial values. He wasn’t in it for the money, and the latter years proved that.

“He wanted what was best for Bedford – however it happened – and it galled him when politicians played games with other people’s money.

“He will be sorely missed in local newspapers, local politics and local life.”

Frank is survived by his wife Marlies and two daughters, Naomi and Antonia.

  • Details of the funeral are yet to be confirmed. Bedfordshire on Sunday is carrying full coverage and tributes to Frank on its website.