Skip to Content

Book Review: 'Smile for the Camera, A Double Life of Cyril Smith'

'Smile for the Camera, A Double Life of Cyril Smith' by Simon Danczuk and Matthew Baker

This book tells the career of Smith, who was the face of the Liberal Party in the 70s and 80s, and their star performer. The book shows the rise of Smith from an illegitimate child, in the 30s, through members of the Young Liberals, to Liberal agent, then as a Labour councillor and alderman, to Mayor of Rochdale, when after an argument over rent rises, he resigned from the Labour Party to form his own party which predictably when nowhere, and in 1968 he re-joined the Liberal Party, displacing the prospective candidate for the 1970 General Election, which he lost. In 1972 the Labour MP for Rochdale died.

During Smith’s time on Rochdale Council he had built up a coterie of various contacts, and had a deserved reputation as a hardworking councillor and a Mr Fixit. Smith was friendly with a leader of the Pakistani community, Karim Dad, who was the Godfather-like Mr Big in the community. Virtually the whole Pakistani community backed Smith, who was elected MP. Karim Dad was arrested the following year for personation (electoral fraud) and fled the country before his trial. Smith continued to rise in the Liberal Party, playing the part of the bluff, plain speaking Northerner. Behind the façade, however, was a darker side, that of a predatory child molester.

In the early 60s,Smith was the backer of Cambridge House, a home for young men 11-18 year-olds, providing cheap lodging. I now write from personal knowledge. I first met Cyril Smith in 1958 when, at the age of 16, I joined the Labour Party Youth Section. I then resigned from the Labour Party in 1960, after attending the 1960 conference in Scarborough, joining the Young Communist League.

I trained as an SRN, and in 1963 while selling the magazine Challenge, I was approached by a couple of lads from Cambridge House, who told me how Smith had both physically and sexually assaulted them.

They told me how Smith had spanked their bare backsides, fondled their testicles, pulled back their foreskins, for hygienic examinations. I got the lads to make sworn, notarised statements, which I personally presented to Rochdale Chief Constable, Ross. Ross I'm sure dismissed it as a Commie plot to discredit Smith. Copies, however, were given to the Labour Agent Josh Hughes, which is probably why funding was withdrawn from Cambridge House.

I left Rochdale in 1974, not returning until the late 80s, by which time Smith’s career had bloomed, and the list of his sex crimes increased.

In many ways, Smith was a superb politician, building networks of protectors, and fellow offenders, giving protection to each other. The Rochdale grooming scandal of the enforced prostitution of dozens of young girls though, brought everything to a head.

The book also charts Smith’s involvement in the cover-up of the dangers of asbestos, becoming a paid lobbyist for Turner Newall (the world’s largest asbestos producer). I must confess to a personal interest. My late wife died in 2004 from asbestosis. The site of Turner’s is now a derelict ruin, on a highly contaminated site, and for years there has been a  campaign for the safe development and remedial control of the area.

Ultimately, the book shows how the system of capitalism corrupts and destroys both life and human relationships.

ROGER CHADWICK