Lord Brooks of Tremorfa, who has died aged 88, was a formidable cog in South Wales’s Labour machine, and James Callaghan’s right-hand man in his Cardiff South-East constituency. Local party secretary for 18 years, he was Callaghan’s agent in the 1970 general election and the 1979 campaign, which Callaghan fought as prime minister.
As leader of South Glamorgan County Council, on which he served for 20 years, Jack Brooks was one of the forces behind the Cardiff Bay development which transformed the Welsh capital, having accepted the offer of a Development Corporation from the Conservative Welsh Secretary Nicholas Edwards.
He enjoyed wider fame as a steward, chairman and finally president of the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBC), and a defender of boxing against attempts to ban it. He learnt to box at his uncle’s gym in a run-down area of Cardiff, and his training served him well when a school bully picked on him once too often.
Brooks told the Lords that he shared with Rocky Marciano the distinction of a 100 per cent record in the ring, before admitting: “Marciano boxed 49 times and won all 49 contests; that is 100 per cent. I boxed four times and lost on each occasion. That is 100 per cent also, whichever way one looks at it.”
John Edward Brooks was born on April 12 1927, the son of Edward Brooks and the former Rachel White. From elementary school he became a plasterer, later studying at Coleg Harlech. After becoming secretary of Cardiff South-East Labour Party in 1966, he formed a partnership with Callaghan that would last throughout his remaining years in office.
As extremists tried to infiltrate the constituency, Brooks did his best to keep them at bay. He persuaded Callaghan to seek one more term in 1983 because he feared a Trotskyist would win the nomination if he stood down. When Glamorgan was dismembered in 1973, Brooks became leader of South Glamorgan County Council, serving until 1977, and again from 1986 to 1992; he was chairman in 1981-82. The council – wound up in 1996 – built a striking headquarters in a style Brooks described as “Rastafarian Gothic”. But its legacy was Cardiff Bay, now home to the Welsh Assembly.
Though he fought Barry at both 1974 elections, Brooks preferred to be a big fish in a small pool. But after his government’s defeat in 1979 Callaghan secured a life peerage for Brooks and appointed him an Opposition defence spokesman. With the anti-nuclear Left rampant and the party tearing itself apart, there was no harder time to take on the post, but Brooks coped well for 18 months before standing down.
He kept out of Labour’s infighting while Callaghan was leader, but in 1981 applied his experience as a party fixer to the challenge of the hard Left, becoming director of Labour Solidarity. He also became secretary of the parliamentary group for Working Men’s Clubs; in 1989 he sponsored a Bill enabling clubs to open for an extra hour on Sundays to keep up with the pubs.
That year he also tried to have Welsh football clubs exempted from Mrs Thatcher’s ID card legislation – subsequently dropped – and unveiled a plan to demolish Cardiff Arms Park and build a new international stadium on the outskirts of Cardiff – a project superseded by the Millennium Stadium. Brooks became a steward with the BBBC in 1986, chaired it in 2000 and moved up to president in 2004.
As vice-chairman he met the Home Secretary Jack Straw over Mike Tyson’s planned return to Britain to fight, some years after being convicted of rape. The bout did not take place. Brooks was credited with saving the Board from bankruptcy after Michael Watson was awarded £400,000 damages against it for negligence over brain injuries he had suffered in a fight with Chris Eubank in 1991. He arranged for its relocation from London to Cardiff, where it could function much more economically.
Frank Warren, the board’s secretary, initially opposed the move but came round to Brooks’s way of thinking. He never came to terms, however, with his chairman’s insistence on conducting BBBC business in the pub round the corner. Brooks’s most poignant moment with the Board of Control came in 2000 when he led the tributes at Merthyr parish church to Howard Winstone, who had won the world featherweight title against Japan’s Mitsunori Seki in 1968. The mourners included former world champions Ken Buchanan, Alan Minter, Dai Dower, Terry Downes and Steve Robinson, and loudspeakers relayed the service to hundreds in the rain outside.
As chairman of the Welsh Sports Hall of Fame, Brooks accepted for it the trophies of another world featherweight champion, “Peerless” Jim Driscoll, who died in 1925. In 1994 he was appointed Deputy Lieutenant for South Glamorgan.
Brooks was married first to Zetta Fussell. The marriage was dissolved in 1956. In 1958 he married Margaret Pringle. She survives him with a son and a daughter from his first marriage and a son from his second marriage. A daughter from the first marriage and a son from the second marriage predeceased him.
Lord Brooks of Tremorfa, born April 12 1927, died March 4 2016