For a brief period in the early 1980s John Butcher was seen by some as the Conservative Party's coming man.

Often described as a Robert Redford lookalike, he certainly had the looks.

Personable and a snappy dresser, the vague American connection did him no harm.

He joined the board of Texas Instruments in the UK, in the days before Tory MPs' business interests were frowned upon, and his early recognition of the impact the computer industry would have underlined the image of a thoroughly modern politician in touch with the Thatcherite revolution.

While an industry minister John Butcher had a hand in changing Britain for ever by de-regulating the telecommunications industry, heralding the easy availability of mobile phones. The move boosted UK GDP by about £6.5 billion a year.

Although he lived in the West Midlands for much of his life, John Butcher was a Yorkshireman, born in a mining village in 1946. Educated at Huntingdon Grammar School and Birmingham University, he was a Birmingham city council-lor from 1972 to 1978 and became vice-chairman of the education committee.

His career progression seemed assured when, against all the odds, he took Coventry South-west for the Conservatives in 1979. Even more amazingly, Butcher managed to defend the highly marginal seat in a staunchly Labour city on no fewer than three occasions. His successes were taken as proof that the Tories under Mrs Thatcher could win and defend seats in the country's industrial heartlands.

He joined the Government in 1979, becoming Parliamentary Private Secretary to Leon Brittan, and quickly progressed to the Department for Trade and Industry, where he became a junior minister. He was switched to junior education minister in a reshuffle and became Schools Minister.

John Butcher's failure to progress up the greasy pole mystified his admirers. He never made it to Cabinet, or even minister of state, despite being a capable performer on TV and a supporter of Mrs Thatcher. He was one of a handful of senior Tories who sought, without success, to persuade Thatcher not to resign in 1990.

In contrast to most ministers, John Butcher rarely failed to return phone calls from journalists. His frank opinions and unusual sense of humour often got him into trouble when repeated in newspapers. He loathed television, claiming never to watch it, which led him to make an unusual suggestion for marking the millennium - for all TV and radio to be suspended for five days from December 31 1999. It didn't happen.

He once suggested paying clowns and jugglers to stand in the central reservation of the M6 to entertain motor-ists stuck in traffic jams. And he proposed children be banned from using computers in school until they reached a reading age of nine. Compulsory bank holidays for TV employees, to give the country peace, quiet and time to think, was another Butcher idea.

After retiring as an MP in 1997, he held senior posts with the Pertemps Group, Phoenix Telecom, J and A Butcher Associates and Media Square.