Brian Cross

Tributes were paid last night to one of Norfolk's best known entrepreneurs - local businessman and farmer Brian Cross, who died at the weekend after a long illness.

Tributes were paid last night to one of Norfolk's best known entrepreneurs - local businessman and farmer Brian Cross, who died at the weekend after a long illness.

The 62-year-old former Dereham mayor had been battling against a rare brain cancer for nearly a year.

Sally Cross spoke of her "extraordinary" husband's zest for life and determination not to give in to the disease, which he tackled with the characteristically headstrong attitude that had driven him to success in business and in life.

She said he insisted on accompanying his daughter to her new school, and continued to work despite his debilitating illness.


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"It was an honour to be married to him," she said. "Brian could be quite hard as a businessman, but was devoted to his family and very proud of his children, Camilla, Rosie and Tom.

"When Brian was around there was never a dull moment, he was an exceptional character," she added.

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His business acumen was legendary. He started the Big Fry fish and chip chain, which expanded from the first branch in Dereham in 1969 to 12 shops in market towns across Norfolk.

And he bought a farm, growing potatoes for the chip shops, and later became one of the biggest blackcurrant growers in the country.

He was also a keen huntsman and former joint master of the West Norfolk Hunt.

But he will be remembered by many as an entrepreneur and music impresario who as a young man in the 60s promoted dances across the county, bringing Jimi Hendrix and Rod Stewart to Dereham at the height of their fame.

The first band Mr Cross booked to play at the Tavern Club, which he started in a room behind the Bull pub, was Barry Lee and the Planets, which cost £150 in 1964. Aged 21, he had just £159 in his bank account when he hired the band. "I gambled everything on that one night," he recalled at a 40th anniversary Tavern Club reunion last year.

"It was the start of an entrepreneurial career that drove him to success, but he never forgot his humble roots," said Mrs Cross.

Tributes came in from all sides of the political spectrum last night.

Labour Dereham town councillor, Robin Goreham, who worked with Mr Cross on a charity board, said: "This is a tragic loss and he will be sorely missed. His business brain was second to none and he helped the charity a lot." Conservative town councillor Linda Monument said: "He is remembered as an exceptional mayor. He used to get through meetings in an hour. He was very effective."

Mr Cross died at home on Saturday morning surrounded by his family. Arrangements for a service to be held in Dereham will be announced this week.

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