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Bryan Basset: Industrialist and Norfolk pedigree cattle breeder

PUBLISHED: 08:23 12 November 2010 | UPDATED: 11:02 12 November 2010

Industrialist Bryan Basset, who was made CBE and also farmed on the Holkham estate in North Norfolk, has died peacefully after a short illness, aged 78.

As chairman of Royal Ordnance, he oversaw the sale of the state-owned business, which had 16 factories and employed 19,000 people, to British Aerospace in April 1987 for £188.5m.

After a long career in the city, Mr Basset, of Quarles, near Wells, who was awarded a CBE in the 1988 New Year’s Honours list, had resigned from the board of Royal Ordnance.

His marriage at the parish church of St Withburga, Holkham, to Lady Carey Coke, second daughter of the former Earl and Countess of Leicester, on April 30, 1960, was described as “the wedding of the year”.

The wedding vows were exchanged in front of the former Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Rev Percy Herbert, and the witnesses included the Queen Mother. The bridegroom’s mother was a Women of the Bedchamber for the Queen Mother for some 30 years.

After a reception for about 500 guests at the hall, the bride and groom left by helicopter for a honeymoon in Beirut.

Educated at Eton and then the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, he became a captain in the Scots Guards. Then Mr Basset joined a stockbrokers in Toronto, Canada, in 1957.

After two years, he returned to London and worked for the city stockbrokers, Panmure Gordon & Co until 1972.

Earlier in December 1971, Mr Basset and his wife were fortunate to survive a serious accident on a private road on the Holkham estate. After his Bentley hit an 80ft high obelisk in Holkham Park in thick fog, he broke five ribs and his wife had multiple fractures to her arm. Both were admitted to the Norfolk & Norfolk Hospital.

In 1972, he became managing director of Philip Hill Investment Trust until 1985, when he was appointed to head Royal Ordnance.

A reserved man, who enjoyed shooting and fishing, he had always taken a keen interest in the mainly arable farm at Quarles.

He introduced the hardy breed of Sussex cattle to the estate. Particularly interested in pedigree cattle, he also introduced a new pedigree breed, the Saler, which were successfully crossed with his native stock to produce faster-growing and leaner beef animals.

In 1996, a home-bred cow, the eight-year-old Quarles Viagere took the first supreme championship in the British Salers at the Royal Norfolk Show and a yearling heifer was reserve junior female.

At the 1997 Royal Show at Stoneleigh, Warwickshire, his Quarles cattle dominated the breed championships to take supreme titles.

He leaves a widow, Lady Carey Basset, three sons, and four grandchildren.

Michael Pollitt

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