Business leaders put Norfolk on world stage in 2010

High profile business leaders in Norfolk, who died this year, made their mark on the national and international stage, writes MICHAEL POLLITT.

Turkey king Bernard Matthews and the founding chairman of Anglia Television, the Marquess Townshend of Raynham, raised the image of their native county around the world.

Lord Townshend, who died in April aged 94, was also chairman of Survival Anglia for 15 years and the wildlife programmes were shown around the world – earning a Queen's Award for export achievement.

He bought a silver statue of Richard the Lionheart, which became Anglia TV's symbol, until it was dumped for a more modern image. In January 2006, Lord Townshend wrote to the EDP welcoming its reinstatement before the 6pm news programme.


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He had become the seventh marquess at the age of five, inheriting the family title dating from 1786, and the 18,000-acre estate. When he was nine years old, the family home at Raynham Hall, near Fakenham, was under police guard night and day as the authorities feared a kidnap plot demanding a �5,000 ransom.

In the post-war years, he restored the house and transformed the farms into an efficient operation. In 1972, he became the fourth member of his family to become president of the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association.

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He led the group competing for an independent television franchise in East Anglia and became founder chairman in 1958, serving until 1986. When he retired aged 70, part of the Norwich headquarters was named Townshend House.

Ironically, another multi-million fortune 'hatched' just a few yards further up Cattlemarket Street where a young Bernard Trevor Matthews worked in the office of auctioneers Waters & Co. At the firm's weekly Acle market sale, he bought 20 turkey eggs and a second-hand incubator for 50 shillings or �2.50. The rest became history.

After trying his hand at insurance, this grandson of a Mid-Norfolk gamekeeper took up turkey production full-time in 1953. Two years later, he and his wife, Joyce, bought Great Witchingham Hall and 16 acres of parkland for �3,500. It is still the company's headquarters and has always featured in the company's advertising.

But in those early days, Mr Matthews, who died aged 80 last month, had other ideas. By 1965, he was the world's largest rabbit breeder and Europe's largest turkey farmer. Prawns, ducklings, rainbow trout, bait for fishermen and chickens were part of his business until he concentrated on turkeys.

The 'bootiful' business became a giant and by 2005, it employed about 7,000 people at home and abroad. Mr Matthews promoted causes close to his heart and especially Norfolk's most famous son, Admiral Lord Nelson. Finally in 2004, he got his way as on every main road into the county, signs for Nelson's County were erected.

While Mr Matthews revolutionised the poultry and meat industry in his 60-year career, a friend and near-neighbour, George Williams founded Anglian Windows. The country's biggest window empire started in a garage at Park Close, Old Catton in May 1966. And Mr Williams, who died aged 81 in January, even worked for Mr Matthews sexing poultry for three years after starting his business with just �450.

Other business leaders included Sir James Cleminson, who played a key role in saving Norwich's Theatre Royal, died aged 89. A world-class businessman, who moved to Norfolk in 1960, he was chairman of Reckitt & Colman for nine years and served as chairman of the British Overseas Trade Board.

Serving in the Parachute Regiment, he won the Military Cross at Arnhem and later his exploits were featured in the film, A Bridge Too Far, by an actor.

Sir James, son of a former chairman of Reckitt and Colman, had joined the 'family firm' after the war. He was also vice-chairman of Norwich Union, a director of Eastern Counties Newspapers (now Archant) and president of the RNAA in 1985.

And a key figure in the country's oldest mutual insurance society achieving a stock market quotation, Allan Bridgewater, died shortly before his 74th birthday. He became the first executive in the history of Norwich Union (the global brand Aviva since June 2009) to have been head of the fire and general insurance arm.

In May 1997, almost 200 years of mutual status had ended as the society's policyholders voted overwhelmingly to float on the London Stock Exchange, raising �2.4bn in new capital.

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