David Manning: Countryman, farmer and Aylsham Show president

A highly-successful festival of Norfolk food and drink was launched by farmer, countryman and salesman, David Manning, who has died aged 77, after a long illness.

He was instrumental in persuading fellow council members of the Aylsham Agricultural Show Association to back the new venture. The Norfolk Food and Drink Festival, which started at Blickling Park in 1996, mushroomed over the following five years and attracted about 7,000 people, and made a significant contribution towards the association's support of local charities and good causes.

The event became a shop window for local food producers and also celebrity chefs – a model, which has been adapted and expanded by organisers of the enlarged Norfolk Food Festival.

Norwich born, David Michael Manning was brought up in St Clement's Hill, where he reared chickens and rabbits for the table. The former choirboy, who sang at Old Catton and also Norwich Cathedral, could claim at the age of 13 to be East Anglia's youngest egg producer.

Never much of an academic and always happier to be in the countryside, the former Norwich School pupil told the EDP in 2003: 'I used to throw away my homework and would rather take six across the backside than do three hours of study.' Later, he went to Langley School.

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His father, Gerald, who became head of accounts at the Norfolk News Company (now Archant), steered him towards a job at the EDP. Starting as a runner for production journalists or sub-editors, he served an apprenticeship as a compositor in the print works.

By this stage, his garden has expanded into a smallholding at Newton St Faith, producing eggs, table poultry, rearing pigs and producing bedding plants.

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During his National Service, he started a 'farm' at his Austrian military barracks, which fed officers and other ranks. 'The CO let me get rid of the duff rations in return for livestock from the locals. We fed them on our slops and ate well from the produce,' he added.

He wrote a regular column about his smallholding experiences for EDP's publications including Farming World and the Norwich Mercury until union misgivings about printers writing copy forced him to stop. Instead, he switched to selling animal feed starting in the early 1960s in London, becoming a director of national compounders Barkers and Lee Smith. Later he was director of sales for Norfolk-based Allen & Page.

In 1977, he took on Ebridge Farm, near North Walsham, and was eventually running a mixed holding with 40 cattle, including some feisty Blonde D'Aquitaines, 500 laying hens, 10 sows and a pedigree Suffolk flock of some 120 ewes. In 1997, he dispersed his prize-winning Ebridge flock, which he had run for about 20 years after exporting progeny and competing at shows up and down the country.

He started the sheep section at Aylsham in 1982 – and his energy saw entries rise from 40 to 550 within a few years. After 18 years' involvement with the show, he was delighted to be elected show president in 1999.

He leaves a wife, Denise, and three children, John, Sue and Jenny, and eight grandchildren. He is survived by his younger sister, the opera soprano, Jane Manning.

A funeral will be held at St Margaret's Church, Witton, on Friday, September 7 at 1pm.

Michael Pollitt

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