Friday, 26 November 2010

Bernard Matthews remembered | Life and style | The Guardian

Bernard Matthews Bernard Matthews on the stairs of Great Witchingham Hall with a turkey. When he first bought the dilapidated mansion as a company HQ he and his wife lived in one room and the turkeys had the other 79.

Bernard Matthews started his turkey empire, so the story goes, with 20 eggs and a paraffin-oil incubator, and from those first hatchlings grew a business which now employs over 2,000 people.

Born in 1930 in Brooke, Norfolk, Matthews left school at 16 and, following national service in the Royal Air Force, purchased his golden eggs in 1950. The 12 eggs that hatched were sold for a £6.50 profit, a 2007 profile of the turkey tycoon revealed, and set the wheels in motion for a multi-million pound business.

Five years after those poults entered the world, Matthews was able to buy a Tudor mansion befitting a turkey magnate, the sprawling Great Witchingham Hall in his beloved Norfolk, which still serves as the company headquarters.

According to the Bernard Matthews' company website Matthews and his wife, Joyce, lived frugally in one room, while the other 79 rooms were set aside for just one purpose – raising turkeys.

By the 1980s, it was time for Matthews to begin advertising his poultry on television, with his "Bootiful" catchphrase swiftly entering the public consciousness.

As this video for Bernard Matthews' "New crispy crumb turkey steaks shows," Matthews, more often than not clad head to toe in tweed, wasn't afraid to involve his staff in advertising.

Matthews' legacy looms large across social networking websites today, with "Bernard Matthews" the most discussed terms worldwide on Twitter, and the Norfolk man being mentioned around 10 times per minute on Facebook.

The adverts were so popular that the inevitable spoof followed, with this Spitting Image sketch from 1986 turning the tables on the mogul – a turkey appearing on screen to report that Matthews "threw himself in the mincer": the result being the production of "Bernard burgers: containing 100% minced Matthews", and "Bernie's balls: only 42p a pair".

"In honour of Turkey magnate Bernard Matthews, there will now follow a two-minute mispronunciation of the word 'beautiful'," @martini_weenie asserted on Twitter, while @Vish_Liverpool lamented: "Bernard Matthews died on Thanksgiving ... sad news but too ... many ... jokes ... "

There were some dissenting voices as the gags came thick and fast, however pleas like @JaeKay's: "May I ask for a stop to the Bernard Matthews jokes before they start in earnest?" came in vain.

However while the bulk of the memories today were good-natured, others will remember the scandals that beset Matthews' company – in 2006 two employees were ordered to serve 200 hours of community service after being filmed playing baseball with turkeys at a plant in Haveringland, Norfolk.

Three years ago birds at one of Matthews' plants were found to be infected with bird flu, and a later investigation found a string of flaws that could have led to the outbreak, including uncovered bins and holes where mice and rats could enter the turkey sheds.

But this afternoon Matthews appeared to be largely fondly remembered, with the RIP acronyms outweighing the RSPCAs.

Paul Clarkson perhaps best summed up the feelings of most, as well as name-dropping one of Matthews' most iconic turkey products, with his Facebook post:

"RIP Bernard Matthews, you will always be remembered for your turkey drummers. "Bootiful, just bootiful."

Good bye Mr Matthews. I worked for you once. Came in on one of your buses. worked on the loading bay at Gt Witchingham. Thanks for the work.