Jack Dellal: Tycoon who hit property peaks

In the 1980s he bought Bush House in London for just £55m and sold it on, two years later, for £130m

Jack Dellal was an enigmatic, controversial property tycoon who emerged unscathed from economic crashes over several decades. He was widely regarded as one of the most remarkable money- making machines in the City of London over the past 65 years.

Dellal was nicknamed "Black Jack", either because he liked gambling, especially playing cards, or because he had been a dealer in black cloth in Manchester early in his very long working life. He built a colourful reputation as a property genius with shrewd, often risky, deals in the 1970s and 1980s. His most notable deal – or his most notorious one, depending on your viewpoint – was his sale of the BBC's World Service offices, Bush House, in London, when he made a serious killing; he acquired the property for a paltry £55m in 1987, and then sold it on two years later to Japanese investors Kato Kagaku for £130m.

Although the deal had led to an investigation by the Department of Trade and Industry, no impropriety was found. The Sunday Times asked "Has Dellal called the top of the market?" He had. Within weeks, economies around the globe were hit and the property market collapsed.

Dellal pulled off the same trick in a similar, peak of the market, moment, in July 2007. Five years earlier, Dellal, in a group with David and Simon Reuben and protégés Vincent and Robert Tchenguiz, had bought one of London's most iconic buildings, the art deco Shell-Mex House on the Strand, for £327.5m: they sold it to a US private equity firm for £490m, with £150m cash profit that was shared among Dellal and the others. Once again, he had sold at the peak of the boom. Months later the world, and property, went into a recession from which it has yet to recover.

The diminutive Dellal was the son of Iraqi-Jewish émigrés Sulman Dellal and Charlotte Shashoua. He was educated at Manchester's Heaton Moor College, and began working in the city's textile industry buying and selling cloth, while also speculating in property. He then made a bold move to London.

There he went immediately into property and began a 40-year association with his business partner Stanley van Gelder. They became involved with the fast-growing, Knightsbridge-based, fringe bank, Dalton Barton Securities. In 1972, Dellal made his mark; the securities firm was sold for £58m, to Keyser Ullmann (KU), the bank that was chaired by Edward du Cann, MP. Dellal then became deputy chairman of KU and he established Allied Commercial.

At the time, the British economy was enjoying the cheap money policy of Edward Heath's Conservative government, which had been meant to strengthen UK industry before the country entered the European Community. Because of the low interest rates, property developers borrowed heavily from banks to finance housing schemes, believing that rising property values would finance them adequately until the initial investments paid off.

Dellal's company was among the borrowers of KU, as were many important dealers in London property. Then the crash came. In 1973, the over-borrowed property developers were caught by the quadrupling of oil prices after war in the Middle East, which then led to high inflation, higher interest rates and dramatically lowered property values. The market collapsed, causing some of the most spectacular bankruptcies in history. Fringe banks had catastrophic losses.

KU had very little liquidity, so the Bank of England had to intervene, providing £65m of "lifeboat" support loans to keep the business alive. The Bank replacing the company's management. Du Cann was declared bankrupt. Dellal, who surprisingly emerged unscathed, resigned in July 1974, and the rest of his executive team soon followed him out of the firm, but there was little doubt in the financial world that Dellal, whose private firms had continued to derive their finance from KU, was a prime culprit in the near disaster at the company.

Always a cool and opportunistic investor, Dellal then went to New York, where he continued to speculate and earn fortunes in Manhattan real estate. He returned to the UK the 1980s.

In 2002 he made an audacious bid, which was rumoured to be £125m, for the remaining 33-year lease on Dolphin Square, a vast 1930s apartment complex in Pimlico within walking distance of Westminster, and therefore housing as many as 70 MPs. Despite offering each resident a £17,500 windfall, his bid failed.

Dellal continued to run his property company, Allied Commercial Holdings, well into his eighties, with the help of his son Guy. In 2011, he was worth a reported £445m, which was down from over £600m in 2008. Vincent Tchenguiz said: "Jack was very helpful and we did some deals with him. He was a great guy but we found we could beat him at cards."

Dellal was reclusive and shunned interviews with the press, and he was never flash or flamboyant. But he enjoyed a jet set lifestyle with houses in Holland Park, London, Cape Town, South Africa, France and Monaco.

Dellal, who died in his sleep, had two children with his second wife, Ruanne, a former Miss South Africa, and seven children with his first wife, a former Israeli air stewardess.

Jack Dellal, property magnate; born Chorlton, Manchester 2 October 1923; married twice (eight children, and one daughter deceased); died London 28 October 2012.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'