Peter Cadbury

Buccaneering businessman who founded Westward Television
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The Independent Online

Peter Egbert Cadbury, businessman and barrister: born Great Yarmouth, Norfolk 6 February 1918; called to the Bar, Inner Temple 1946; chairman and managing director, Keith Prowse Group 1954-71; chairman, Alfred Hays 1955-71; chairman, Ashton & Mitchell 1959-71; executive chairman, Westward Television 1960-80; chairman, Preston Estates 1973-90; chairman, Air Westward 1977-79; chairman, Educational Video Index 1981-83; chairman, Westward Travel 1982-84; married 1947 Benedicta Bruce (one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved 1968), 1970 Jennifer Morgan-Jones (née Maude, died 2003; one son), 1976 Jane Mead (two sons); died Upton Grey, Hampshire 17 April 2006.

Not for nothing was Peter Cadbury known - affectionately - as the Cad. Indeed, he was proud of the nickname. For perhaps his outstanding characteristic during a long career as a businessman, and a provoker of most of the people with whom he came into contact, was that he was the complete opposite of any other member of his otherwise sober, distinguished Quaker family.

He was a serial entrepreneur, unlike his cousins Sir Adrian and Sir Dominic Cadbury, successive and highly successful chairmen of the family company, Cadbury Schweppes. This had been made famous by their grandfather George, and his brother Richard, who developed a formula for making chocolate and created a world-famous business - as well as Bournville, a model company village near Birmingham.

Peter Cadbury's father, Sir Egbert, was a managing director of the family firm but his son admired him for his other qualities, above all as a distinguished, much-decorated air ace in the First World War. Peter followed his father as a test pilot at the end of the Second World War, notably as one of the band of courageous pioneers many of whom died testing the early jet fighters (Douglas Bader was the best man at his first wedding).

After the war, Peter Cadbury read for the Bar, accompanying his godfather the great advocate Norman Birkett to the trials of Nazi leaders at Nuremberg, where he pleaded in one of the minor courts, "prosecuting someone who had murdered only a couple of million Jews", as he put it. He also followed the family tradition by standing as one of the many eccentric Liberal candidates in the 1945 election, claiming that if his audience "didn't like any of my views I can change them, because I only learnt them yesterday". Nevertheless he attracted nearly a third of the votes, allowing a Labour candidate to beat the Tory.

But he realised that he wasn't destined to be a barrister and in 1954 he bought the Keith Prowse theatre ticket agency with £75,000 borrowed from his father, remaining chairman until 1971 after he had sold his stake for £1.5m. He was a keen theatre-goer, and was able to influence the fate of productions through Keith Prowse's capacity to make block bookings. Unfortunately for adventurous impresarios, his tastes were resolutely middle-brow. Indeed he claimed that he would only back a play if he thought that it would appeal to his mother - leading John Osborne to complain that success depended on "catching the fancy of a tasteless man's tasteless mother". It was in his time at Keith Prowse that Cadbury first revealed in public his lifelong tendency to quarrel with all and sundry, especially fellow directors, who in this case included the 10th Duke of Rutland and the impresario Emile Littler.

But Cadbury's glory years came in the 1960s and 1970s as the founder and long-serving chairman of Westward Television, serving the west of England. He had been involved in setting up the much bigger Tyne-Tees Television and, seeing the opportunity, descended on the West Country harassing likely supporters, and winning the franchise against 10 other bidders.

For two years the station, like many others, lost a great deal of money but recovered to become a respected programme producer. Typically Cadbury's reign was not, to put it mildly, without incident. In 1970 the other directors rebelled, one complaining that they were "sick and tired of his wild statements" and 10 years later he was finally ousted, even though he controlled over half the company's shares and was defended by a founder shareholder, the playwright (Lord) Ted Willis, as "a buccaneer, a crazy fighter pilot, a man of impulses".

The battle was bitter and at one point the Independent Broadcasting Authority threatened to remove Westward's franchise. Cadbury's leading opponent was Lord Harris of Greenwich, a former friend whom he removed from the board - in later years any mention of Harris's activities made Cadbury "want to stick pins into wax effigies". Cadbury's departure was triggered by the fact that Westward's franchise was coming up for renewal and the directors were afraid of losing it, as they duly did after getting rid of Cadbury.

You didn't have to be a business associate to arouse his ire. He once threatened to take legal action against Rear-Admiral Sir Morgan Morgan-Giles for using automatic guns to scare pigeons off his farmland and tried to prevent the Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall from appearing on Westward - among other brouhahas, Cadbury had been charged with wasting police time and of shooting protected geese. Indeed, his move to Hampshire was, he said, provoked by "police harassment".

But his greatest wrath was provoked by a series of robberies. In 1994, after the first of a whole series, he resigned from the Tory party, to which he had been a regular, if modest contributor. He explained his departure in an angry article in the Daily Mail in which he regretted "the days not so long ago when we could sleep happily in our homes . . . or walk to the Post Office to collect our old age pensions without being mugged, raped or run down and killed by a 14-year-old in a stolen car" - though the figures on which he based his fury were flatly contradicted by the local police.

He continued to harangue successive Home Secretaries, Labour as well as Tory, as being "all talk and no action" when it came to cutting down on crime, also advocating the return of hanging - and flogging. Unfortunately the publicity he attracted seems to have alerted potential thieves, because in 1996 he lost £15,000 worth of antiques, and 40 pieces of jewellery three years later. He famously kept a crossbow given to him by a member of the SAS beside his bed and claimed that he would "shoot an intruder without hesitation".

His more positive qualities were demonstrated by his position as chairman of the family charity, the George Cadbury Trust, from 1979 to his death, concentrating on animal charities in line with his love of pets, which ranged from parrots to a Great Dane. But perhaps the generous heart under the rumbustious exterior was best shown by the fact that he was a trustee of Winchester Cathedral and, for the last 20 years of his life, of Help the Aged.

Nicholas Faith

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