Bernard Matthews dies on 'Turkey Day'

Bernard Matthews has died at the age of 80 on Thanksgiving - often dubbed "Turkey Day" in the US.

The farmer and businessman became a household name after he amassed a multi-million-pound fortune through his vast poultry empire and appeared in a memorable series of television commercials.

Members of the farming and food worlds today lined up to pay tribute to the man widely credited with bringing cheap turkey meat to the masses.

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Noel Bartram, chief executive of Bernard Matthews Farms, who had known the tycoon for more than 30 years, expressed his "great sorrow" while National Farmers' Union chief poultry adviser Rob Newbery described Bernard Matthews's story as "an inspiration to any farmer, or entrepreneur".

Bernard Matthews's success was poultry farming's success," he added. "He created a legacy to be proud of.

"He will be sadly missed and remembered by many. Our thoughts are with his family at this time."

Chef Antony Worrall Thompson, who met Matthews on several occasions, said his "thoughts were with the family".

The Bernard Matthews empire began with a humble 2.50p investment in 1950 with 20 turkey eggs and an incubator in the heart of Norfolk.

Headquartered near Norwich, it grew into the biggest turkey processor in Europe and has an annual turnover of 330.5 million, according to financial details for last year.

"Rarely has any business been as synonymous with the hard work and values of one man," Mr Bartram said.

"It was Bernard Matthews who grew and developed this company through his entrepreneurial spirit, and clear focus."

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He added: "He is the man who effectively put turkey on the plates of everyday working families and in so doing became one of the largest employers in rural East Anglia and a major supporter of the local farming community."

Matthews, the son of a mechanic, from Brooke in Norfolk, left school at 16 and went on to enjoy massive success.

But he attracted controversy with the Turkey Twizzler which sparked the wrath of celebrity chef Jamie Oliver who launched a crusade against the product during his campaign to improve school dinners.

The onslaught caused Matthews' operating profits to tumble.

In later years he devoted himself to a host of charitable causes, "often in an unsung manner", Mr Bartram said.

These included the independent Caister Lifeboat and the Nelson Museum in Great Yarmouth - a nod to his home county and love of the sea.

More recently, Matthews became less involved in the day-to-day running of the company and in January this year, on his 80th birthday, he stepped down as group chairman.

"Despite yesterday's very sad news the business will continue to thrive, as we honour his memory through our ongoing work and ensure that the business remains a great British institution, and a key part of the fabric of life in Norfolk and across East Anglia," Mr Bartram said.