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Entrepreneur with heart of gold was a pram pioneer

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: January 21, 2014

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Alfred John (Jack) Fry was an energetic football and music loving Bristol boy.

Born in Kingswood in 1922, he played the cornet in the local Boys' Brigade and won a scholarship to Kingswood Grammar School (then known as 'The Cowsheds') but left at the age of 14 to be a carpenter's apprentice.

Too young to enlist at the beginning of the Second World War, he was an enthusiastic member of the local 'Dad's Army' until he reached 18, when he joined the RAF with his friend Reg Smart.

Sadly, Reg was killed over Berlin but Jack survived the war and returned home to Bristol, with his wife Connie and baby daughter Linda, to take over the family cycle shop on Kingswood High Street.

The Frys had always been tradespeople in Kingswood and the Willmotts, on his mother's side, worked in the local shoe industry.

Being very ambitious, Jack wanted to expand the business and soon experimented with vinyl records. This was frowned upon by the elderly and devout of Kingswood but loved by the youth of the day and records sold out as quickly as they came in.

From there, with Connie's support, he introduced toys, prams and babywear but soon the High Street shop was bursting at the seams so the next door premises were bought. A son, John, was born in 1949.

Originally called Fry's for Prams, then renamed Fry's Baby Fayre (the spelling 'Fayre' being very novel in the Fifties), the business rapidly took off with eventually a chain of 12 branches in Kingswood, Fishponds Road, Eastville, Gloucester Road, Broadmead Union Street, Pines Way, Bedminster and a prime site opposite the Pump Rooms in Bath, then further afield – including Weston-super-Mare, Cirencester and Stroud.

The Bath shop had its storeroom in the basement when a young couple came in to order a white pram for their first baby.

With great difficulty it was eventually acquired (Jack would not give in) wrapped and stored in the basement awaiting the baby's arrival.

The day came for the new parents to take delivery and the pram was unwrapped only to find it had turned a lovely shade of pink.

Poor Jack, after all his efforts he had to come to terms with the fact that minerals in the damp Bath atmosphere had affected the paintwork.

We understand the air in the basement rapidly turned blue with expletives but the couple were waiting and had to be told.

Miraculously they were thrilled as their baby was a girl and they were the proud owners of the only pink pram in the country.

During one year, Jack seriously upset pram traders all over the West when he offered a free carrycot or cot with any pram purchase.

Fielding off abusive phone calls from his rivals he carried on of course and cornered the market.

He was an entrepreneur but with a heart of gold as each Christmas he delivered gifts of toys to local children's homes, although no one else knew at the time.

Eventually the chain of 12 stores was sought and bought by Lines Brothers of Tri-ang Toys.

Jack was offered a place on the board but, always a one-man show, decided to look for another business to develop. He was still only in his 30s.

Having a very sweet tooth he decided on newspaper shops. Businesses were acquired in Old Market, Brislington, Fishponds and finally the large corner premises which became Henleaze Post Office when he decided he would be the sub-post master.

Frustrated by a difficult transaction, which involved red tape and with the selling agents not having much of a clue, he realised he could do better himself, sold the shops and started Wessex Business Brokers Ltd (later renamed Wessex Sales Organisation).

During this time Jack also went into partnership with a builder and architect to develop houses in Bristol and North Somerset.

Wessex Sales Organisation eventually became the leading agents selling sub-post office attached businesses in the whole country, and soon Jack was invited to lecture to sub-postmasters by the Federation of Sub-Postmasters.

His candidates were well chosen and prepared. Jack was always supported by his wife Connie and very loyal staff who found working for him exciting and rewarding.

This last hugely successful business continued with Jack at the helm until his early death from cancer aged only 62.

So, Jack, the unforgettable local boy, who when only four years old marched to the local fire station, having heard they were taking delivery of a new engine, to ask if he could have the old one, who always blamed the local blacksmith for teaching him swear words, the Bristol Rovers supporter and great character with a huge heart, left his family and staff bereft in 1985.

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