Roger Baker, famous face of the meat industry, dies aged 73

Roger Baker (centre) at Banbury market in 1998
Roger Baker (centre) at Banbury market in 1998
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One of the most recognisable names and faces in the UK meat and livestock industry, Roger Baker has died aged 73, after a long illness.

An avid Leicester City fan, Roger smiled as he was told of his team’s 5-3 win over Manchester United on Sunday last week, shortly before his passing.

One of the quartet of the famous ‘Baker Boys’ - with brothers John, Graham and Edwin - who established Midland Meat Packers and Butcher’s Pet Care, Roger was born in Lutterworth, Warwickshire, in the early hours of November 15 1940, the night of the nearby Coventry Blitz.

He and his brothers were brought up on the family farm at Onley, run by his father Fred and wife Alice.

A pupil at the nearby Harris School, Roger left aged 15 to join the family business, his father telling him: “I’ll teach you everything else you need to know.”

When Fred Baker died in 1962, Roger was the only brother aged over 21 and legally able to run the business; from 1963 onwards, Roger ran FW Baker Ltd Wholesale, assisted by family friend and co-executor of his father’s will, Jim Harrison.

With the building of a new slaughterhouse at Rugby in 1966, the business flourished – a new boning plant opening at Crick in 1970, serving the likes of Birdseye, Tyne Brand, Sainsbury’s and McDonald’s.

In 1971, the business changed its name to Midland Meat Packers, with Roger as procurement director.

Quickly outgrowing those facilities, a new slaughterhouse was established at Crick in 1980, becoming the largest beef slaughtering plant in Europe, with 4,000 cattle passing through its doors every week, exporting beef to France, Italy and Germany, including all US troops based in Europe.

At its peak, Midland Meat Packers had a turnover of £150 million, exported £1 million in meat every week and employed more than 1,200 people.

In late 1982, the brothers added a new 2,500-acre estate at Ashby St Ledgers (once owned by Robert Catesby, the leader of the Gunpowder Plot) to their Baker Group Farms.

Business - and life - changed dramatically and forever for Roger and his brothers on March 20 1996, with the discovery of a link between BSE in cattle and Creutzfeld-Jakob Disease (CJD) in humans. An 80 per cent drop in business and significant redundancies followed.

Unable to cope with the lack of throughput, Midland Meat Packers finally closed in 2003 – Roger ‘retiring’ but still farming around 1,000 cattle, and regularly judging at shows and continuing to live out his passion for game shooting.

With many of the town centre markets declining and a way of life disappearing, Roger was asked to record his memories and anecdotes of ‘market day’ for the archive at The British Museum.

In 1965, Roger married Gillian Hargrave (a local butcher’s daughter) who survives him together with their daughter Zoe.