Aladdin's Cave CECIL DUCKWORTH Funnies Index
The Man and his story

THE last time I spoke to Cecil Duckworth at any length was on a dirty winter’s Friday morning in January, 1997, when he took his leave as head of Worcester Bosch Group and retired, a selfmade multi-multi millionaire. “If you want me on Monday, my office will be at Sixways ,” he said.

And after some rummaging, he found the direct phone line his PA Louise Brook would answer. You might take the boss out of the business, but, in Cecil D’s case anyway, you can’t take the business out of the boss.

He simply moved from leading a multi-national heating engineering company to an all consuming involvement, both financially and personally, in Worcester Warriors Rugby Club. Any talk of what most of us would consider “retirement”

Was well wide of the posts.

Now, the city’s most successful businessman of the last 50 years has published his life story so far. Not surprisingly it’s called Worcester Warrior and, even less surprisingly, it was launched at a reception at the weekend at Sixways, the rugby club’s HQ. The third “no surprise” is he did it virtually all himself. There are thanks for assistance, but anyone who has ever had any contact with Mr Duckworth would lay money that this man would not do ghost writers.

When news first filtered out in the early 1990s that Worcester Rugby Club had secured a serious financial backer for its plans to improve and in particular become a West Midlands centre for excellence for youth rugby, envious eyes were cast from other local sporting directions. Notably the city’s football club, which has been permanently short of cash ever since the days Penda, King of Mercia, played in goal.

But any notions the rugger club had courted a sugar daddy, who would stump up the dosh and let others spend it, were soon kicked into touch.

   

“Having seen the rough plan the club had in mind, I went away to consider whether I should back it and become involved,” he said.

“The three questions I asked myself were:

(a) was it possible to get Worcester into the top flight of English rugby;

(b) could I turn Worcester into a rugby city like Gloucester and Bath; and

(c) could I repeat my industrial success and do it again in rugby?”


Fortunately for Worcester RFC, which was not yet called Warriors, the answer was an affirmative and so this very hands-on operation in a completely different business sphere began to roll.

By then, Cecil Duckworth was already a household name in Worcester, via his alter-ego as a combi-boiler, the patented device which revolutionised central heating and was at the heart of his business success.

He arrived in the city from his home town of Macclesfield in the early 1950s after securing a fiveyear apprenticeship with Redman Engineering, which had a factory at Gregory’s Bank.

The young engineer came with two ideas buzzing in his brain. Both have subsequently turned out to be winners, but only one for him.

His first choice was the self-service petrol pump, now a fixture on forecourts throughout the UK. But he couldn’t get the oil companies to back him.

“They told me to go away and come back later,” he said. “They said I was 10 years ahead of my time.”

So he moved on to Plan B, an oilfired combination boiler for central heating systems, which in the average 50s home were something of a rarity. Tests on his first model ended with an explosion and the arrival of the fire brigade.

Undeterred, he pressed on and soon his fledgling company Worcester Heat Systems was in business.

   

To disguise the smallness of the operation in those early days, Mr Duckworth frequently used different voices on the phone to give the impression of a large company and when he felt confident enough to take on his first employee, a salesman, the poor chap was never allowed to meet the service engineer, because that was Mr Duckworth too.

As the company grew steadily, it provided a fund of stories for this newspaper, none more spectacular than the day in 1983 when the whole place burnt down.

Thirteen fire tenders couldn’t save the factory at Diglis but within three weeks, production had started again.

“We gave ourselves 100 days to rebuild the factory and I think it was done in 104 or something like that,” he said. “Unbelievable.”

Eventually, German giant Bosch bought Worcester Heat Systems in 1992, although its founder stayed on and three years later became president of the board of the Bosch Heating Division, the first non- German to head an operating unit within the Bosch Group.

 

However, by then his life was turning more and more towards Worcester rugby and the last third of Worcester Warrior details the trials, triumphs and tribulations of hauling a club through six divisions of the English game to the promised land of the Premiership – and the even tougher job of keeping it there.

I asked what was the most difficult part of the journey. The reply came as no surprise.

“Not having total control of what happens,” he said. “In manufacturing if a fault develops, you stop the production line, correct the fault and through quality control, produce as perfect a product as you can.

“But in sport, particularly a tough contact sport such as professional rugby, there are so many factors beyond your control.

Injuries, for a start – they can happen to key players at any time.

   

“Then there is the weather, luck during a game, when a ball will bounce one way one week and the other way the next, and players’ form, why they can play well some games and not so well a few days later. It can all be very frustrating.”

There were also the politics of the professional game to negotiate, a subject about which Worcester Warriors’ owner received a sharp poke just as the club stood on the cusp of promotion to the Premiership in the spring of 2004.

Warriors had clearly won the first division title, but Rotherham, the club due to be relegated, objected on a spurious technicality, which failed.

 

“If our application had gone to a judicial review, it probably would have resulted in dismissal of the objection by the presiding judge, but the fact they objected was disgraceful,” said Mr Duckworth.

“Sadly, there were some people who wanted to keep us out of the Premiership at all costs.”

For an honourable man, who had been made an OBE for services to rugby and the community (Acorns Children’s Hospice and the Duckworth Trust, to name but two projects) and was made a Freeman of the City of Worcester in 2008, it was beyond the pale.

On the opening page of his book, he repeats a quote by Sitting Bull, the Lakota Sioux tribal chief, which includes the phrase:

“The warrior, for us, is one who sacrifices himself for the good of others.”

So just, for a moment, consider Cecil Duckworth’s mental health the next time a Worcester player spills the ball with the try line at his mercy and victory within grasp.


WE DID IT!
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