Bert Best

BERTRAND AINSWORTH BEST, who introduced bar code technology into Europe against strong competition before setting up a company in Yorkshire to produce bar codes, has died aged 84.

Mr Best, who was always known as Bert, became interested in the new technology being developed in America in the 1970s and with other businessmen in Hull researched its possible uses with a view to setting up a bar code generating business in the city.

He took up the challenge and in 1977 set up Kingstown Photocodes, the first company in the UK dedicated to the exploitation of the requirement to bar code retail packaging which he and his wife Sheelagh ran from a two-bedroom terrace house on the Kings Town Engraving site in Stoneferry, Hull, where he worked.

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The company grew rapidly from a turnover of £250,000 in its first year and a move to its own premises in Beverley, until in 1981 and by now with an annual turnover of £1m, Kingstown Photocodes became the UK’s first manufacturer of bar code film masters. Once again Mr Best had beaten the competition.

The company built up a strong reputation across Europe and in the US, due principally to the very high standards set by Mr Best and to which he expected everyone to adhere.

Mr Best was born in Hunslet, Leeds, the third of four children of Bert and Beatrice Best.

He attended Leeds Technical School to study for his City & Guilds examinations in engraving before following his father into the printing trade by being apprenticed at Gilchrist Brothers Photo Engraving Co, in Leeds, at 16. It was there he met Eric Wright and Freddie Laeser with whom, when 24, he set up his first business in Hull, Kingstown Engraving, in 1947.

He suffered from scoliosis, a painful condition which affected him considerably as a young man and prevented him doing active service during the Second World War, although he was in the Home Guard.

It was something which affected him deeply especially as his brother, Robert, the second son of the family, was shot down over Burma while serving with the RAF as a Mosquito pilot, and his younger sister Mary served with the WRNS and was part of the breaking of the Enigma Code at Bletchley Park.

His determination in life in part reflected that period and his need to prove himself and to overcome his disability.

It spurred him on to become a keen rock climber and walker – he had done the Lyke Wake Walk – and become director of three companies, amongst many other achievements.

During the war he and several friends formed the Leeds Rhythm Club touring local munitions factories to take jazz to the workers.

In 1953 he married Sheelagh Reed in St James’s Church in Wetherby, her home town, and two years later they moved to Beverley to be nearer his company, Kings Town Engraving.

As well as walking and climbing, he was a keen beekeeper, having hives near Wighill, near Tadcaster.

Music also played an important part in his life and as a boy he sang in the choir of St Jude’s Church, Hunslet, Leeds, where his father was a churchwarden and his brother Edward played the organ.

During the 1930s he was an amateur assistant stage manager at the Unity Theatre in Leeds.

He was never afraid to stand up for what he believed in, even at great personal cost.

In his early 20s he joined the Communist Party after being horrified by the sight of the Blackshirts marching through Leeds, even though it alienated him from his father and many of his friends. He later resigned in protest over Germany’s pact with the Soviet Union during the Second World War.

After retiring from Kingstown Photocodes at 61 he converted the old post office at Beckside, in Beverley, into a shop called Time & Motion with a workshop where he devoted his time to a life-long passion for buying, repairing and selling antique clocks.

Earlier in his life he had passed the Royal Horological Society examinations with flying colours.

The clock business continues today.

In 2000 he restored an historic turret clock and dial built in memory of the East Yorkshire men who lost their lives in a First World War battle. He installed it at the former mill which is part of Beverley Golf Club house.

Mr Best is remembered as a very principled man of integrity who overcame his disability with fortitude.

He is survived by his wife, Sheelagh, his daughters, Joanna and Sarah, his granddaughter Anna and his younger sister, Mary. His eldest brother Edward predeceased him in 1990.