November 26, 2010 / 3:02 PM / 8 years ago

UK turkey tycoon Matthews dies on Thanksgiving

Packages of Bernard Matthews turkey ham are seen in a London supermarket February 10, 2007. REUTERS/Alessia Pierdomenico

LONDON (Reuters) - Turkey tycoon Bernard Matthews — the man behind the infamous turkey twizzler — has died at the age of 80 his company said.

His death came on Thursday, Thanksgiving Day in the U.S, a celebration often referred to as “Turkey Day.”

Matthews was one of the first businessmen to personally advertise their products on British television, coining the memorable catchphrase, “they’re bootiful” in his rich Norfolk accent.

“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,” said the company’s chief executive Noel Bartram in a statement.

Matthews, the son of a mechanic, left school at 16 and went on to become a household name, only stepping down as chairman of the company on his 80th birthday early this year.

“From simple beginnings, with an initial investment of just 2.50 pounds ($3.93) 60 years ago, Bernard Matthews took the business from 20 turkey eggs and a second-hand paraffin incubator to a successful and thriving multi million pound company,” said Bartram.

In recent years his company was dogged by an image problem after the celebrity chef Jamie Oliver maligned turkey twizzlers, one of the company’s key product lines. It also was hit hard by the 2007 outbreak of bird flu.

Reporting by Isabel Coles; Editing by Steve Addison and Paul Casciato

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