HE was the tycoon who inherited and lost the House of Fraser group, including Harrod’s in London, and gambled away £1.6 million on roulette tables in six months.

Sir Hugh Fraser once one of Scotland’s wealthiest businessmen took over as chairman of the House of Fraser group upon the 1966 death of his father, Lord Fraser of Allander, whose peerage he disclaimed.

Now the chain he inherited faces terminal decline following the announcement that it will close 31 stores with the loss of 6,000 jobs – a demise similar to its former owner.

He was just 29 when he took on the family’s 60-strong chain of department stores, featuring Harrod’s as its flagship – Europe’s largest shop.


But he became perhaps equally known for his playboy exploits, including a freewheeling business style, a taste for beautiful women and a insatiable hunger for casinos, despite a spectacularly unsuccessful gambling career.

Handsome and smartly dressed, he skied in Switzerland, gambled in Monte Carlo, and sunbathed in St Moritz.

Once dubbed Scotland’s most eligible bachelor, his 15-year reign as Harrod’s chairman coincided with two marriages – and two divorces.

“I’m faithful to one woman – one woman at a time, that is,” he once told a reporter.

When he married radiographer Patricia Bowie at 26 in St Mary’s Cathedral in Glasgow, the couple attracted a bigger crowd than a Royal visit. Their first of three daughters, Patricia, was born the next year. But the marriage ended in divorce in 1971.

Two years later he had married a much younger woman, international showjumper Aileen Margaret Ross on the Caribbean island of Mustique. They separated three years later and divorced in 1982.

The media coverage went wild when another girlfriend scheduled to become the third Lady Fraser, was found dead, apparently by her own hand in an exhaust-filled car.


Sir Hugh blamed the failure of his first marriage on overwork and his second to personality differences. But his name was linked in the tabloids to a succession of women.

When he died 31 years ago, aged just 50, he was apparently down to his last £250 in the bank.

Since his death it emerged that he was a big-hearted philanthropist having left a multi-million-pound legacy that changes lives across the country. The Hugh Fraser Foundation, set up by 58 years ago, had donated more than £50 million to good causes in Scotland – that had gone largely unreported.

Patricia Fraser, his eldest daughter, speaking last year said: “When I think of him, I see him sitting in his office with a cigarette dangling out of his mouth taking calls on his Bugs Bunny phone.”

Sir Hugh, born in Bearsden, East Dunbartonshire, son of Hugh Fraser, 1st Baron Fraser of Allander, left school at 16 to go into the family business, was made director at 21 and in 1966, after his father’s death, he was elected chairman of House of Fraser Ltd and also the investment company Scottish and Universal Investments Ltd (Suits). In the 70s the House of Fraser was fighting against competition from smaller specialist chains such as Laura Ashley and Mothercare, and when the 1973 recession began to bite Sir Hugh was ready to give up the House of Fraser.

He would become increasingly obsessed by gambling and a stock exchange inquiry in 1976 revealed that he had been selling shares in Suits to finance his addiction. The inquiry concluded his behaviour had been “haphazard and extraordinary” and he was fined £600 under the Companies Act for the misclassification of a loan, and for improper share dealings.

Fraser told friends he could not stop, joking that he thought of his losses in terms of Harrods: “When I lost one pile of chips, I thought, ‘there goes ladies’ lingerie’. The next heap went, ‘That’s furniture!’”

Sir Hugh, the fourth of the Fraser dynasty to bear the name, would eventually lose House of Fraser and Harrod’s in a boardroom gamble.


After Lonrho Ltd conglomerate chief Roland Rowland launched a takeover bid in 1981, during a stormy board meeting Sir Hugh was ousted. Lonrho’s long-running campaign to take over the House of Fraser was to end in failure in 1985 when the Egyptian brothers, Mohammed, Ali and Sayed al-Fayed, gained control of the group for £615 million.

By 1981, after leaving the department store group he spent most of his time in Scotland, building up a chain of menswear shops and became chairman of Dumbarton Football Club.

Dumbarton kit man Dick Jackson once recalled how Sir Hugh took a sudden notion for fitness and he would have Boghead open on Sundays so that he could lap the track and take a sauna.

“He was a gentleman, and I’m sure the exercise did him good,’’ he recalled. ‘’Except he smoked all the time, even in the bath.’’ As Fraser approached 50, his health deteriorated and in one rare interview where he went on a rant about his latest girlfriend he said: “I have been stupid. Every relationship turns to disaster. I try to be nice but I’m kicked in the teeth.

“I’ve had it all – the chances, the money. I wish I was 25 again.”

In that last interview, with Glasgow journalist Sandra Ratcliffe, he summed up his life: “My father left me a crown. It never fitted.”