Harold Currie

Enterpreneur and founder of Lochranza distillery

Born 6th October 1924

died 15th March 2016

Harold Currie, who has died aged 91, was a whisky entrepreneur, who founded Isle of Arran Distillers, he was also a football man, both a FIFA referee and Chairman of St Mirren in the 1970’s.

Harold was born under straitened living conditions in Liverpool in 1924. His father was a merchant seaman and he was one of five siblings, the large family sharing a two bedroom house.

He passed the necessary examinations to go to grammar school and from an early age displayed an entrepreneurial streak, running messages for local shops and neighbours. He had a knack for communication, as a chorister he learned sign language for the deaf and used it to send messages to his fellow choir boys during sermons and other slow parts of the service. He also learned semaphore and would stand on the Liverpool quays signalling goodbye to his father as he left on board ship.

Born in 1924, Harold had the interesting distinction of being both a child evacuee in 1939, to North Wales, and then on reaching the age of 18 joining the army and taking part in the D Day offensive.

He had always had a fascination for tanks, and joined the 4th London County Yeomanry who operated Cromwell tanks. His regiment was part of the 7th Armoured Division, the Desert Rats, and he joined them on their return from North Africa.

Employing his communication skills, he was a wireless operator, and having trained at Bovington, where he learned to drive by having an instructor standing behind him and whacking him on his helmeted hat whenever he made a mistake, took part in the invasion of Europe.

He fought at Villers Bocage, where his regiment was surprised by a full Panzer division of Tiger tanks recently brought to the area by train. The fighting was hard, at times with tanks firing through buildings at each other. Once, having brought a Tiger to a halt, Harold leapt out of his tank to retrieve a Luger left behind by a German officer.

Still only in his early twenties he moved on with the Allies into Germany and spent time in Berlin after the German surrender.

Once again the entrepreneur came out, and he made partners with a German leather manufacturer producing hand bags for his fellow soldiers to take home to their girlfriends.

After de-mobbing, he joined the wine and spirits company Rigby and Evens in Liverpool, learning about wine and importing and selling Jamaica Rum. Having moved to the House of Seagram company, in 1961 he was transferred to Scotland where he was made Managing Director of Chivas Brothers. Seagram’s family owners, the Bronfmanns, liked his marketing skills and backed him fully when he suggested that Chivas Regal should be marketed to compete with the upmarket brand of Johnnie Walker, then owned by Distillers Co. Ltd.

Throughout the 1960’s he pushed Chivas Regal into markets world-wide, realising that it is not just what is in the bottle, which he insisted must be of the highest quality, but also consumers’ perception of what is in the bottle; as he promoted the branding: ‘Come to Chivas Regal when you can afford it’.

This work involved extensive travelling and having qualified as a referee after the war, he would inform FIFA of his travel plans and pick up games wherever he was, once refereeing Brazil against Uruguay in front of 200,000 fans at the Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro.

St Mirren meanwhile were struggling and the club approached Paisley-based Harold to join the board. He was appointed Chairman after a year, and realised the error of the club’s policy of selling off young talent and buying in older, but less expensive, experienced professionals. The then manager Willie Cunningham, felt that it was time to move on, and Harold appointed the young, inexperienced manager of East Stirling, Alex Ferguson.

Ferguson’s enthusiasm was infectious, on occasions hiring a loudspeaker car to drive around Paisley and encourage the fans to come to watch the Buddies. Crowds soon averaged 10,000 and it was a great decade for the club, rising from the lower reaches of the then Second Division, via a First Division championship win to safety in the top half of the old Premier Division.

Having retired from Chivas Brothers Harold spent some time with Pernod Ricard and then in the early 90s left to build his own distillery. An ideal site was found at Lochranza on the Isle of Arran, and with two of his sons Harold attracted the necessary investor interest and brought the distillery into production in 1995.

He was particularly proud to have Her Majesty the Queen formally open the Distillery and Visitor Centre in 1997.

He was also on the board of South Ayrshire Health Trust during the period when the new hospital in Ayr was opened, a strong member of the Cumnock Rotary and supporter of the Mauchline Burns club.

Last year he was delighted to be awarded the Legion d’Honneur by the French Government for his contribution to the liberation of Europe, bringing to a circle, a fully lived life.

He is survived by his wife Barbara, four sons, twelve grandchildren and an imminent great grandchild.