Royal visit was proud moment for Nelson bakery boss who is celebrating Golden Jubilee
When Prince Charles visited Oddie's Bakery to celebrate their hundreth birthday, the heir to the throne greeted long serving members of staff and helped cut the birthday cake as well as trying a mouth-watering Pendle Pasty.
And for Bill Oddie, who has worked at the company for 50 years, with 30 of those as managing director, it was a proud moment indeed.
He said: “I was a big Princess Diana supporter, but when Prince Charles came here it changed my opinion of him because he charmed us all.
“One of the ladies said ‘You could have brought Camilla with you sir, she could have tried a Vanilla Slice.'
“My wife shook hands with him, and she said: ‘By Jove, you’ve got cold hands.’
“Yes, but I’ve got a warm heart,” replied the prince.
“That was one of my proudest moments, meeting Prince Charles and showing him what Oddie’s had achieved for a century.”
To spend time with Bill Oddie, the managing director of East Lancashire’s independent family bakery, is to peer into a mirror that reflects how much life has changed in the last 25 years than it did in the previous century.
Bill is 76 now and has been plotting a steady course at the Oddie’s helm for 30 years. When he shows me around the factory, it is like a busy set from Wallace and Gromit’s cracking contraptions laboratory.
A gigantic stainless steel bowl full of meat and potato pie mix, enough to feed The Lancashire Fusiliers for a fortnight, churns round like a child’s roundabout.
In another corner of Oddie’s spick and span HQ in Nelson, fondants and wedding cakes are being created with the patience and expertise of a sculptor.
And a fridge, the size of a school bus, which amazingly transforms into an oven when steam is automatically injected in the middle of the night, ready for baking their products for delivery to their sixteen shops dotted across the county hours later.
“The biggest change was the modernization of equipment, before that most of the jobs were done by hand,” says Burnley born Bill.
“We had long wooden tables with giant sheets of pastry, and they’d slice the pastry into shapes with big cutters.
“It was tough graft. My grandad mixed the dough by hand, and the only mechanical machine we had was an oven.
“We can make four to five thousand pies an hour now.”
Bill added that there are still certain products that are hand crafted, like the scrumptious Eccles Cake.
“The fruit is put on top by hand and folded up,” he says.
“There’s a special way of doing it, and a lot of the recipes are top secret!”
Founded by Bill’s grandfather, William Henry Oddie, the first shop opened in Colne in 1905. Bill’s father John Dean Oddie, known as Jack, then helped steer the business through the 20th century, with Bill taking charge in 1988 following his father’s death.
“Fads come and go, but the favourites today were the favourites 50 years ago: plain teacakes, oven bottoms, fresh cream cakes, hot cross buns, sausage rolls and mince pies.
“Supermarkets can’t beat us for freshness and the customers know that.”
Bill added: “The recession hit us very hard, it was like turning a tap off after the
"It took us five years to recover. It was a rough ride but throughout that time our staff, some who have worked at Oddie’s for 30 years, were superb.”
While Oddie’s are famous for their pies and fondant ices, Bill’s nephew Joff Oddie is the bass player for BBC Radio One favourites Wolf Alice who recently headlined Manchester Apollo.
It was Bill’s daughter Lara who convinced Joff to chase his rock and roll dream when they chatted at a family wedding.
In an interview last month with a rock magazines, Joff said: “I have an uncle called Bill. In my mind he is THE Bill Oddie, but to the populous he isn’t.
“He owns the Oddie family bakery up in Lancashire and if any people would like to try an Eccles cake up there, they are delicious.”
Joff added: “I lived in Cornwall as a child, and we’d often go back home after a visit to Nelson, weighed down with trays of Eccles’ cakes, sausage rolls, fancies and meat and potato pies.”
Bill reckons it is amazing to have a rock star in the family.
He said: “My brother says Joff has got himself a girlfriend, and he’s had to get his hair cut!"
Bill's passion for business is only matched for the love of his family – his daughter Lara, Oddie’s marketing director, plays a pivotal role alongside her father.
“Lara’s an absolute star, the staff love her to bits and she is a wonderful daughter,” said Bill. “I’m very lucky. We sit down together, make a decision and go ahead and do it, which is great.”
Cricket is Bill’s sporting passion. A member of Lancashire County Cricket Club for more years than he cares to remember, he laughs out loud, recalling a charity dinner at Old Trafford, sat next to Yorkshire legend Geoff Boycott.
When Boycott was asked by Bill to his name his favourite ground in the world, expecting to hear Lord’s or Headingley, Boycott replied, ‘Them that I scored hundreds on lad.”
Bill said: "That made me giggle. It was just classic Boycott.”
Bill, an attacking batsman, also starred for Nelson in the Lancashire League, adding: “I batted against the famous Australian fast bowler Dennis Lillee, who was playing for Haslingden.
“He was rapid, believe me, but I got 48 before I was run out. Eeh, that was annoying.”
He continued: “I’ve batted against some good ‘uns. Definitely one of the best was a fantastic character called Harry Robinson, the station master at Settle station and he played for the town side.
“He was a brilliant left arm bowler - should have played for Yorkshire.
“When he got you out, he’d say, ‘Sorry me old luv.’
“I could hit a ball, though, and once knocked a towering six over the pavilion at Nelson and the ball went right up Pendle Street.”
Bill added: “I’m so proud, the way that generations of families across East Lancashire have entrusted Oddie’s to craft pastries and cakes for a century, and the way that they have supported us.
“Do you know, we still get folk phoning us up to ask if we are open at dinner time or if we close on Tuesday for a half a day, (the old Burnley and Nelson early
closing day) and I think that’s lovely.
“My motto is keep it local, keep it Oddie’s and savour the difference.”