Alfred Blake: From office boy to manager and a life enjoying singing

Oxford Mail: Alfred Blake spent his working life at Nuffield Press Alfred Blake spent his working life at Nuffield Press

A MAN who rose from an office boy to director in Oxford’s printing industry across 50 years has died aged 86.

Alfred John Blake, of Southby Close, Appleton, spent his whole working life employed by the Nuffield Press, in Cowley, which he joined as an apprentice in 1946.

He was born in Oxford, on April 28, 1928, and grew up in New Road, now Kennet Road, in Headington. In his school days he was a pupil at St Andrew’s School and Headington Council Senior School, later renamed Headington Secondary School in Margaret Road.

When he left at 14, he was given a glowing reference by headmaster Cyril Eason, who described him as “a gentlemanly, intelligent and capable boy with good bearing, politeness and a happy disposition”.

The reference ended with the words: “He will please.”

He got a job as an office boy at Morris Motors, but it wasn’t long before he moved to nearby Nuffield Press, where brochures, manuals and other publicity material for Cowley-built cars were printed.

After a three-year break for National Service with the Royal Navy, which took him to Singapore and Suez, he rose through the ranks to first become works manager in 1972 and then commercial director, responsible for personnel and the smooth running of the plant, in 1977. Mr Blake, who was known by some as Alfred and others as John, was a well-known singer and his deep baritone voice delighted audiences at many charity concerts over the years.

He had first developed his interest after joining a choir aged seven and was a contributor to the BBC’s Industry Entertains programme in 1957, when he performed They say that falling in love is wonderful.

He became known as the “Edmund Hockridge of Headington”, after the well-known Canadian singer. Mr Blake was a member of the Frewen Club in Oxford and a former secretary of the Oxford, Banbury and District Master Printers’ Association.

His first wife, Margaret Horrabin, worked at the Church Army Press in Cowley.

As colleagues in the printing industry, they often spoke on the telephone, but it wasn’t until they met at a darts evening at the Coach and Horses pub, Chiselhampton, that romance blossomed.

They married at St Clement’s Church, Oxford, in 1955 and had a long and happy marriage until Margaret died suddenly while they were on holiday in Majorca in 2001.

The couple had long been friends with Joy Pitson, who also worked at the Church Army Press.

Mr Blake had given her away when she married her husband, Norman.

Mrs Pitson, by then a widow, and Mr Blake, a widower, befriended each other and married in 2004.

In a tribute to her husband, Mrs Blake said: “He was never dull, always happy and always singing and with the greatest sense of humour I have come across.

“We were free, with no ties, and enjoyed cruises and socialising with our host of friends.

“It was the best 10 years of my life.”

Alfred John Blake died peacefully at home on June 2. He is survived by his wife.

A funeral service will take place at St Laurence church, Appleton, on Wednesday, June 18 at 12pm.

This week’s obituaries:

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