The Daily Telegraph

Brian Sherriff

Lingerie manufactur­er who turned bras, corsets and gussets into revolution­ary beekeeping suits

- Brian Sherriff, born May 24 1928, died August 6 2022

BRIAN SHERRIFF, who has died aged 94, was the scion of a Bristol corset-making family who went “from bras to bees”, first running a factory for brassieres and swimwear, then pioneering with his wife the revolution­ary “no hat needed” beekeeping suit, made out of lingerie materials.

As a sociable, humorous man, to keep colleagues and customers amused at dull business meetings Sherriff would sometimes remove a “handkerchi­ef ” from his top pocket which revealed itself to be a miniature bra.

He called it the “Bra-kerchief ” and was soon selling it in presentati­on packs bearing the legend: “The well dressed man is wearing a bra… kerchief!” He claimed to have sold 400 of the miniature bras to the comedian Tommy Cooper.

From the mid-1960s, however, the bra-making business began to give way to competitio­n from cheaper foreign manufactur­ers, and in the early 1970s the receivers had to be called in to their Cornish factory. But in the meantime, Sherriff ’s wife Pat had come up with a clever idea.

In 1968, one of Sherriff ’s bees had stung him painfully in the back of the neck. When he complained that his protective clothing had failed to do its job, Pat went to the factory and gathered together some of the boning, net and fabric used for bras, together with fabric used to make swimming costume gussets, and fashioned a new kind of structured beekeeping hood and veil.

They went on to found the Cornwall-based BJ Sherriff, now an internatio­nally successful beekeeping equipment company.

Brian Sherriff, the elder of two sons, was born in Bristol to Jack and Joan Sherriff. His mother recorded the date as May 24 1929 in a baby book, but his birth certificat­e gave the year as 1928.

His father was director of Langridge Ltd, a corset factory establishe­d in the early 19th century, originally to make crinolines and stockings, which had been bought by Brian’s grandfathe­r, Edgar Sherriff, in the 1890s.

A trade advert from 1929 described the firm as “Manufactur­ers of Modern and Progressiv­e Designs in Ladies’ Corsets, Corsellett­es, Brassieres, Suspender Belts, Girdles, etc. Trade Mark ‘Unity’. Specialist­s in lines fitted with the Patent ‘Klippitt’ Busk.”

During the Second World War, it made parachutes and panty-girdles for the WRNS and the WAAF, and in 1946 Jack opened a new factory at Camborne, Cornwall, to make bras.

Brian was brought up in the Clifton area of Bristol and, as a boy, lived through the first nights of the Bristol Blitz, when he recalled hearing the frightened roars of the lions at Bristol

Zoo. In September 1940 he started at Clifton College Prep School, but after it was hit in an air raid in November the school was evacuated to Bude in Cornwall. Places were limited, however, and Brian was not selected.

In January 1941 the family moved to the comparativ­e safety of Saltford, Somerset, within commuting distance of the factory, and Brian was sent as a boarder to Monkton Combe School, where he preferred paddling his canoe on the Avon to his studies.

After leaving school he was taken on as a £1-a-week apprentice in the cutting room of Court Royal Corsets in Bath, followed by a period as a trainee manager at Marks & Spencer in London. After two years’ National Service as a radio telephone operator in the RAF from 1946 to 1948, he joined the family firm in Bristol, working in quality control.

In 1952 he enrolled at Bath Technical College to learn Spanish and met Patricia Harvey, a fellow student. They married in December that year and, riding the wave of enthusiasm for all things American after the Second World War, took up square dancing.

They establishe­d Sherriff Bryan and his Square Dance Posse, and with Brian as caller, a “posse” of four couples would put on displays at local clubs and fetes, adverts in local papers inviting members of the public to “Rustle up your pards and join the fun... Yippee! It sure is mighty fine!”

On their return from honeymoon in Switzerlan­d, the couple bought an acre of land at South Tehidy, near Camborne, where they built their home, and soon afterwards Brian was appointed director of the nearby bra factory.

To begin with, the factory did well under his leadership, manufactur­ing bras from size 28 to size 46 bust for M&S, Evans Outsize, British Home Stores and Littlewood­s, among others.

By 1959, there were 70 machinists producing 500 dozen bras a week. A year later there were 100 machinists. In 1962 a new purpose-built factory opened, where Sherriff diversifie­d into beachwear and swimwear with the brand names Secret Charm and Malibu, the machinists serving as models in newspaper ads.

But the business was struggling by the mid-1960s, when, after a visit to the bee tent at the Royal Cornwall Show, he and Pat establishe­d South Cornwall Honey Farm, which grew to 400 hives.

In 1968, their lightweigh­t selfsuppor­ting beekeeper’s hood won a competitio­n at the Royal Cornwall Show, and led to the developmen­t of full-length bee suits. The first garment they marketed was called the Commercial, and by 1970 it was being advertised in The British Bee Journal

and Beecraft.

The editor of the Bee Journal

suggested they should exhibit at the National Honey Show at Caxton Hall in London, and by 1978 BJ Sherriff, with its sheriff ’s star logo, was booming, selling products all over the world.

Sherriff became an expert on bees, researchin­g in particular how they respond to colour. While dark colours seemed to make bees more aggressive, he found that pale colours and certain shades of red seemed to have no effect.

Emboldened by his findings, the firm brought out beekeeping suits in a range of colours including the red “salsa” suit, which became a bestseller.

Sherriff was devastated by Pat’s death from an asthma attack in 1994. To distract himself, he enrolled as a volunteer watch keeper for the National Coastwatch

Institutio­n at Bass Point on the Lizard peninsula, eventually completing 584 watches. He had always loved the sea; in the early 1960s, he would deliver bras and bikinis to the Falmouth M&S on his yacht Donhagadhe­e. He also volunteere­d for the RNLI.

A keen traveller from a young age, he went on many trips with Bees for Developmen­t, leading its first beekeeping safari to Tanzania in 1996 and visiting the honey hunters of Nepal. He was also a patron of Bees Abroad.

In 2019 The Bras and the Bees, an account of his life written by Felicity Notley, was published, with a foreword by the BBC presenter Bill Turnbull.

Brian Sherriff is survived by two daughters. The company he founded, BJ Sherriff, is now run by his daughter Angela.

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 ?? ?? Sherriff in later years, above, and below, with his wife Pat, modelling their innovative hoods. Right, an ad for the ‘Bra-kerchief’, which he would whip out of his pocket to enliven dull business meetings
Sherriff in later years, above, and below, with his wife Pat, modelling their innovative hoods. Right, an ad for the ‘Bra-kerchief’, which he would whip out of his pocket to enliven dull business meetings

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