DYKE & DRYDEN – KEEPING THE LEGACY ALIVE

Reviewed by Clayton Goodwin with help from Rudi Page

The afternoon of Saturday 20th June 2015 was sunny and warm. A good-sized crowd had gathered at the Bourne Methodist Church at Southgate, North London to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of Dyke & Dryden Ltd, the foremost UK West Indian business of its generation – the pioneer generation. My wife and myself were seated with publisher Arif Ali in the body of the congregation, noting and acknowledging acquaintances whom we had not seen for many years. The early tributes were paid from the rostrum, and then there was a hiatus as it became obvious that the main speaker had been delayed. I am not sure exactly what happened next, or how it happened, but I found myself on stage, in front of the microphone, and, as a white man, not noted for my coiffeur or pulchritude, expected to address a West Indian / African attendance on black hair and beauty.

Maybe that subject was a little incongruous, but I did know Len Dyke and Dudley Dryden, rather well. The third partner, Tony Wade, the only one still with us, was present as guest of honour. Ah, those late afternoons and evenings chatting with Mr Dyke in their office on West Green Road in Tottenham. In those days Mr Dryden was concerned mainly with managing the sales outlet at Ridley Road market, Hackney. The company, which was founded in May 1965, specialised then in selling records and cosmetics. Its founding was the third in a hat-trick of events which shaped the West Indian impact in the United Kingdom, following the successful and highly popular cricket team under Frank Worrell’s captaincy (1963) and the dynamic appeal of singer Millie Small with her record My Boy Lollipop (1964).

I dare say Len and myself had a few words to say about cricket as well as the record business. We had met initially in the regular monthly meetings of the Standing Conference of West Indians at the West Indian Students Centre, Collingham Gardens, Earls Court, which was the driving-force in the community’s social and political activity. The impressive list of regular speakers included, in addition to well-known West Indians, national/international names such as John Hulme, the future Nobel Peace laureate for his work in Northern Ireland, who addressed the assembly on social credit. Towards the end of the decade Dyke & Dryden’s own social promotions shaped the “must-attend” calendar,

As well as the formal dinner-dance occasions at the Bloomsbury Crest Hotel in Central London, the company reached out to the population with their annual beauty contest, Miss Dyke & Dryden, at the Hornsey Town Hall. Although the winners included Beverley Keen, my wife’s cousin, our sharpest memory of these evenings is the near-debut public appearance “down the bill” of Labri Siffre, who went on to become an international star of considerable acclaim. He was introduced and followed on stage by Jackie (Wilfred) Edwards, Jamaica’s greatest ballad singer. In spite of this success Dyke & Dryden Ltd, under the guidance of credit controller Tony Wade, who joined the company in 1968, was turning away from music and records – the section was closed in 1973 – towards an exclusive hair and beauty enterprise on which their subsequent high reputation is based.

We intend to return in a future issue to the awards and honours of the  greatest years of the 1980s and beyond. However, it would be appropriate here to draw attention to the creation of the Afro Hair & Beauty, the marketing arm of the enterprise, in 1983, and the sale of the company’s shares to Soft Sheen of the USA in 1987 and their purchase back by Tony Wade eight years. In the course of its expansion Dyke & Dryden became the first UK-based business to “make a million”, as the book published on their achievements proclaims, and were on the way to recognition by a Black Plaque attached to their former premises on West Green Road.

That the memory of Dyke & Dryden still burns brightly owes much to the Keep The Legacy Alive initiative of Rudi Page, the former sales manager, and his current business partner Derek Clement. Whether it was through the record sales and live public promotions of the early years, the later more high-profile exhibitions and demonstrations, or involvement in the West Indian heritage community’s social and political development, Dyke & Dryden Ltd, and the individuals beyond that name, touched the lives of a lot of people. Keep The Legacy Alive …. it cannot be forgotten.

Note:  Caribcommx thanks Mr Rudi Page for his help in the preparation of this article.  

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