22 July 2011
Oliver Holmes, one of the best known personalities in the world of collectable teddy bears, has died recently after a short illness. The chairman of Merrythought – the UK’s longest surviving teddy bear manufacturer – Oliver steered the company, co-founded in 1930 by his grandfather, through good times and bad. ...
Oliver Holmes, one of the best known personalities in the world of collectable teddy bears, has died recently after a short illness. The chairman of Merrythought – the UK’s longest surviving teddy bear manufacturer – Oliver steered the company, co-founded in 1930 by his grandfather, through good times and bad. He guided it through a particularly difficult period in November 2006 when Merrythought went into liquidation and was at the helm again when it reopened in a reduced capacity in March 2007.
Oliver joined Merrythought in 1972 when he was aged 22, working alongside his father, Trayton Holmes, who had been running the company since 1949. When ill health forced his father to step down, Oliver took over, taking Merrythought through a turbulent era as radical changes in the teddy bear and soft toy market necessitated a complete rethink in production strategy. He was at the forefront of the boom in collectable, limited edition teddy bears, establishing lucrative markets in the USA and Japan as well as on the home front.
The establishment of an International Collectors’ Club in 1995 brought the firm legions of new collectors and the lavish hospitality of the Club’s Annual Open Day, presided over with genial bonhomie by Oliver, soon became legendary.
Although the economic downturn of the last few years created great difficulty for Merrythought, there are indications that the restructuring of the company has paid off. The news that Merrythought had won the contract to make the official teddy bears for the London 2012 Olympic Games came just a couple of months before Oliver’s death. At the time he described the contract as a ‘significant milestone’.
Those who knew him agree that Oliver was a charismatic, larger than life character, frequently charming but rarely predictable. An adventurer at heart, he piloted hot air balloons and in 2007 took part in the centenary re-run of the Peking-to-Paris motor car rally. He will be missed not just by his family, friends and employees but by many in the wider community of the teddy bear world.