David Gold, entrepreneur who made his fortune in soft porn and revived the fortunes of Birmingham City and West Ham United – obituary


Telegraph Obituaries

Thu, 5 January 2023 at 6:19 pm GMT

David Gold at Wembley in 2012 following West Ham's victory against Blackpool in the Championship play-off final - Nick Potts/PA
David Gold at Wembley in 2012 following West Ham’s victory against Blackpool in the Championship play-off final – Nick Potts/PA

David Gold, who has died aged 86, was a publisher of top-shelf magazines and owner of Ann Summers lingerie boutiques who was also joint chairman of Birmingham City FC and later West Ham United.

David Gold and his brother Ralph partnered with another soft-porn entrepreneur, David Sullivan, in a range of raunchy but lucrative publishing ventures – including the Sunday Sport newspaper – and a succession of football club investments.

A first minority stake in West Ham proved unsatisfactory when they fell out with the controlling shareholders. But in 1993 they were able to buy the bankrupt Birmingham City club out of administration – and install Sullivan’s protegée, the then 23-year-old Karren (now Baroness) Brady as managing director. The club sank to the Second Division but recovered, and joined the Premier League for four seasons from 2002.

The Golds and Sullivan sold their interests in Birmingham in 2009 and moved on the following year to acquire (from Icelandic owners brought low by the 2008 financial crisis) control of West Ham – the club where David Gold himself had once played as a promising junior.

Gold at Birmingham City with the club's chief executive Karren Brady, now Baroness Brady - Nick Potts/PA
Gold at Birmingham City with the club’s chief executive Karren Brady, now Baroness Brady – Nick Potts/PA

He and Sullivan became joint chairmen of the club (with Brady as their vice chairman), as they had been at Birmingham, and pumped in cash, in the form of loans, to buy new players. The new owners also oversaw a move in 2016 to the former Olympic Stadium at Stratford from the Boleyn Ground, also known as Upton Park, where West Ham had played since 1904 but whose capacity was too small for a top club.

The move, the appointment in 2019 of David Moyes as manager to succeed Manuel Pellegrini, and the team’s subsequent lacklustre performance, all added to the frustration of diehard fans – who hurled abuse at the chairmen’s box to such an extent that the police were reported to have an escape plan for them in case protest turned violent.

David Gold was born in Stepney, east London, on September 9 1936. For David, his younger brother Ralph and their little sister Marie, their father Godfrey, who was Jewish, was a fleeting figure – a travelling salesman, inveterate womaniser and petty criminal, often absent and sometimes in prison, including a stretch in Dartmoor.

Their long-suffering mother Rose, a Gentile from a Doncaster family, brought them up as best she could in a dank house in Upton Park, round the corner from the Boleyn Ground. David suffered tuberculosis, failed his 11-plus and finished his education at Burke secondary modern school in Plaistow, where at last he found “something I was actually good at”: football.

Gold, right, with, l-r, David Sullivan; the Mayor of London. Boris Johnson; West Ham's chief executive, Karren Brady; and the Mayor of Newham, Sir Robin Wales, at the announcement that the Hammers were to become tenants of the Olympic stadium - Dominic Lipinski/PA
Gold, right, with, l-r, David Sullivan; the Mayor of London. Boris Johnson; West Ham’s chief executive, Karren Brady; and the Mayor of Newham, Sir Robin Wales, at the announcement that the Hammers were to become tenants of the Olympic stadium – Dominic Lipinski/PA

He played for West Ham Boys and was picked for Essex and London boys teams. But when he was offered papers to sign as an apprentice at West Ham, his father refused to countersign them.

David Gold’s first business venture, in the late 1950s, was a kiosk selling science fiction books at Charing Cross. He went on to buy the freeholds of four empty shops, later selling two of them for a seven-figure profit, and to shift into retailing what he considered to be “instructional and harmless” soft porn. He also discovered that better profits could be made by staying open late and at weekends, despite regular magistrates’ fines for breaches of Sunday trading law.

He and Ralph, with whom he worked side by side throughout his business career, had a chain of 10 shops by the time they received an offer in 1972 from David Sullivan to merge their competing publishing and distribution interests. On the magazine side, their joint venture, Gold Star Publications, became home to titles such as Rustler, Raider and the best-selling Whitehouse, cheekily named after the anti-smut campaigner Mary Whitehouse.

It was also in 1972 that the Golds found themselves in the Old Bailey dock on obscenity charges for publishing books called Brutus (about a misbehaving games master at the Rome Coliseum), Lesbian Lovers and A Woman’s Look at Oral Love, those last two penned by Ralph’s former secretary. Despite severe moral condemnation from Judge King-Hamilton, the jury found them not guilty.

Shortly after the acquittal, the Golds spotted the opportunity to buy the loss-making Ann Summers outlets founded by the playboy “Dandy Kim” Waterfield, selling skimpy lingerie and sex toys. They expanded the chain and developed the brand in the 1980s through the Party Plan concept introduced by David’s daughter Jacqueline Gold, in which women-only home parties offered discreet but titillating ways of capturing new customers. Eventually there were 4,000 such parties every week across the UK.

Gold in 2016 at the Boleyn Ground, Upton Park, for West Ham's FA Cup victory against Manchester United, the 2,398th and final game played at the stadium - Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images
Gold in 2016 at the Boleyn Ground, Upton Park, for West Ham’s FA Cup victory against Manchester United, the 2,398th and final game played at the stadium – Catherine Ivill – AMA/Getty Images

Meanwhile, the brothers also partnered with David Sullivan in the 1986 launch of the saucy Sunday Sport newspaper and a suite of other Sport titles. As popular tastes changed, however, sales declined – and in the mid-2000s, the family, by then said to be worth upwards of £500 million, sold all their publishing interests to focus on the Ann Summers business as well as their property and football interests.

But David Gold never regretted the origins of his good fortune: “Girly mags are wonderful,” he observed. “Think of the joy they’ve brought to millions.”

Until 2006 they also owned an aviation charter business, Gold Air – David Gold himself being an experienced fixed-wing and helicopter pilot. He and Sullivan also owned racehorses together.

David Gold married, in 1959, his first girlfriend, Beryl Hunt. “It was a disaster for both of us, almost from the very start,” he wrote, though their two daughters, Jacqueline and Vanessa, were “a great joy” to him. Marital unhappiness came to a head on a day when, after discovering that their father had cheated the brothers over a share transaction, David returned home early, walked into his study, and “stood looking out of the window down on to the swimming pool, and there in the water was my wife and my best friend, John, having sex”.

Divorced from Beryl in 1972, Gold found happiness in later life with Lesley Manning, who survives him with Jacqueline and Vanessa, respectively chief executive and managing director of Ann Summers and its sister company Knickerbox.

David Gold, born September 9 1936, died January 4 2023

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