Sheffield man from humble beginnings recalls successful life in memoirs
A working-class Sheffielder who worked his way up to the top of a major accountancy firm and won an MBE has recalled his life in an autobiography.
Barrie Cottingham describes his life and career in Sheffield Forged and Tempered. Royalties from the book will go to St Luke’s Hospice,
Barrie was born in the Park district in October 1933 and his dad Jack worked in Nunnery Colliery but said he had no idea of striving in later life to overcome poverty: “It all seemed to me just normal. I remember as a small child they talked about working class and middle class and saying to my mum, what are we? She said middle class but my dad said no, we’re not, we’re working class. He was a coal miner, he didn’t think in terms of middle class.
“I had good parents and lots of other relatives, with a nice, happy childhood. We lived in a small house and eventually a council house.
"With war breaking out when I was a small child, there was a great deal of patriotism at that point in time, just after Dunkirk. My uncle Walter had come back at Dunkirk.”
In the book, Barrie describes the night of the Sheffield Blitz on December 12, 1940. He was on a cinema outing with his aunts Amy and Connie to the Rex cinema in Intake, which they weren’t able to leave until 4.30am.
Her describes the sky being lit up by the fires in Sheffield and arriving at his grandparents’ house on Essex Road to find it had been bombed out. The same happened to his great aunt’s family, so 11 people lived in his parents’ home on Lord Street for a time.
Barrie said: “I found the Blitz quite exciting, to be honest. I don’t remember ever being afraid of anything. I was fortunate to do well at school.
"I don’t look back with any feeling of ‘I got out of something and feel lucky’. I always had everything I wanted – I think I’d got the sense even then as a child not to want something I couldn’t have. It was a happy period, I was in the Boy Scouts and that sort of thing.
"I always seemed to do quite well – more by luck than judgement! There were no times in my life that were hard times. There were upsetting times, like when my daughter was born with Prader-Willi Syndrome (a genetic condition that causes physical symptoms, learning difficulties and behavioural problems).
"They said she’d die in her teens and my first wife looked after her very well.” Michelle died aged 35, within weeks of Barrie’s mum, Eleanor.
Barrie has a son, Nigel, who lives with his family in Australia. Barrie, who is 87 and lives in Cawthorne, Barnsley with his second wife, Nicola, said that he wrote the book to tell his three grandsons about their English heritage and in the hope that they might want to visit Britain and possibly even work here for a time.
He joined the world of work himself aged 15, when he left Carfield School for a job at Carnall Slater and Co on St James Row to train to become an articled accountant on a scheme where he would receive small salary, rather than having to pay to be articled.
Barrie was called up for national service in the RAF shortly after qualifying as an accountant. Several chapters of the book are devoted to his exploits in the RAF.
He said: “I’d always got a sense of wanting to do something. I went into the RAF and wanted a commission and got that. Then I decided I wanted to see something of the world.
"I went to Africa for three years. I’d always got things ahead that I wanted to do and it always seemed to work out alright. I don’t remember any real hardships.”
After his national service, Barrie decided to pursue another ambition, of living abroad, so he got a job with accountants Cooper Brothers & Co, working in Mombasa, Kenya.
He married Kath, who he’d met while a trainee accountant, in October 1957, just before leaving the RAF, and the young couple moved to Africa in April 1958.
His recollections in the book include playing for various sports teams, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, enjoying the beauty of the country and making lots of friends in the expatriate population.
He stayed with the company on his return to Sheffield and worked there for 38 years in total.
Barrie said: “I’m most proud of having gone into what was initially Cooper Brothers, who were merging under two very able senior partners. It was the dawning of the accountancy profession. The firm was started by the Cooper brothers, who were a Quaker family. They were strongly against oppression and slavery and highly principled.
“Most of the other people who went into the profession in those days were public schoolboys. I was lucky in a sense that I went in initially in Sheffield. I worked for Ray Emmitt, who had been a Coldstream guard, but was also the son of a miner and from a similar background to me.
"I was put into an office with a very able guy and it grew from there.”
Barrie became a partner at the firm aged 30, the youngest person to do so at that time. He took a role on the executive committee aged 40 when one of the senior partners, Henry Benson, retired. Barrie remained in that role until he retired, aged 60. During Barrie’s time there, the firm merged to become Coopers & Lybrand, one of the best-known UK accountancy firms.
In 1998 it merged with Price Waterhouse to become PwC (Pricewaterhouse Coopers).
Always a keen sportsman and sports fan, Barrie had supported the Blades since first being taken to Bramall Lane as a boy of six or seven by his father, and remains a season ticket-holder. As a shareholder, he used his professional skills when there was controversy surrounding the takeover of the club from then chairman Reg Brearley in 1996.
He also has links to Sheffield Wednesday through his friend, former Owls chairman Matt Sheppard, and in 1988 was lucky enough to be invited to a club dinner to honour a football legend, England, Stoke and Blackpool star Sir Stanley Matthews.
Barrie took along a copy of Stanley’s book Feet First, given to him as a school prize in 1948, for him to autograph. The sporting hero revealed that the book’s distributor had gone bust and he was never properly paid for it.
He was also a guest at the FA Cup semi-final in April 1989 and watched in horror as the Hillsborough disaster unfolded before him. He wrote: “It was like watching a horror film, but with the knowledge that everything we were witnessing was real.” He said he was unable to set foot in a football ground for more than a year afterwards.
On retirement, Barrie found himself in demand as a non-executive director of several firms, which brought him into contact with Norman Adsetts, when he joined his firm, Sheffield Insulations Group (later SIG). He later became deputy chairman when Norman needed support as he became more involved with Sheffield Development Corporation and other projects that later won him a knighthood for services to the community in Sheffield.
Barrie served on a committee to raise money to support the British Olympic squad in the 2004 Athens Olympics.
In December 2017 Barrie was awarded an MBE for his long-term support for the Boys and Girls Clubs of South Yorkshire, of which he is president.
Sheffield Forged and Tempered, from Grosvenor House Publishing, is now available on Amazon and through most booksellers.