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David Queen, products wizard who transformed shopping

Tireless fundraiser relished campaigning for the Labour Party

06 February, 2018 — By Dan Carrier

David Queen’s eye for products shaped consumers’ tastes for 30 years

WHEN David Queen, who has died aged 69, wanted to watch Casablanca in the comfort of his home, his actions helped change the way people in the UK watch films.

He did not like the Betamax system that was then being offered to customers in Britain, but VHS was prohibitively expensive. David knew, as a product buyer for Sainsbury’s, that if he could strike the right deal he could bring the price down.

He did so and kick-started a revolution in how people watched – and recorded – TV shows and films. It was one of the many ways his eye for products shaped consumers’ tastes in the UK over the past 30 years. David was born in Glasgow in 1948.

His father, George, was a horse-racing ‘numbers’ man. His mother Margaret – a champion bridge player – was an insurance agent in the Gorbals area. The family moved to Nottingham when David was 11 months old.

He passed the 11-plus exam and went on to Westbridgeford Grammar School, where he excelled as a sprinter and rugby player, and earned a place at Southampton University to study history, politics and sociology. David became involved with the students’ union.

As an accomplished DJ, he booked the likes of the Rolling Stones and John Peel. A big fan of Bob Dylan, later in life he developed a love of Beethoven. After graduating, he worked for Boots, where he would excel. He was once handled a knife that no one wanted to buy, so David rebranded it as the “cheddar beheader”. It went on to sell millions.

He was head-hunted by Sainsbury’s to work in its non-food buying department, where he made a huge impact. From creating an in-house publishing firm to introducing new products ranging from petrol to Halloween outfits, his work revolutionised how people did their shopping in the UK.

He understood the responsibility the supermarket had to its suppliers. Unlike other large firms, he insisted suppliers be paid on time for their goods. He saw it as vital for the UK’s smaller manufacturers not to be bullied by larger firms. Coming from a family tradition of left-wing Clydesiders, he relished campaigning for the Labour Party.

He served as Hampstead and Highgate MP Glenda Jackson’s election agent and was secretary of Hampstead and Kilburn branch and chairman of Highgate branch. Another area of interest was education.

A governor at Acland Burghley for many years, he also sat on the governing bodies at William Ellis and New End. He was a tireless fundraiser who helped shape policies such as admissions and school dinners. Another cause that benefited from David’s passion and experience was saving pubs from redevelopers: he helped fight to keep his local, the Dartmouth Arms in York Rise, open.

He took his beliefs to work: as one of the biggest buyers from the company Philips, he was once asked to a reception at Tower Bridge, which had recently been illuminated by Philips lightbulbs. The PR people told him excitedly he would get to meet the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. David refused the invitation, and told Philips instead it should hire a boat, lay on a party, and invite staff from the bridge to join them. David donated his body to medical science.

A memorial event is planned for February 18. For more details, contact his son, Sam, at

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