Tony Wade

Do you know the History of the UK Black Hair Industry?

Do you know the History the annual Afro Hair and Beauty Expo and its Origin?

Do you know about Dyke & Dryden Ltd?

Do you know who the late Lincoln "Len" Dyke was?

Do you know who the late Dudley Dryden was?

Do you know who Tony Wade is?

…and why were they called the UK first black millionaires?

Well these gentlemen were classed as the first black millionaires in the UK that started the Black Hair Industry. Of the three partners the only surviving of the trio is Tony Wade.

Background of Dyke & Dryden Ltd and Tony Wade

Dyke & Dryden began by selling the latest Jamaican records. When the tunes became too vulgar for their sensibilities, they diversified into hair and beauty products, with brands such as La India, Island Beauty, Kuss-Kuss perfume and the all-important American Tan tights - the closest a black woman could get to a suitable colour. The pair had begun by selling out of boxes, but as business grew they set up their first shop, on West Green Road, in Tottenham, north London. Before long, business was booming and, while they sold the hair and beauty products downstairs, upstairs they branched out into a travel and shipping business, which also provided advocacy with citizenship issues, passport applications and renewals.

By now another partner, Tony Wade, had joined as marketing manager, and soon the business grew to six shops and warehouses, as Dyke and his associates graduated from importing and distributing to manufacturing black hair products, the first company in Europe to do so. This saw them taking on the mighty north American companies that would later have total control of the British market.

The decision to sell Dyke & Dryden to an American competitor in the 1990s was seen by some as a retrograde step, but by now competition in the multi-billion-pound black hair and beauty industry was fierce (with many Asian and white businesses established in the sector). Perhaps the most enduring legacy of Dyke & Dryden, apart from the plethora of black salons, is the annual Afro Hair and Beauty Expo, which they launched in 1983, although the show, too, was sold off.

Tony Wade leads a very quiet life in rural Jamaica, in stark contrast to the grind of corporate Britain, where he's known as the United Kingdom's first black millionaire.

Tony Wade is now the writer of three books, which, inter alia, look at his invaluable contribution to the development of black businesses in the UK. The story of his achievements is amazing and uplifting, and it all started when he left his beloved Montserrat at age 20, in 1954, to prepare himself to work in public administration.

Len Dyke and Dudley Dryden achieved their business success at a time when there were huge obstacles against black people in Britain. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of their company Dyke and Dryden. Clayton Goodwin reports.

THE BUSINESS success of Len Dyke and Dudley Dryden has been hailed as a benchmark for all subsequent achievements by UK-based West Indian commercial enterprises.

Their remarkable story has been well-documented in the book How They Made A Million: The Dyke & Dryden Story by Tony Wade.

Yet there is much more to their story than just commercial and financial success. It was a company grounded in, and symbolic of, the heart of the community with all its aspirations.

Len Dyke and Dudley Dryden started out providing a range of products and services, many shipped in "from home", for the embryonic UK Jamaican community in the 1960s.

While Dudley sold cosmetics and hair products from a stall at Ridley Road Market, Dalston, east London, Len ran a record distribution company and a travel agency from an office/shop on West Green Lane, Tottenham, North London.

It was hard going and the entrenched interests in those industries were not prepared to yield one inch of the market.

book: How They Made A Million
THEIR STORY: The book How They Made A Million tells the story of Len Dyke (left), Dudley Dryden and Tony Wade

Yet through effort and initiative they made headway. And, as their fame spread, customers came to them from all parts of the United Kingdom and beyond.

The two entrepreneurs were equally committed to community organisations that worked to tackle the lack of opportunities faced by the Windrush generation.


BACK IN THE DAY: Some of the company's products

They were known for their efforts to support groups like the Standing Conference of West Indians, the Association of Jamaicans, and the UK Chamber of Commerce.

The duo were aware of the advantages that good public relations created and with this in mind, they created the Miss Dyke & Dryden beauty contest.

The title was second only to the ground-breaking Miss JOFFA (Jamaican Overseas Families and Friends Association) in a period regarded by many as the golden age of West Indian beauty contests.

The downside of such intense activity was that their business efforts were spread too thinly to be co-ordinated sufficiently to make an impact on the larger commercial scene.

This situation changed following the recruitment of accountant Tony Wade as a third partner with responsibility for marketing.

Wade is credited with the decision to cut out the record business and travel service in order to concentrate on promoting hair and beauty products with which the name Dyke & Dryden has now become synonymous.

The company expanded rapidly and soon opened new branches and warehouses which enabled them to compete successful in the international market.

Dyke & Dryden held their own with the global American companies for several years and when they could not hold back the tide any longer they joined them, selling their interests in a deal which justified the title of their story.

By that time Dyke & Dryden were already a by-word for black and beautiful hair and beauty products. Their promotional enterprise reached its epitome with the 'Afro Hair and Beauty Show', one of the major international exhibitions in a multi-million pound international industry.

From the early days of Dudley Dryden's hands-on selling from a market-stall and Len Dyke's juggling of travel, records and other outlets from a small north London office to their emergence as the country's best-known and most successful black-run business, Dyke & Dryden's progress was marked by self-belief, self-reliance and resourcefulness in overcoming barriers.

Sadly, both men have passed on but Tony Wade retired to Jamaica where he still lives.

Their success has rightly seen them regarded as business legends.