A WORLD famous businessman who started one of the globe’s biggest fast food chains from his parents’ garage in Reading has died aged 78.

Arthur Withers, who founded Woodley-based Southern Fried Chicken in 1973 after experimenting with recipes at his family home at 153 Caversham Road, died on Tuesday, December 17. Mr Withers, who lived in Emmer Green, was evacuated to a chicken farm in Norfolk during the war and first moved to Reading from the east end of London in 1960 when he got a job at Barbecue King in Richfield Avenue. He then settled into a new home in Woodley with his wife Margaret in 1962.

But it was during a trip to Greenville, Carolina, that Mr Withers first tasted American fried chicken, an experience which inspired him to set up his own fast food company. Working from the family garage, Mr Withers got stuck into the messy business of perfecting his recipe - even being made to undress before being let back into the house because he was covered in flour. But after months of hard work he hit on a winning taste, and put the finishing touches to the spice mix and cooking technique which is still used today.

In 1980 Southern Fried Chicken moved to a new headquarters in Woodley’s Headley Road East where the company, which has more than 800 stores in 70 countries worldwide, is still based.

Mr Withers’ son Andrew, who is the current Southern Fried Chicken boss, said: “Arthur was a great man, striving for excellence and perfection in everything he did. He also knew that the most important thing in business and life is people, making time to get to know and deal with all his customers personally, and making time for anyone who needed it. We will all remember him fondly for his happy nature, his passion for life, and for his wonderful sense of humour.”

Mr Withers is survived by his wife Margaret, son Andrew, daughters Lynda and Julie and seven grandchildren.

*The funeral will take place at Caversham Heights Methodist Church, Highmoor Road, at noon on Tuesday, January 7. The family has set up a memorial page for the Stroke Association - visit www.memorygiving.com/arthurwithers