One of the architects of modern convenience trading in the UK, John Irish CBE, has died at the age of 84.

While at Spar in the 1970s and 1980s, Irish pioneered the ‘8 till late’ concept and urged independent retailers to adopt longer opening hours as a way of competing with the growing challenge of multiple supermarkets.

He met with considerable opposition at first – at the time, most Spar members closed for lunch and for a half day on Saturday – but by the start of the 1980s the idea was taking hold and Irish formally registered ‘8 till late’ as a company name. In 1981, Kent Stores in Preston became the first ‘8 till late’ Spar store, and the model for convenience outlets trading long hours ever afterwards.

Originally an army officer, Irish joined Marks & Spencer in 1954 before joining Spar as retail director in 1971. He took over as managing director in 1981, and was awarded a CBE in 1989.

Martin Agnew, Spar UK Chairman and md of Henderson Group said: “I always found John to be good company, entertaining, challenging and determined – he will of course be remembered for his tub-thumping, barnstorming presentations on stage and keen sense of the theatrical! He undoubtedly changed the face of UK retailing and as such his vision and far-sightedness deserves Spar’s deepest gratitude.”

Irish is survived by his long term partner, Natasha, and his six children. Funeral arrangements are yet to be announced.