If the Cadbury family are forever associated with Quaker rectitude and corporate rigour, Peter Cadbury, who has died 88, did his best to differ. Euphemistically described by his admirers as a flamboyant buccaneer, he was blunt to the point of rudeness, picking quarrels throughout his life with policemen, politicians, neighbours and motorists who fell foul of his splendid cars.
Some typed him as a brave entrepreneur and the last of the television swashbucklers, a baron in the style of Lew Grade or the Bernsteins of Granada, though he lacked both their clout and creative touch. For others he typified the worst of old British management style, unable or unwilling to distinguish between his own and the company's interests, and paying little attention to other directors.
He will be remembered for Westward Television, the first commercial station for Devon and Cornwall, which he created and ran from 1960 to 1980. It made a genuine connection with its region, and was consistently regarded as the friendliest, if sometimes the most amateurish - and one of the smallest - of the ITV stations. In spite of a management style expressed to one as "If, at first, you don't succeed, you are fired," he was regarded as a folk hero by many staff. Though he ran the business mainly from London, more than 400 of the staff turned up at a dinner in his honour in 2001, and others regularly visited after he suffered a major stroke two years ago.
Born in Great Yarmouth, Cadbury was the son of Sir Egbert Cadbury and a grandson of George Cadbury, founder of the chocolate business. His father was a Royal Flying Corps hero, credited with shooting down two Zeppelins, who later became managing director of the family business. Educated at Leighton Park school and Trinity College, Cambridge, Peter was a pilot in his teens, joined the Fleet Air Arm in 1940 after university and, in 1942, became a test pilot, working on the first British jet fighter, the Gloster Meteor.
After failing to get into parliament in 1945 as an unlikely Liberal - he announced in his address, "If you don't like any of [my views] I can change them because I only learnt them yesterday" - he spent eight years at the bar. This included a spell as an assistant prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials, where his godfather Norman Birkett was one of the judges.
His business career began in 1954 when he borrowed £75,000 from his father to buy the Keith Prowse ticket agency. Block bookings by Prowse could determine success or failure in the West End theatre, and when Cadbury declared he would only support shows that his mother would like, John Osborne raged that plays should depend on "catching the fancy of a tasteless man's tasteless mother". He floated the business in 1960 for £1.5m, a rapid profit, remaining chairman until 1971 in spite of a board rebellion about his autocratic style in 1964.
Attracted by the profits of commercial television, in 1957 Cadbury became a director of Tyne Tees and targeted what the Daily Express called "the last big plum", the west country franchise. He described himself as driving down to Plymouth with only a copy of Who's Who, but he assembled a formidable consortium to bid for the franchise, including the TUC, lord lieutenants and Daphne du Maurier.
Westward Television launched on April 29 1961. Extravagant spending on local promotion, and an overrun on purpose-built studios, combined with a new advertising levy to bring an early crisis and lay-offs. Cadbury fumed publicly against the levy and the encroachment of neighbouring franchises, and demanded the expansion of the region to take in Bristol. A board rebellion in 1970 voted him out but he was back eight days later, thanks to his control of the majority of voting shares.
Speeding brought regular confrontations with the police, and he was accused of wasting police time after complaining about corruption on a local council. It did not help that his complaints were penned on Westward notepaper. Despairing of local flights, he formed Air Westward, a wholly owned subsidiary in 1977, and its failure did nothing to assuage concerns at the IBA.
By 1979 franchise renewal looked difficult. So Cadbury appointed Lord Harris, recently a Labour minister at the Home Office, which regulated broadcasting, as a director. The tactic backfired as Harris sniffed the political wind and told his boss at a board meeting that with his behaviour, they did not stand "a snowball's chance in hell" of renewal. Harris persuaded the board to vote Cadbury off, but the staff petitioned for his reinstatement.
Cadbury reluctantly decided not to force the issue. But when the franchise was refused, he sent Harris a telegram asking what it was like "to be a snowball in hell". He remained bitter about his departure and had little success with other business ventures. He failed in attempts to buy MG Cars and the Playboy Club.
In 1994, after a burglary from his garden shed, he resigned from the Conservative party, complaining it was doing too little to combat crime, and announced that he was sleeping with a shotgun under his pillow. But it did not prevent a £200,000 daytime burglary four years later. Latterly, he had presented CCTV cameras to local police and schools.
Cadbury was married three times: to Benedicta Bruce from 1947 to 1968; to Jennifer Morgan-Jones (later better known as the business executive Jennifer d'Abo), from 1970 to 1976; and to Jane Mead in 1976. The first two marriages ended in divorce. He is survived by his wife and five children.
· Peter Egbert Cadbury, businessman, born February 6 1918; died April 17 2006