The Essential Electric Light Orchestra: The Not So Perfect Twenty

In celebration of Jeff Lynne and ELO: a super sized Not So Perfect Ten

What a difference three years makes. Especially if your name is Jeff Lynne (and you realise how popular you are with your audience after a lengthy hiatus). In the last three weeks I have become the proud owner of his latest work, Alone In The Universe. A somewhat ironic title given NASA’s news of life on other planets, and possible Earth like bodies in the cosmos.

In the last two months we have had a backlog of Not So Perfect Tens, hence this double helping. With my recent acquisition, and Jeff Lynne’s birthday being today, a chance to make ELO this month’s subject. Continue reading “The Essential Electric Light Orchestra: The Not So Perfect Twenty”

2015, In the Company of Buses

East of the M60‘s review of the year from a public transport angle

Enviro200 MCT Travel MX62 GYC, Oldham Bus Station
2015 was a good year for third sector operators, particularly MCT Travel who picked up a number of TfGM contracts from the likes of FirstGroup and Stagecoach. Seen here is MX62 GYC, an Enviro200 seen on the 410 Oldham Circular, a tender gain from First Greater Manchester.

Only one word could sum up the state of Greater Manchester’s transport system over 2015: “holes”. For the second part of 2015, the sinkhole which has emerged on Mancunian Way, set to filled by Spring of 2016. For the first half, holes in service provision thanks to local government spending cuts. Continue reading “2015, In the Company of Buses”

Have Yourself a Very Merry Christmas from East of the M60

A Christmas Card for all our readers

EM60ChristmasCard2015

Well, we only have eight days left of 2015 to enjoy. You know what that means: enjoy the last eight days. Drink sensibly and happy feasting. If you can find anything on the ol’ telebox this Yuletide, good luck to you! Continue reading “Have Yourself a Very Merry Christmas from East of the M60”

The Lost Precinct Advent Calendar – #24: Woolworths

A Cracking Christmas, 1981 style

We have come to the end of our Lost Precinct Advent Calendar and, as you would expect, we have saved the best clip to the last. This time, from the variety store of all variety stores, with a bit of inspiration from ABBA and a star studded line up.

The Ad of Christmas Past

Long before Sainsburys and John Lewis captivated audiences with their big budget adverts (with vaguely moralistic leanings), you could tell Christmas had begun as soon as you saw the Woolworths advert. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, they went to town before Christmas, creating star-studded spectaculars. At two minutes long, they took up an entire (as per IBA regulations at the time) commercial break.

For 1981, they repeated the Super Trouper style tune but tweaked it a little to mention “Crack Down Prices” (their 1981 campaign of price cuts). The advertisement is more revue than review of the latest offerings. We see Bill Oddie, Anita Harris and a cast of other showcasing Fisher Price toys, the Chevron cassettes back catalogue, and super sized Quality Street.

How could one not resist the York Music Centre with twin tape decks at £139.95, or the Bontempi B226 Electronic Organ for £199.95? At today’s prices, £536.98 and £767.19 (you can get some serious kit for that amount in 2015). The Noel Pine Christmas tree at £25.99 is equivalent to £99.72 these days. Ouch, ouch and ouch some more! White Stores offers a 7′ tree for £99.99. The Yamaha Moxf6 synthesizer is £721.68 from Woodbrass.com – the remainder of the Bomtempi’s 2015 equivalent price could go on sheet music.

The Shop of Christmas Past

Owing to the amount of affection that F.W. Woolworth’s stores had with British shoppers, we are happy to find how well documented its history is, via the excellent Woolworths Museum website. The Woolworth Corporation was an American chain founded by Frank Winfield Woolworth as a split price retailer. Their first UK store opened in Liverpool with its fourth branch being Manchester’s, facing Piccadilly Gardens. With their successful formula working on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean came a successful Australian arm.

Throughout the 1930s, they were known for their palatial stores as well as the smaller local branches. One notable example is the former Blackpool store next to The Tower Ballroom. Before the 1960s, there was only two prices: threepence or sixpence. Come the 1950s, Woolworth’s transition to self-service ushered a new age of bigger stores in major towns and cities. A decade later came their first foray into out-of-town shopping, by means of the Woolco department stores.

In 1982, following a turbulent period in the late 1970s (which included the 1979 fire of the Piccadilly branch), The Woolworth Corporation’s UK stores were sold to their management. Headed by Geoffrey Mulcahy, there was a change of fortunes for the chain. As Paternoster Investments – later Kingfisher plc – their estate included the popular B&Q supercentres. Comet and Superdrug would form part of their formidable force in British retailing.

Whereas the late 1980s ended on a high, their good fortune continued till the new millennium. After failing to buy ASDA in 1999 (Walmart made a bid later in the same year), more restructuring took place with the Woolworths stores under their own steam. Comet was sold to Kesa; Superdrug was sold to Hutchinson Whampoa, owners of the Three mobile phone network.

On the 04 January 2009, Woolworths was no more. Issues with finance dominated the chains woes the previous year, with some of its other components being sold off. The Chad Valley toy brand, reintroduced in 1986, was sold to Home Retail Group, Argos’ owners. Even the legendary pick and mix was outsourced to Candy King in the company’s twilight years as a bricks and mortar retailer.

For many people, Woolworth’s stores were associated with pick and mix confectionery. By the 1980s, cut price audio and video cassettes, the Ladybird clothing range and its Scandecor poster stand next to the record bar. Before Google, it solved many a Christmas present issue. It was classless. For many small towns, the biggest store other than a Co-op department store.

Today, even the online version of Woolworths (resurrected a year after the stores closed) has left cyberspace. The page now redirects to Very.co.uk. The British High Street is all the poorer without their stores, though Wilko’s recent expansion has seen the Worksop based retailer assume Woolies’ role. The single price tradition is pretty much alive and well in the Pound Shops.

A Merry Christmas to you all!

We hope you have enjoyed this year’s Advent Calendar, and tour ’round the lost shops of our youth. East of the M60 wishes you all a Merry Christmas and a peaceful New Year. We hope you get what you want for Christmas Day.

S.V., 24 December 2015.

From Horwich to Hyde Road: Stagecoach Manchester’s New Commercial Director

Ex-Blue Bus employee public face of major operator

Ben Jarvis
A New Journey: Ben Jarvis, new Commercial Director for Stagecoach in Manchester and Wigan seen at the bus bay in Belle Vue, Manchester. Photograph courtesy of Tangerine PR Limited, 2015.

Being the public face of one of Britain’s leading bus operators can be a thankless task. Sometimes they are taken to task if the 192’s late for the thirtieth time. Or they could help with more light-hearted activities like charitable efforts or the arrival of new buses. Taking on this role is Ben Jarvis, Stagecoach Manchester’s new commercial director.

Ben, whose work will cover the Company’s operations across Greater Manchester, has more than 16 years of experience in the bus industry. He started out as a part-time employee for his family’s business, Blue Bus in Horwich. Continue reading “From Horwich to Hyde Road: Stagecoach Manchester’s New Commercial Director”

The Lost Precinct Advent Calendar – #23: Queensway

Everyone’s a winner (though ultimately some won more than others)

So, we go to our penultimate door within The Lost Precinct Advent Calendar. We hope you have enjoyed the journey so far and that it has got you talking to your younger relatives about forgotten foodmarkets or defunct discounters.

The Ad of Christmas Past

Each Christmas Day and Boxing Day, there seemed to have been an arms race between furniture and carpet discounters on ITV. Along with Queensway, there would be MFI’s ad; one for Allied Carpets; sometimes Wades would chip in. Depending on where you lived, ELS or any of the smaller regional chains. It was either them or the holiday adverts.

Continue reading “The Lost Precinct Advent Calendar – #23: Queensway”

The Lost Precinct Advent Calendar – #22: C&A

Clemens and August, arr. Cook and Greenaway

The Ad of Christmas Past

Once upon a time, long before Primark opened its first department stores in England, Scotland and Wales, there was one retailer that offered affordable smart and casual clothing. C&A – Clemens and August to use its full name – was a mainstay of many UK High Street. Continue reading “The Lost Precinct Advent Calendar – #22: C&A”

The Lost Precinct Advent Calendar – #21: Zodiac Toys

The place to go-go, back in 1985

The Ad of Christmas Past

Oh the colour, how much colour in this advert? A shame this was done in the pre-digital era, coming off a fuzzy VHS cassette. At first, we see seven children jumping out of jack-in-a-boxes with one letter spelling the name of the toy store. As well as looking like the after-effects of a young S.V. after too many Rainbow Drops, the tableau screams one thing: pester power. Continue reading “The Lost Precinct Advent Calendar – #21: Zodiac Toys”

The Lost Precinct Advent Calendar – #20 Bejam

When a plea for Frozen stuff meant a bag of peas 

The Ad of Christmas Past

With the rise of the chest freezer and deep freeze fridge freezers, the early 1970s saw a rise in popularity for frozen food. Freezer Centres would form part of many a High Street. As well as regional chains, there was national players like Iceland, Cordon Bleu Freezer Centres and Square Meals. Another significant player was Bejam.
Continue reading “The Lost Precinct Advent Calendar – #20 Bejam”

The Lost Precinct Advent Calendar – #19 Gateway Superstores

“Full of Fresh Ideas” – for 1987 

The Ad of Christmas Past

Till the early 1980s, there was a seemingly unwritten rule that ensured all supermarket chain adverts shouted about its prices. TESCO’s Checkout campaigns in 1977 and 1982 perpetuated this though with less brash tones. By the mid-1980s, chains turned their guns towards the experience of shopping in a TESCO, ASDA, Safeway, or Fine Fare. Continue reading “The Lost Precinct Advent Calendar – #19 Gateway Superstores”