The Lost Precinct Advent Calendar – #9 MFI

It’s Boxing Day, and I’ve built a shelf…! 

The Ad of Christmas Past

Throughout the 1980s, MFI’s advertisements were as much a fixture of Christmas telly as James Bond films. During that decade, the man behind the MFI voice was, for most part then Radio One DJ Tommy Vance. The advert we have in our Advent Calendar window dates from 1978.

Unlike the fast speaking approach of Mr Vance and ‘in your face’ sans serif text in the post-Thatcher era, there is emphasis on its lorries. Don’t they look quaint compared with the more aggressive ads in later years?

Though the adverts would have changed course, they would still be flogging the Nicole four drawer chest for £16.95 for another six years. In the background is the MFI signature tune which sounds like an attempt at playing Electric Light Orchestra’s I’m Alive on the Elgam Snoopy organ. (As used on The Fall’s early recordings). Not to the mention the “doo doo doos” redolent of Sweets For My Sweet by The Searchers or Max Harris’ signature tune to Mind Your Language.

The Shop of Christmas Past

Long before IKEA made its UK debut in Warrington (1987), the UK’s love/hate relationship with flat pack furniture probably began in 1964. At around the time, sixties households’ answer to Nick Knowles was Barry Bucknell. DIY became a popular past time and Mullard Furniture Industries were among the first to cash in. Founded in 1964, they adopted the warehouse format of shopping on edge-of-town locations in 1971.

In 1985, they were the first occupant of Merry Hill Shopping Centre in Dudley. By 1989, they opened their first Tameside store on the old part of Snipe Retail Park, Ashton-under-Lyne. A trip to MFI involved being seduced by the displays of furniture, the Hygena and Schreiber units, and some of the expensive stuff we could never get hold of. By the late 1980s, they introduced a Pick and Pack section, where you could just get hold of flat pack furniture in a jiffy and take it to your car.

By the noughties, MFI’s reign wouldn’t last. Firstly, the rise of IKEA; also competition from Argos, Homebase and B&Q. The internet, superstore chains, and poor customer service saw its demise in 2008. Today, the Hygena and Schreiber names are owned by Home Retail Group – Argos’ and Homebase’s parent company. Ironically, Argos Extra occupies the former Ashton branch of MFI with Dunelm Mill its neighbours (in the former Pick and Pack unit).

S.V., 09 December 2015.

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