The Lost Precinct Advent Calendar – #12: Rumbelows

Toys for Big Girls and Boys

For the halfway point of our Advent Calendar, we now focus on toys for older children.

The Ad of Christmas Past

Rumbelows’ 1983 advertisement waxed lyrical over the latest washing machines and video recorders. Our animated couple gazes at the Hotpoint 95450 washing machine marked down from £299.99 to £269.99. In 1983, this was quite a fair amount (the equivalent to £852.45 in today’s money). The Beko WM74165W goes for that price today and offers A+++ energy efficiency.

Today, £852.45 buys you a Samsung WF12F9E6P4W washing machine. At £838.94 from one website, with free delivery, there is £13.51 change. Enough to buy some decent washing powder. As for the Ferguson Teletext stereo receiver at £499.99, the equivalent to £1,578.64 in today’s money. Today, that can buy you a Samsung curved 65″ flatscreen television. Which is probably lighter than the Ferguson seen in the advert.

The Shop of Christmas Past

Before 1995, Rumbelows stores were a common part of any UK High Street. They became a national player following mergers and acquisitions. Before 1969, there was Sidney Rumbelow’s shops in Essex and Hertfordshire. In the North West of England, there was Fred Dawes, Strothers and NEMS. NEMS was owned by Brian Epstein who many remember as The Beatles‘ manager. 1969 would see Fred Dawes sold to Thorn Electrical Industries with their rentals business transferring to Radio Rentals.

From 1971, all the separate companies would be acquired and adopt the Rumbelows name. With the main focus of their business gone, Rumbelows would become an electrical retailer. Instead of rented televisions and videos, washing machines and, later, home computers would feature. From 1991 to 1993, they sponsored the Football League Cup competition succeeding Littlewoods.

In 1995, the chain was no more. Some shops became branches of Radio Rentals (with Ashton-under-Lyne’s branch being one; the previous Radio Rentals branch is where Cash Generator is today), Multi Broadcast, or DER. A small number were sold to ESCOM, who would disappear a year later. Thorn EMI would consolidate its TV rental businesses and purchase Granada Rentals in 2000 to form Box Clever (on merging Granada with Radio Rentals). The business only lasted three years seeing out its last months as an online only retailer.

After Rumbelows, Thorn EMI would also form Crazy Georges, a home-appliances-and-furniture-on-the-drip-at-extortionate-rates retailer. In 1998, they went private and were sold to a private equity group. They are now known as Bright House.

S.V., 12 December 2015.

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