The Lost Precinct Advent Calendar – #13: Brentford Nylons

Gonna make you sweat? Not arf!

The Ad of Christmas Past

For a time in the 1970s, we did a lot of synthetic stuff. We ate instant mashed potato for dinner; Bird’s Instant Whip passed for dessert; our Christmas tree was the Noel Pine from Woolworths (artificial of course, in silver or green). We even dried ourselves and slept in nylons, and you know what…?

They got Alan Freeman doing the voiceover work. Throughout the 1970s, Fluff was the voice of Brentford Nylons. Within this 17 second clip, we see the presenter extolling the joys of nylon bedsheets. Or poly-cotton. The advert was clearly done in a hurry with a budget barely enough for a pint of Watney’s Red Barrel.

The products were cheap for the time, but were they cheerful? Nope. Sweat-tastic they were. Plus the amount of static electricity from the nylon bedsheets. Even so, customers bought in droves and kept their Pelaw factory running.

The Shop of Christmas Past

Without immigration, there would have been no Brentford Nylons. The company’s base in Chiswick, as well as its shops, had a diverse workforce with Caribbean and Asian immigrants. It was founded by Harry Pambakian who came over to London from Armenia. He built the company up to its early 1970s heyday. Most of their shops appeared in many large towns and cities. Its main driver being value-led customers. To fulfil the demand, another factory was opened in Pelaw, County Durham.

In 1976, Brentford Nylons went into receivership, and Lonrho bought the chain from its receivers. Things continued as normal till the end of the decade, when its workforce reached the 1,000 mark. With the chain struggling to enter the 1980s, they dropped the ‘nylons’ with all shops being known as Brentfords.

Proving that trying to polish a turd can never be easy, its efforts in market repositioning were unnoticed by its shoppers. The popular perception well in to the early 1990s was ‘scratchy, sweaty nylon’. Or ‘sparks flying off your single bed’. In 1995, Rosebys bought 90 of its 160 branches with the remaining Brentfords shops closing down.

In the age of breathable fabrics, there was no mourners for Brentford Nylons on its demise. Rosebys faired better purchasing the Waldmans and Knightingales chains to name a few. By 2008, after great expansion, Rosebys was no more. November 2008 saw its stores purchased by the Edinburgh Woollen Mill, who integrated them with their Ponden Mill offshoot.

S.V., 13 December 2015.