The Lost Precinct Advent Calendar – #16 John Menzies

They had it 

The Ad of Christmas Past

Any Scottish readers of this blog may remember this commercial better. Before the 1990s, their chain of newsagents were barely seen south of Hadrian’s Wall. With Christmas coming along, our fellows from Scotland put out this cheap and cheerful advert focusing on its range of toys.


Narrated by William Franklyn (whom some may remember for the Schweppes ads and The Masterspy game show), there is a good mix of toys for all ages and sexes. No condescending tones, just the toys and prices advertised in Times New Roman before cutting to a tableau of toys. Then the John Menzies logo and their tagline, We’ve Got It. Straight. To the point. Honest. Simple but effective.

Funnily enough, the muted tones of the advert mirrored my visit to a John Menzies in May 1986. The branch in Helensburgh town centre. Its decor was mainly dark browns with a theatrical glow.

The Shop of Christmas Past


In the previous windows, most of the shops have ceased trading or have been acquired by other companies. John Menzies is still going today, but its retail division ceased in the late 1990s.

The company was founded in Edinburgh in 1833 and – like its rivals, W.H. Smith and Son – prospered during the railway age. Along with Wymans and Finlays, their counters were familiar sights in the UK’s railway stations, mainly Scotland. Expansion came via the purchase of large Martin Retail Group stores in England and Wales.

In the Tameside area, their first branch was in the refurbished Clarendon Mall shopping centre in Hyde. It had two floor: first floor for music and video games, ground floor for stationery, newspapers and greetings cards. Ashton’s followed in Autumn 1995 when the Arcades Shopping Centre opened. Standard for the time was a two tone blue livery using a serif typeface (abandoning the Antique Olive sans-serif typeface of the previous logo) and – my favourite part – the tartan carpet!

By 1998, John Menzies restructured with their retail arm sold to WHSmith. Shortly after, the recorded music and video games sections (where John Menzies surpassed WHSmith) were cut down. The present company is a big player in aviation support services, with Menzies Aviation vehicles seen at many airports. Newspaper distribution still forms part of their business. With £2 billion revenue, it has come a long way from selling newspapers at Edinburgh Waverley station.

Oh, and the tartan carpet is alive and well in the Ashton-under-Lyne branch of WHSmith. Even with part of the store accommodating the town’s main Post Office.

S.V., 16 December 2015.


One thought on “The Lost Precinct Advent Calendar – #16 John Menzies

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  1. I used to frequent the Accrington Arndale centre branch as a boy and really loved it. It made a change from WH Smith in my home town, Blackburn. Partly because of the amazing clock outside and I always loved the door handles.


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