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.

 

By the time this advert was aired – mid to late 1980s we think – Bejam was, to paraphrase the tagline, hot. In 1986, they took over Victor Value’s stores from TESCO. This advert, voiced by the late great Simon Cadell, projects an upmarket image for the freezer centre chain. It eulogises over the frozen Chinese vegetables in a way Nigella Lawson would have been proud of. Bejam were a company on the up.

Back in 1986, Simon Cadell was the ‘go to’ voice for adverts with an air of exclusivity. This was no doubt helped by his role as Jeffrey Fairbrother in Hi-de-Hi!. Along with Ruth Madoc (fellow workmate Gladys Pugh in the same sitcom), he featured in Cadbury’s first advert for Wispa bars.

The Shop of Christmas Past

Bejam was founded in 1968 by John Apthorp in Stanmore, Middlesex. It spun off from E. Apthorp, a potato merchants with rounds in Edgware and Stanmore. The name is an acronym of the first names and the surname of the Apthorp family members: Brian, Eric, John, Apthorp and Millie.

As well as frozen foods, they also sold white goods – mainly fridge freezers, microwave ovens and dishwashers. They were badged as “Bejam” products and occupied one corner of each store.

1986 saw expansion with the acquisition of Victor Value stores from TESCO. For a short time, Bejam had – though as Victor Value – a presence in Ashton-under-Lyne (Staveleigh Way) and Openshaw (Ashton Old Road beside the 219/220/221 bus stop).

1989 would see Bejam’s acquisition by Iceland. Prior to then, Bejam was three times bigger than Malcolm Walker’s company. It also gave Iceland greater presence in the South of England, given how most of Mr. Walker’s stores were based in the North West of England, the West Midlands, and Wales. Many of which trading as Iceland shops to this day.

After acquisition, their Victor Value stores were taken over by Kwik Save. Ashton’s branch became one of two branches in October 1989; Openshaw’s Kwik Save stayed in the unit next to the Half Way House prior to moving to new premises opposite The Prince of Wales public house (long demolished). Their Victor Value became a catalogue discount shop. It is now a supermarket again, selling continental foods.

S.V., 20 December 2015.

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