Clemens and August, arr. Cook and Greenaway
The Ad of Christmas Past
Once upon a time, long before Primark opened its first department stores in England, Scotland and Wales, there was one retailer that offered affordable smart and casual clothing. C&A – Clemens and August to use its full name – was a mainstay of many UK High Street.
The advert shows how C&A was good for work and play. In our ad, we see a Patrick Mower lookalike smartly dressed. Then he takes a cab, and his position in the First Class carriage of his journey to work (a BR Mark 2F ‘sauna’ carriage from 1971 – British Rail’s early air conditioned variants). Then another shot, in a long jacket (C&A of course – possibly the Canda brand name).
In the end, we see our fellow in a tuxedo, trousers, and a lady friend in a laser blue dress. Both C&A of course (we hope!). The real cherry on the top is the signature tune penned by Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway with backing from Blue Mink. The twosome cut their teeth as songwriters.
The Shop of Christmas Past
Outside of the UK, C&A is very much alive and well. Their withdrawal from the UK market was owing to the amount of High Street competition. When it left our High Streets in Christmas 2000, its competitors were the supermarket chains, and a newly arrived chain owned by Associated British Foods. In the latter category, no prizes for guessing who that may be…
C&A (Clemens and August) was founded in 1841 as a Dutch textile company, taking the first names of the Brenninkmeijer brothers. To this day, they are still owned by the same family, and are the richest family in The Netherlands. They entered the UK market in 1922 with palatial stores in city centres and large town centres. Oldham’s first branch occupied Home Bargains’ unit before becoming anchor tenant at Spindles Shopping Centre. Before the Arndale Centre was completed in 1979, Manchester’s branch was situated on Oldham Street. Part of it is Sacha’s Hotel.
Though C&A’s clothing attracted many brickbats for its lack of style, economy was a good selling point for many families. Its stores were distinctive enough to be local landmarks owing to the red and blue oval logotype and its rainbow stripes along the window frames. The Oldham branch had a canvas print of an L.S. Lowry painting.
C&A has a healthy 489 stores in Germany, with 132 in their native Holland. Today’s cost conscious shoppers in the UK – millennials especially – may be wondering who, or what on Earth was C&A? Cheap, yes. Cheerful? Not so if you were one of these smart-arse critics, but for the rest of us in Thatcher’s Britain, about as good as it got. Many a suit for many a first job interview sold there from Aberdeen to Plymouth!
S.V., 22 December 2015.