With the Blu-ray and DVD release of season 1 of Mr. Selfridge fast approaching, let’s look back at the history of the popular department store Selfridges & Co., the rise of flamboyant character Mr. Selfridge and his eventual downfall.
Raised in Wisconsin by his mother, the young Mr Selfridge gained an appreciation for women’s beauty and an understanding for their needs. In 1909, he opened his store in the unfashionable end of Oxford Street. His store transformed into a vibrant retail environment and one of the world’s finest shopping centres. Slowly, Selfridge grew in infamy and flamboyance, earning him names such as the “Earl of Oxford Street.”
Harry Gordon Selfridge revolutionized the shopping experience. One of his great successes was making shopping a pleasurable outing: Selfridges had a restaurant, a library, and a first aid room. He coined the phrase ‘the customer is always right’ and is also credited with coming up with other well known sayings like ‘business as usual’ and ‘there’s no fun like work.’ He allowed customers interact with products: he gave the visitors a chance to ‘browse before they buy.’ He was also one of the first to use celebrity appearance and endorsement as a way to advertise his products: a famous pianist would be in the lobby or a well-known ice skater would be on the ice rink. In 1925 the first TV set was first demonstrated in Selfridges and afterward, the store was the first advertised on television.
Flashy and extravagant, Selfridge was almost as well known for his personal life as he was for his commercial successes. Despite being a family man, he had a string of mistresses that he loved to spend money on. He bought large houses, kept a fully-crewed yacht that could sleep twenty, and maintained his daughters’ husbands who were mostly unemployed. Selfridge had no problem burning cash and his reputation added to the appeal of the store.
Although already a womanizer and gambler, after the death of his wife, Rose, and his mother a few years later, his vices swept out of control. When the Great Depression hit, he was unprepared as he lost almost everything. In 1939, he was ousted from his store. He was forced to move to a rented flat in Putney. It was at this time in his life that he would spend his days standing outside of Selfridges, gazing up at what had been his proudest accomplishment. He died in his sleep in May 1947 at the age of 89, living in poverty. He was buried near his wife and his mother, but couldn’t even afford a headstone.
You’ll also see a number of images here too, there exclusive archived images of what Selfridges looked like back in 1909. Along with the images we have a short featurette which has one of the series set designers Lindy Woodhead talk about the history of selfridges which ties nicely with the above feature.