Tuesday, 17 May 2011

The Good Old Days - from 1986

In 1986 the BBC launched an ambitious project to record a snapshot of everyday life across the UK for future generations. A million volunteers took part. The BBC has launched the new Domesday Reloaded website which has lots of memories from 25 years ago.


To celebrate this, I will be posting occasional extracts from 1986 editions of "Thinks!", the Journal of Channel Islands Mensa, on which I worked as Assistant Editor in the 1980s; the Editor was Ken Webb.

In this piece, Ken Webb looks at Woolworths, which was facing a financial crisis in 1986 which - that time around - it surmounted, largely by closing unprofitable stores. It seems that financial problems were recurring, coming back in cycles, until at last, of course, all the stores closed between 27 December 2008 and 6 January 2009, under the administration of Deloitte's.

I was personally of the opinion that they didn't really make enough of an effort to sell off profitable parts of the company as a going concern, and of course, whether they did so, or simply closed Woolworths down, they still took their administration fees, so there was no direct incentive to keep some stores going. In Jersey, the closure was badly handled due to the lack of any proper compensatory scheme for staff, and an absence of legal redress. A report on the legal hearing in 2 March 2009 noted that:

The Bailiff made clear his concern and displeasure that the joint administrators had been exercising their duties without authority of the Court. Deloitte lawyers argued that as a matter of law they acted as agents of the Company and did not need express sanction of the Court, albeit with a possible risk as to their personal liability more so than if they had been acting under such express authority. However, in order to undertaking conveyancing required registration and that is why their lawyers were in court. The hearing had been due to proceed last Monday and clearly had been delayed as the wrangling and haggling progressed. Deloitte lawyers were reluctant to mention details of what they alleged were commercially sensitive matters and reference to precise financial details was avoided in open court. They were also clearly embarrassed at not having registered sooner, and squirmed at having to be reminded by the Bailiff that the draft Order failed to recite the request for registration in the jurisdiction. The Bailiff granted the Order in the terms set out and had to be called back again to reconvene the Court because the lawyers were still unsure about the precise status of Deloitte and whether the Court had now officially appointed them. It was made clear to Deloitte that their appointment was a limited one to the terms agreed in the Order. Clearly Deloitte have been cavalier in their dealings with the liquidation of Woolworths. They abused the good will of staff who worked hard to sell off all stock in a grand sale, and in doing so raised millions, knowing all along they had no intention of paying redundancy or notice. (1)

Back in 1986, Woolworths was downsizing, but unlike the situation under Deloitte's administration, on this occasion it survived. Nevertheless, part of its problem may have been with the change in its original market position as a "bargain basement", and the shift upwards to more competitive markets. Here is Ken Webb reminiscing on the early days of Woolworths:

The Good Old Days! by Ken Webb

In order to fight a take-over bid and to expand their B & Q outlets, F.W.Woolworth are selling several of their major stores and closing down a further 22 which are unprofitable. I remember the good, old-fashioned Woolies of the old - the very old - days.

When I was a kid, Woolies boasted that nothing in their store sold over 6d, in fact they were known as the "3d and 6d store". Considering that the Woolworth family made millions one wanders how this could be so when the top price was - in modern parlance -- 2 new p. Doubtless something to do with the intricacies of turnover and profit margins.

I recollect as a lad, barely of school age, I had an intense desire for a gramophone but, our family being exceedingly poor, it was but a pipe dream.

Imagine my surprise and delight when, that Xmas, I was presented with my heart's desire. Woolies had done it again! A gramophone for 6d? Well, not quite. The case was 6d (Dad); the clockwork motor 6d (Mum); turntable 6d (Aunt & Uncle); Pick-up arm 3d (Uncle); sound head 4d(Aunt); box of needles 2d (two cousins) - two shillings and three pence all told (11 new p).

How about the records, you might say. Well, Woolies sold them for 3d and 6d each but, family finances being as they were, my source of supply was a second hand shop where you could pick them up for 1d each - scratches and all included!

My present system cost some hundreds of pounds but never gives me the happiness of my first ever -2 shillings and 3 pence at at Woolies.

Such is progress!

(1) http://www.isthisjersey.com/print.php?news.713

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