In 1909, Harry Selfridge had one goal in life and that was to make shopping thrilling. Now, just a bit over 100 years later, Mr. Selfridge continues the efforts of PBS’ Masterpiece series to make telly equally as thrilling. With Downton Abbey only one 2-hour episode away from concluding their third series on PBS (for UK readers, you know what we’re all in for as this weeks finale is your Christmas episode from 2012), fortunately, there’s between little and no time for any post-Downton Abbey separation anxiety as the 10-part Mr. Selfridge series starring Jeremy Piven premieres on PBS’ Masterpiece series beginning Sunday, March 31.
For those not familiar with H. Gordon Selfridge, you might want to know a bit about the individual you are getting ready to spend some telly time with over the next couple of months. Selfridge was a Wisconsin born entrepreneur who started his path to the creation of Selfridges when he first joined Field, Leiter and Company, which later became Marshall Field & Company in Chicago in 1879. He then married into the prominent Buckingham family and amassed the fortune with which he built his new London store.
Known for architectural excellence, Selfridge also felt the store and are tourist destinations in their own right. The original London store was designed by Daniel Burnham, who also crafted Marshall Field’s main store in his home town of Chicago. Selfridges is the only store to be twice awarded the accolade of the Best Department Store in the World
It was some early turn of the century innovative marketing strategies that led to his success where he vowed to make shopping a fun adventure instead of a chore. Radical decisions such as putting merchandise on display so customers could actually examine it, placing the highly profitable perfume counter front-and-center on the ground floor and also established a number of policies that made it both safe and easy for customers to shop. Either Selfridge or Marshall Field is popularly held to have coined the phrase “the customer is always right”, and he did use it regularly in his extensive advertising.
Selfridge also used in-store displays to attract shoppers. He believed that the displays would introduce potential new customers to Selfridges and, therefore, generate both immediate and long-term sales. Two such examples of his idea for bringing people to the store were to exhibit Louis Blériot’s monoplane at Selfridges after the first cross-Channel flight, where it was seen by 12,000 people and then the first public demonstration of television was by John Logie Baird from the first floor of Selfridges from 1–27 April 1925.
In the 1920s and 1930s, the roof of the store hosted terraced gardens, cafes, a mini golf course and an all-girl gun club. The roof, with its spectacular views across London, was a popular place for strolling after a shopping trip and was often used for fashion shows. During the Second World War the store was bombed in 1940, 1941 and 1944 causing catastrophic damage. After the devastating bombing of the department store in 1940 owner H. Gordon Selfridge vowed never to open the rooftop gardens again.
So, wondering what to do post-Downton Abbey? Check out the 2-hour premiere of
Mr. Selfridge, written by Andrew Davies (Bridget Jones’ Diary, Bleak House and starring Entourage’s Jeremy Piven, on PBS’ Masterpiece series beginning Sunday, March 31 at 9:00p ET/8:00p CT. For UK readers who are just now coming to the end of series 1, it has been renewed for a second series so there’s more great telly coming your way soon.