Mary Queen of Shops. There are Some that Cannot be Saved. (BBC 2; 9pm; Monday, 7th June 2010)

by Katie on June 7, 2010

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Right, you can turn over your papers and begin with the first question.

Mary is on a mission. Again.

a) To save the charity shop and our souls
b) To save the high street from the implosion of supermarket and super brands and to help small businesses that relay the character of the local area.
c) To save the UK world of retail from bad displays of taste or bland brands.
d) To save the Earth from destruction by misplaced consumerism.

Please select one or all of the above.

Depending on which ever you choose, Mary is the answer to our prayers. Take three Hail (yes that’s right) Marys’. Dare to disagree with her methods and you can be the brunt of an entire programme as did grumpy bakery owner ’36 years in business’ and hanging onto her husband’s memory, Anna.

Last night, we saw Mary meet her Waterloo, when she encountered Angela of Maher & Sons, a small traditional but dated bakery come cafe in Raynes Park in South West London. Mary took on the struggling London bakery in a battle that ended in tears when she encountered one of the feistiest and resistant to change shopkeepers yet. As Angela kept reminding everyone who came into her path, Maher and Sons has been in business for 36 years but profits had halved in the previous five. Like so many of their fellow High Street craftsmen, they seem doomed to failure: a third of the UK’s bakeries closed in the period 2007-2010.

Mary’s plan was to turn this old-fashioned, out-of-date bakery into an ‘artisan bread heaven’ (oh God, typing that just made my stomach lurch) appealing to upwardly mobile locals in the Wimbledon area. Just after I reeled at the fact that everyone in that area wasn’t carb and gluten free, we saw a restrained and frustrated Mary practically tie herself in knots trying to convince contrite and stubborn Angela that her business needed to change, to appeal to the new locals and their tastes (Mother & Toddler groups and trips to posh Cotswolds bakers and cake shops far and wide were all part of the plan to encourage and inspire, and by way of first class rail travel which was my second ‘reel’ of the evening at the expense). However, this idea was about as welcome to matriarch Angela as selling a cup of cold sick, which was probably preferable to her current rock cakes, ginger bread men, smiley faced biscuits and vanilla cream slices as far as Mary was concerned.

Angela simply didn’t accept that Mary knew a thing about her business and retail. Silly Angela.

You know, I felt for Angela. A gnarly old stalwart she may have been and ignorant to the world of new commerce with her wonky faced biscuits and old style attitude but she was passionate and afraid. Afraid as this was her life’s work, and change, as we all know, is bloody hard when it strikes to the very root of our being. And, as she said, she had been in business for 36 years. The nub of it was she didn’t want to change. She was preserving her heritage, her life and her dead husband’s legacy. She resented the fact that there just weren’t enough ordinary types these days and that yummy mummies preferred artisan, rustic bread and cup cakes.

Angela simply didn’t appear to want affluent Yummy Mummy to barge into her store with her ginormous double buggy with Oscar and Jemima in tow and demand cupcakes for elevenses with her friends. God Dammit, I wouldn’t want her in my bakery either but then again, I’d go bust or near to it, like Angela. If it’s a toss-up between ‘Fancy Dans’ on Westbourne Park Road (with scenarios acted out as above) and Greggs and their steak bakes. I choose Greggs.

Dare I say it that Angela may have been onto something if she could sell more to her existing customers (increasing their ATV) as any marketer knows it’s more cost effective to sell more to the same customer than change your product and your brand and appeal to a new market. It’s just that she didn’t actually have enough of ‘that type’ around as Mary well knew.

Thus, Saint Mary of Retailus took the blow on this one and with complete dignity and with no loss of pride. Like Joan of Ark, the bakery’s fires raged on and under her while Angela retired to stew in her ‘huff’, victorious and without even a spanking new shop fit to her name. Never mind. Mary will return to fight another day.

Next, Mary gets onto the BP oil leak. (Only Kidding). She would have that solved in no time at all. I quite fancy seeing her boss around Obama.

Did you see it? What do you think? Please feel free to leave a comment below or in the shout mix box opposite. It’s easy to use!
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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

That's Not My Age June 8, 2010 at 9:26 am

I’m a big Mary Portas fan so yep, I saw the show. Felt a bit sorry for the baker actually, he seemed quite nice/good at his job and it might have been clever editing but the general impression I got was that Angela didn’t treat him very well. And what was all that with the pastry chef and the bread mix? I understand Angela’s resistance to change – but she was actually quite rude at times.


Cherie City June 8, 2010 at 11:18 am

If only there was a medium between Greggs and artisan bakeries in London. In other European cities, bakeries are a part of life because they sell what we call ‘artisan’ goods at a normal price.
The patisserie Mary took Angela to, Cake Boy in Battersea, looked lovely but a whole Tarte Tatin to buy is £26!! Pastry, apples, butter, sugar – what on earth warrants that price?
Unfortunately, bakery cafes are the territory of yummy mummy and their herculean-named brats.


Guillaume June 9, 2010 at 9:52 pm

I watched that program last night on iPlayer. I understand that the program might have been edited to make Angela look worse than she was, but I doubt much was needed: she came out as rude, arrogant, stubborn and sometimes downright stupid. I am a man of tradition and am all in favor of keeping local shops, especially bakeries (I come from Montreal, where bakeries are trendy) but they need to have appealing quality products and the place needs to have what we francophone call “cachet”. Maher and Sons needed a serious revamp, I suspect she just wanted the BBC to pay for renovation.


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