Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Pants for the Memory

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Pants for the Memory

Article excerpt


THIS week's revelations about glaring inaccuracies in the Bible (how could Eve have tasted an apple, for example, when the fruit was unknown in the ancient Middle East?) have set me pondering other dubious information contained in the Lord's book. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighbouring nations, yet when I tried to import a dozen from Italy, I was arrested by HM Customs and the Vice Squad.

Again, according to Leviticus 15:19-24, I am allowed no contact with a woman during the seven days of her menstrual uncleanness, but whenever I ask if I can check around the office, I get my face slapped. Then there's Exodus 35:2, which clearly states that he who insists on working on the Sabbath should be put to death, which is why I put on a flak jacket and a glazed expression last Sunday and wiped out most of Tesco's.

And as for Leviticus's demand that men who lie down with beasts should be killed, that presumably means it's okay to do it standing up, so the entire Welsh nation may breathe a collective sigh of relief.

When it comes to religion, the only truly reliable figure I've encountered is St Michael, the patron saint of underwear at Marks & Spencer. But in recent years, the company has inexplicably sidelined him in favour of more snappily named brands like Prada and Urban Survival, which may have been a mistake because, as last night's M&S... and Me (BBC2) revealed, this once-invincible business has lately seemed to be in urgent need of some mightily powerful divine intervention.

This absorbing documentary chronicled how the company rose from the lowly status of a downmarket competitor to Woolworths to become Middle England's favourite store, a position it almost threw away during the 1990s, thanks to some disastrous business decisions. Indeed, its extraordinary success was largely due to one man, the postwar chairman Simon Marks, who understood that customers wanted well-made clothing at reasonable prices, and became obsessed with lowering his knickers at every opportunity and ensuring that everyone could discover the joy of socks.

Meticulously researched archive material demonstrated how the company's clothes mimicked Dior in the 1950s, using newly developed materials that allowed pear-shaped women to achieve hourglass figures, and to look as though they'd been poured into their dress (though in many lard-eating cases, they'd obviously forgotten to say "when"). That same mass-produced sophistication was then applied to food, by foisting such exotic delights as avocados and chicken Kiev onto its nervous but inquisitive clientele, with the store becoming a sort of Habitat for the British stomach.

During this period, the accent was on accent, with female employees being given elocution lessons, until "shabby and pathetic shopgirls" were transformed into what Marks called "the daughters of dukes and duchesses" (hardly a recommendation nowadays, when many doped-up aristos look and sound like 1950s shopgirls). …

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