If you haven’t been watching ITV’s Mr Selfridge, you’re missing out. Following on closely after BBC’s The Paradise it takes the nation’s passion for fashion and transports us into magnificent period drama of the days when ready to wear was still a twinkle in retail magnates’ eyes and accessories and fashion were kept very much apart (and skirts most definitely did not reach above the ankle).
What fascinates me is the protagonist, Harry Selfridge – most definitely one of the most beguiling characters on our screen today. Not always likeable – he does after all have affairs and a very low attention span – he is a fantastic study of confidence and emotional intelligence.
In true American style, he doesn’t suffer from the crises of confidence that often smits us Brits. In the face of failure and against all odds, he fights back and refuses to lose his vision and focus, building his flagship store and making history in the process. His passion and flair for marketing and showmanship drive forward the business’s success whilst his pioneering drive and ambition inspire and motivate everyone around him, even the wee dour accountant whose practical and risk averse nature are a great foil to Selfridge’s enthusiasm and ideas.
Selfridge’s powers of persuasion come to the fore when he has to convince the disinterested Louis Bleriot, the French aviator, the first man to fly single handed across the Channel to pose with his plane in the store – a fantastic publicity stunt which transforms the failing fortunes of the business. But he doesn’t use enticements of money or gifts. He simply asks for three minutes of his time, and then in that three minutes, instead of making a pitch, wins him over with one question, “What did it feel like?” As Bleriot described how it had felt, Harry listens with enthusiasm and passion and needs say no more.
Listening is undoubtedly one of the greatest assets a communicator can have, and knowing when not to talk and just to ask questions and actively listen is a true gift. But it’s Harry’s confidence, absolute knowledge of his own ability and unerring focus and passion that drive him forward. He’s the type of guy its hard to say no to. Luring Madame Pavlova to the store to attract publicity and crowds is another feather in his fur-lined hat. A natural innovator, he is about to single handedly revolutionalise the high street, and with unerring confidence ensure Selfridge & Co retains the gold label of retailing for centuries to come.