Synopsis: Harry Gordon Selfridge comes to London with an ambitious plan of opening a grandiose department store. He encounters many obstacles in his way beginning with the withdrawal of support from his partner after finding Mr. Selfridge a reckless businessman. Mr. Selfridge must now establish new relationships that will help him fulfill his dream. Meanwhile, Miss Towler, a shop girl at a glove counter loses her job due to Mr. Selfridge and learns that the man is the proprietor of the much talked about department store.
Episode Summary: In 1908, Mr. Selfridge pays a visit to the Gamages Department Store to look at gloves and learns that the lack of display proved difficult to make a choice. He persuades the young lady at the glove counter to lay all the gloves in their selection on the counter that he may see what they have to offer. He asks her which pair of gloves she would choose. The shop girl picks a red leather glove and upon Mr. Selfridge’s urging explains her choice. She had made the decision based on the color and the softness of the leather and makes note that it is the finest Nappa from Florence. Mr. Selfridge then asks the sales clerk to try on the glove and praises her for the choice. The shop girl behind the glove counter is Agnes Towler. Soon, Miss Towler’s manager approaches Mr. Selfridge and asks him if he intends to make a purchase. Mr. Selfridge states that he was only browsing. The manager then orders him to leave the store. Later that day, the manager terminates Miss Towler without giving her references. As Miss Towler recovers from the shock of her unjust termination, a colleague hands her a box addressed to her. The box contains the red leather glove and a business card from H. Gordon Selfridge.
Mr. Selfridge invites the press to the construction site of what will be the biggest and the best department store in the whole world, Selfridge and Waring. Incredulity fills the press seeing that there is nothing there but a hole at the dead end of Oxford Street. They become even more doubtful when Mr. Selfridge declares that in less than one year the million-dollar hole in front of them will become a department store that will transform Oxford Street into the best site in London. The partner of Mr. Selfridge, Mr. Waring, arrives late at the site and irately orders the band to stop the music. He speaks to Mr. Selfridge in private to inform him of his decision to withdraw his support. Mr. Waring claims that Mr. Selfridge violated all their agreements with him hiring a band to entertain the construction workers, hiring staff before the store is built, and having a reckless advertising policy. Mr. Waring finds the whole endeavor madness. Mr. Selfridge asks only one thing of Mr. Waring; his former business partner must not reveal his withdrawal until the department store is up and running. Mr. Waring agrees to his request. Frank Edwards of London Evening News asks Mr. Selfridge of the state of his partnership with Mr. Waring. Mr. Selfridge eludes the question, but offers Mr. Edwards a proposition. Very much aware that Mr. Edwards is one of the best-connected men in London, Mr. Selfridge proposes that the journalist help him gain reputation around distinguished social circles in exchange for a considerable advertising account his newspaper will get from him. Moreover, he gives Mr. Edwards an edge on news he plans to make.
Mr. Edwards brings Mr. Selfridge to the Theatre Royal Drury Lane where Ellen Love stars in the musical comedy His New Girl. At the request of Mr. Selfridge, Mr. Edwards brings him backstage to the dressing room of Ellen Love and introduces him to her as Harry Gordon Selfridge. Miss Love immediately recognizes him as The Mr. Selfridge. Miss Love mistakes their visit as an invitation to be in their company, but becomes aware that Mr. Selfridge has come to offer her a business proposal. They speak of the proposition as she dresses behind the screen that defeated its purpose given the mirror that allowed the men to view the person dressing behind it. Intrigued with what Mr. Selfridge has in mind, Miss Love accepts the man’s business card.
Mr. Selfridge’s family including his mother arrives in London. He welcomes them especially his loving wife with a warm reception and shows them the mansion that is to be their home in London. Mr. Selfridge arrives at his office where Mr. Crabb receives him with restless anticipation given that Mr. Waring’s money has not yet arrived and they have outstanding bills to pay. Mr. Crabb becomes even more concerned upon learning that Mr. Selfridge has already hired department heads and that they already are in the office waiting for their employer. Mr. Selfridge welcomes his new hires and explains his reason for hiring them before the store is even built. He gives them the task to spend twelve months scouring the world for the finest merchandise with the goal of showing it how to make shopping thrilling. He does not want them to be concerned with expenses for he wants to see product range and product quality. He is looking for merchandise that will elicit desire. Mr. Selfridge masks his worries with excitement and grandiose unaware that the same ostentation causes incredulity among his hires. Both Miss Mardle and Miss Bunting share the same misgivings with Miss Bunting already pondering about returning to her previous employer, Debenham and Freebody. She, however, is certain that they would not take her back given that she left them in the lurch. Miss Mardle notes of having heard rumors that Mr. Selfridge has not secured the money needed to build Selfridges. Mr. Grove appeases their concerns believing that jealous rivals must have spread the rumors. He hides his reservations from his colleagues and speaks privately to Mr. Crabb to gain reassurance of receiving their salary while the store is being built noting that he has an invalid wife at home.
Mr. Selfridge has breakfast with his family and becomes riled at the unfavorable newspaper article about his endeavor. The journalist doubts the fruition of the much-anticipated department store and accuses Mr. Selfridge of luring people into dishonesty with his strategy of putting goods on display. He becomes frustrated with the press’ lack of confidence in him. However, the article that found him leery is not as damaging as the one that revealed of Mr. Waring’s withdrawal of his partnership with Mr. Selfridge. Mr. Crabb becomes piqued at learning that Mr. Selfridge already knew of his partner’s withdrawal a week before and yet found no reason to inform him, the head of finance. Moreover, he approved all sorts of expenditure despite the knowledge of not having the capital to pay for it. Mr. Crabb, who left an estimable position to join Mr. Selfridge, notifies him of his disappointment and trepidation at the reckless way he conducts his business. Imparting his concerns, however, did not perturb Mr. Selfridge as the man instructs him to redouble their advertising.
Mr. Edwards manages to procure an invitation for Mr. Selfridge to Lady Mae’s soiree. Lady Loxley, whom everyone calls Lady Mae, used to be a Gaiety girl before marrying Lord Loxley. Having gained status through marriage, she now knows everyone who is anyone in London with her residing there while her husband spends most of his time in the country. Mr. Edwards finds her the person to find Mr. Selfridge a new investor. Having read much of Mr. Selfridge on the newspapers, he requires little introduction. Lady Mae is very much aware of the businessman’s predicament and offers advice. According to her, London dislikes being shown how to do things especially by outsiders. Moreover, she informs him that people in her class do not bother with shopping for they have tailors and dressmakers. Lady Mae is certain that Mr. Selfridge has come to ask her help despite his reluctance to acknowledge his need for a new investor. The drunken waywardness of Tony Travers interrupts their conversation. Mr. Selfridge mistook the young man as Lady Mae’s son only to learn that Mr. Travers is Lady Mae’s lover. He returns home and finds his family asleep. His son, Gordon, awoke when he checked on him. He begins to share his trouble at school. With Mr. Selfridge very much on the paper, even the children at school is aware of his troubles that one found reason to insult the young boy with assertions that Mr. Selfridge is a huckster. He informs his son that a huckster is not as bad as others might think and consoles him with claims that the bully will one day ask him for a job when Gordon takes over the firm. Mr. Selfridge finds solace in the arms of his wife, Rose, whom he declares to be the only woman in the world he wants to be with. His troubles, however, begin to consume him as his mother finds him deep in thought on the steps of the staircase. Mr. Selfridge begins to have doubts about coming to London with his ambitious endeavor. He worries of bankruptcy and leaving his family out on the street. Having come from nothing, his mother will not allow them to return to it and asks of his options. She learns that there is someone who can help his son, but he is hesitant to accept her help reluctant to become beholden to her. The mother of Mr. Selfridge begins to speak of his father whom she says would be proud of his son, but Mr. Selfridge does not want to hear anything about his supposed hero of a father. He contends that it has always been him and his mother who have endured.
Without any other options, Mr. Selfridge yields to seeking the help of Lady Mae. He brings with him, the gorgeous Henri Leclair, his friend who has just arrived from America. Mr. Selfridge claims him to be the best window display man in the world. Upon the request of Lady Mae, Mr. Leclair apprises her of his profession. Mr. Leclair believes himself a designer of space and imagines every Selfridges window a painting that allows its audience a chance to be part of the story. Lady Mae becomes intrigued after hearing that Mr. Leclair does not have any qualms about putting a motorcar in a window. She shrewdly supposes that Mr. Selfridge has come in desperation and makes it known that her aid comes with favors. Having already anticipated the requirements of doing business with Lady Mae, Mr. Selfridge agrees to her wiles. Lady Mae invites Mr. Selfridge to a shooting and introduces him to Mr. Musker. The man attests to choosing his business ventures the same way he chooses his horses; he looks them in the eye. Mr. Musker looks straight into the eyes of Mr. Selfridge, who tries to hard not to squint from the loud blasts of rifles. Fortunately, Mr. Musker finds him a suitable business partner and agrees to become his new investor. Months pass when at last stands the department store, Selfridge & Co. A long line of people stand in wait as they hope to land a job at the much talked about establishment. Mr. Grove advises the heads of departments of Mr. Selfridge’s preferences warning against candidates who are haughty and obsequious and favoring those who are friendly and respectful. Moreover, he approves of those with ambition and those wishing to better themselves. He forbids flirting and love affairs. In addition, female assistants who marry will have to leave.
Agnes had just arrived home when Mrs. Payne starts pestering her about the rent. She learns from her brother, George that the woman has been nagging about it all day. To George’s consternation, he finds that his sister does not have the money to pay the rent for she had lost her job and has been looking for a new one ever since. George becomes upset at the news and grabs her by the collar. Agnes is not frightened of her brother, but becomes concerned that he is turning into someone they know. George apologizes and asserts that he is not like the person they detest. Agnes finds a job scrubbing floors and happens upon an article on the newspaper about the man that caused her dismissal from Gamages Department Store. Months later, she pays a visit to the address printed on the business card Mr. Selfridge gave her only to learn that it is the address of his house. Fortunately, Fraser, the butler takes pity and allows the young woman to enter the house as he sees if Mr. Selfridge will receive her. Mr. Selfridge meets with Miss Towler ready to dismiss her upon hearing that she has come to see him for a position. He, however, spends a few minutes with her after Miss Towler shows him the red gloves he bought for her and remembers her to be the shop girl at the gloves counter at Gamages. He remembers Miss Towler’s unwavering patience despite his demanding behavior and the floorwalker’s disapproving looks. He then learns that Miss Towler was dismissed without a reference because of him. He becomes apologetic for the misfortune he had caused the poor shop girl. Moreover, he gives Miss Towler a chance at a job and instructs her to come to Selfridges the following morning and to ask for the chief of staff. In addition, Mr. Selfridge offers to pay for Miss Towler’s cab ride home. Miss Towler arrives at Selfridges along with many others. Miss Mardle interviews her and learns that the young woman used to work at the glove counter at Gamages, but does not have any references. Miss Mardle dismisses Miss Towler having been instructed not to entertain anyone without a reference. Miss Towler, however, informs her that she had explained to Mr. Selfridge and that he said to speak to the chief of staff. Miss Mardle is incredulous of Miss Towler’s claims and speaks to Mr. Grove, the chief of staff. Mr. Grove confirms of receiving a note from Mr. Selfridge himself about a Miss Towler and shows it to Miss Mardle. Miss Mardle returns to her desk to inform Miss Towler that hers is a special case and that she is to start as a senior assistant in Accessories, the department she manages. Two other female candidates hear of Miss Towler’s good fortune and they begin to become suspicious of her.
The staff begins work a week before opening and all are in awe of the establishment including Miss Towler. Mr. Grove speaks to Miss Mardle of the irregularity in her department, it having four assistants instead of three. He requests that he be informed if Miss Towler does not work out. Miss Mardle acquaints Miss Towler of the Accessories department emphasizing that theirs is the most demanding department for they are responsible for over six thousand separate items of merchandise. It is Miss Towler’s responsibility to know them all and to be able to locate each one at a moment’s notice. Miss Mardle conveys her doubts at having Miss Towler made a senior assistant given her inexperience. She notifies the young woman that she will be watching her closely. Later, Miss Ellen Love arrives at the store educing awe from everyone at the store especially Doris Miller, who have run to Miss Love to ask for her autograph. Miss Towler volunteers to lead Miss Love to Mr. Selfridge’s office. They take the lift and Miss Love finds the elevator girl familiar. She learns that they were both in the chorus of Frilly Dolls at the Gaiety and remembers her as her former colleague, Mabel. Mr. Selfridge meets with Miss Love at his office that bears no chairs other than his. Miss Love decides to sit seductively on his desk instead. Mr. Selfridge uncomfortable at having the woman sitting so close to him gets up from his chair to stand a few feet away from Miss Love. He then begins to explain his business proposition to her. He wants Miss Love to exemplify the essence of Selfridges, which is beauty, elegance, and quality. She is to appear in their advertisements as an endorser, while continuing as a stage performer. Miss Love is delighted and accepts the proposition, but makes note that she had thought he had other things in his mind. She invites him to come see her at the show where she will be every day of the week except Sundays. Later, Rose learns from Fraser that Mr. Selfridge will not be coming home for dinner. It will be the third time her husband had done so that week making Rose anxious. Her anxiety is within reason for Mr. Selfridge has chosen to watch Miss Love perform instead of joining his family for dinner. The next day, Miss Love receives a fur coat from Mr. Selfridge. She sees in Mr. Selfridge a ticket out of the performing stage.
Kitty Hawkins begins calling Miss Towler, Aggie, and remarks that the moniker is fitting of a scullery maid. Miss Towler returns the insult commenting that they used to have a cat at home called Kitty. The arrival of Mr. Leclair interrupts their banter. He has come to Miss Mardle’s department trying to find an item that will complete the window display. He is trying to determine what that item must be. He explains that the display is akin to a scene from a play where there are two ladies in a garden where one is standing looking out with her hand shading her eyes as if she is waiting for someone, while the other is seated, looking down at something on her lap. The thing on the other young lady’s lap is the focus of the picture. He has come to hear their suggestions as to what that item should be. Miss Mardle not having any suggestions to offer politely informs Mr. Leclair of their inability to help him. Miss Towler, however, suggests the use of a silk red rose, one that can be perceived as a token of love given to the young lady. Mr. Leclair accepts the suggestion and informs Miss Towler of his consideration of its use. That evening, Miss Towler bumps into Victor Colleano, the man he met in the employment line at Selfridges. He landed a job as a waiter at the Palm Court restaurant that is to open in a couple of days. He invites Agnes inside the restaurant and practices waiting on her table. Not having eaten at a fancy restaurant, Victor suggests that Agnes order a glass of sherry. Agnes becomes frightened at being caught, but Victor argues that his attending to her is part of his training. They both have a sip of sherry. Victor then takes a seat and shares his dream of owning a restaurant like the Palm Court. He then learns that Agnes has taken interest in window dressing. Agnes then becomes uncomfortable and politely takes her leave. Victor tries to convince her to stay, but fails. He instead accompanies her to the train station where George sees them. The young man is upset at the tardiness of his sister and at seeing her with a man. He becomes agitated and prepares to attack Agnes. Victor warns him, but George turns on him receiving a punch from Victor, who advises Agnes to find someone better. Agnes explains that George is his brother and comes to his aid. She learns that the cause of her brother’s unrest is the arrival of the man from whom they are hiding.
Mr. Leclair is still at Selfridges working on the window displays. With a cigarette in his mouth, he adds a silk rose to the ceiling of the display inadvertently activating the sprinklers. The people on the street watch as they see a silhouette of a man behind a curtained window and everything around him get drenched with water. The next morning Mr. Grove explains to Mr. Selfridge that they have not identified what activated the sprinkler system seeing that nothing had been on fire. He notes that they have not worked with a sophisticated system. Mr. Selfridge is anxious given that every window display is now soaked with water and the store’s grand opening is the next day. He, however, gets assurance from Mr. Leclair that impossible as it is, the window displays can be fixed. Mr. Crabb adds to his worries with news of the insurance company’s reluctance to cover them if the sprinklers go off the store. Mr. Selfridge orders Mr. Crabb to speak to the insurance company, while Miss Blenkinsopp is to gather all the staff. Everyone convenes to hear Mr. Selfridge’s address. He tells his staff that they are to prove their detractors wrong. He commends them for their work and asks them that they may spend their evening at the store in order to create the finest house of business that the world has ever seen. He makes it clear that Selfridges will open at nine in the morning the next day as planned. He makes his rounds and advises a minor change in the scarves display of Miss Towler, but commends her nonetheless. Upstairs, Miss Bunting struggles to finish her display and enlists the help of Doris from Accessories. That night, Mr. Selfridge finds Miss Towler admiring one of the window displays unaware that the silk red rose one of the mannequins is holding was her suggestion. Mr. Selfridge makes his way home and he becomes fretful at the sight of falling snow worried about tomorrow’s opening. Miss Towler rushes to the underground station at Bond Street, but just misses the lift. She manages to peep inside it just as the door is closing and finds Miss Mardle holding hands with Mr. Grove. She quickly removes her hand from Mr. Grove’s grasp soon after seeing Miss Towler.
Opening day has finally arrived. People rush to the doors of Selfridges anxious to see what it holds. At nine in the morning, a fanfare signals the opening of Selfridges. All the window displays are unveiled and people gasp in awe of the store and its merchandise. Lady Mae followed by Mr. Musker and Mr. Edwards meet with Mr. Selfridge to congratulate him of his success. They have brought their friends to experience the spectacle and more importantly to purchase merchandise. Miss Love also arrives at the store and introduces herself to Mrs. Selfridge as the spirit of Selfridges. Later that night, Mr. Crabb accounts the profits of the day. He could not help but be dismayed. Mr. Selfridge, however, heaves a sigh of relief. He walks home with his wife in his arms with a sense of accomplishment.
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