Jenni Murray

21 May 2021

Broadcaster and Saga Magazine columnist Dame Jenni Murray on her love of iconic brand John Lewis.

Three cheers for John Lewis, responding with a great sense of humour to criticism in a manner that’s all too rare these days, when any critical comment is likely to be met with abject fury. Alongside the question of who paid for renovations in the Johnson/Symonds flat in Downing Street came the allegation that Carrie wanted rid of ‘the John Lewis furniture nightmare’, apparently left behind by Theresa May.

To which the favourite store of just about everybody I know, tweeted, ‘Time for an interiors refresh? We pride our Home Design Service on having something for *almost* everyone.’ I had to laugh. And then I giggled when I saw the photo of one of the delivery vans outside Number 10 with a comment from the company, ‘Good thing we have a recycling service for old pre-loved furniture’. So refreshing to see something truly funny in these rather dark days when there’s not been much to laugh at.

I wonder if Carrie, a former head of communications for the Tory party, had thought about the message she was sending. Do she and the PM not realise they’ve cut through their policy of ‘levelling up’ by displaying a tendency to see themselves as above us all? Snobs, in other words, going for the most trendy and expensive décor they couldn’t really afford.

How dare they dismiss the taste and aspirations of millions of people for whom John Lewis is the go-to shop for wedding lists, setting up a new home or brightening up an old one? Should I feel shame at what I consider to be tasteful magnolia walls and sofas bought for comfort, covered with colourful throws and cushions, bought at...? Yes, John Lewis.

My place is calm, relaxing, easy on the eye, and I could afford every precious piece, acquired gradually over the years. It has not threatened to send me into bankruptcy or the humiliation of having to beg from friends or colleagues. Nor, I’m afraid, could I see the appeal of the Lulu Lytle style. Who wants to chill out at the end of a busy day in a sitting room reminiscent of a high-end Indian restaurant circa 1971?

My most recent encounter with John Lewis came last October. We had just moved into our new, downsized house on the south coast. We needed a new fridge-freezer and decided to buy a big American style that delivers ice and chilled water. The boys had always wanted one. They’re now grown up, so we were doing this as an indulgence just for the two of us. We measured the space. We ordered. We were given a time and a date for delivery. At exactly the time we’d arranged, two burly delivery men carried the huge appliance into the appointed space.

Isn’t it infuriating when your children do the ticking off? Of course, he was right...

They pushed it. They wiggled it. It did not fit by a fraction of a centimetre. Uncomplaining, they took it away, said not to worry, there was a similar one a little smaller which they were certain would fit.

Number one son was scathing. ‘What have I told you? Measure and measure and measure again.’ Isn’t it infuriating when your children do the ticking off? Of course, he was right. We measured and measured, ordered again and, within a week, the new one was delivered. The appliance is huge, handsome and I love it. Almost as much as I loved the men who brought it in with charm, humour and not a word of complaint. ‘Never knowingly underserved’, I guess.

It’s tragic that 16 of the stores will not reopen as lockdown ends, leaving only 34 nationwide. 14,000 jobs are at risk. The last thing the Partnership needed was criticism from a fashion-conscious, profligate young woman of Westminster. Silly Carrie!

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