Shopping as Adventure

Mr. Selfridge comes to Masterpiece Classics

Mar. 14, 2013
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  In some societies, shopping was always a utilitarian endeavor, and at the start of the British television series "Mr. Selfridge," it was grim business indeed. According to this fictionalized version of a true story, the upstart American Harry Gordon Selfridge was determined to transform shopping into adventure when, in 1909, he opened Selfridge's department store in London.

"Mr. Selfridge" turns the man into mythology: he becomes P.T. Barnum with class, a pioneering genius of marketing and promotion, an entrepreneur whose dictionary omitted the words "no" and "impossible." Jeremy Pivens stars as Selfridge, endowing him with irrepressible zest—and moments of doubt, which he kept to himself. Zoe Tapper plays Ellen Love, the seductive showgirl of the London stage employed as "the spirit of Selfridge's" in newspaper ads. And for Selfridge the media was an important part of his message. He played the press the way a master musician caresses his violin, and understood the allure of celebrity.

Although he was an architect of consumerism, Selfridge would probably be greatly disappointed were he to walk into a WalMart, CostCo or any other warehouse of cheap goods. He stood for quality and pizzaz, attributes missing from the big boxes of today.

8 p.m. Sundays, March 31-May 19, on Milwaukee Public Television.

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