Some notable British businesses you might not be familiar with.
A note before we begin — "Royal warrant" means, in essence, official supplier of the Royal Family, or one of them. Holders of royal warrants are permitted to advertise this fact and to use some element of royal symbolism in their branding to bolster their reputations.note
- Fortnum & Mason. Has its own signature colour, a distinctive green called Eau de Nil. Founded in 1707. Well-known for its food and drink, particularly their hampers which are still sold in traditional wicker baskets. Now has a few branches around the world.
- Harrods. The largest single department store in the UK, around since 1834. It used to have royal warrants, which it has now pretty much lost. This is due to longtime (1985-2010) owner Mohamed al-Fayed, who earned the everlasting disgust of the Royal Family after the death of Princess Diana (as his son Dodi was dating her then and died in the same crash; he somewhat hysterically claims the Royal Family is covering something up about the incident, despite neutral inquiries finding nothing of the kind). Fayed sold the firm in 2010 to the royal family of Qatar. Known for being upmarket.
- Harvey Nichols has locations around the world and is now owned by a Hong Kong-based group. Their London location is very close to Harrods and is generally known for a edgier and funkier fashion sensibilities. Nicknamed "Harvey Nicks".
- Liberty in London is another famed store, noted for their fabrics as well as funky fashion after a makeover. Located in a very old Tudor-style building. Is probably unique among department stores in naming a major artistic style (albeit not in English): Art Nouveau is known as the "Liberty Style" (stile Liberty) in Italy because of the colourful Art Nouveau textiles Italians used to buy from the store during that time.
- Jenners was the rough equivalent in Scotland; acquired by House of Fraser in 2005, but retained its nameplate and its royal warrants. Closed in December 2020 due to Scotland's COVID-19 lockdown; permanently closed the following month and completely vacated that May.
- John Lewis claims to be "Never Knowingly Undersold"note and yet is quite expensive (not Harrods-expensive though) to the extent that a "John Lewis list" of how much in second home expenses MPs were allowed to claim for various items was considered an example of excess. Also notable for being owned by its staff,note who are thus all known as "Partners"; in fact, the official brand for the department stores is now John Lewis & Partners. Since 2008, it has had a Royal Warrant as "suppliers of haberdashery and household goods." They are well known for their annual Christmas ads, each with a downtempo cover of a pop song. Its supermarket chain is Waitrose, which is now also branded as "Waitrose & Partners". No one actually uses "& Partners" in normal conversation, mind you.
- House of Fraser (who once owned Harrods) now part of Sports Direct, Debenhams, and Selfridges (yes, that one) are other common high street department stores.
Banking and Financial Services Given that the City of London is, depending on who you ask, either the largest or second-largest financial center in the world, one naturally expects a fair number of these to pop up in Britain.
As a note on terminology before we go into this - the term "building society" is essentially equivalent to a "savings and loan" in the US, being a financial institution that usually specialises in savings and mortgages (hence the "building" bit) and is owned by its own customers (a "mutual"). Some of them (such as Halifax, Alliance and Leicester and Abbey National) "demutualised" during the 90s and early 2000s and became banks instead, others (such as Nationwide) remain building societies to this day. In practise, building societies are almost indistinguishable from banks in most respects other than their unusual ownership structure. (The Co-operative Bank is an odd case as it was a mutual but not directly owned by its own customers like a building society.)
- Barclays - One of the "Big Four" of British banks, headquarters in Canary Wharf. It's been around since 1690, founded by some Quakers trying to raise finances for Dissenting craftsmen (particularly goldsmiths). Took a lot of flak for its support for the apartheid regime in South Africa and today has questionable involvement in Zimbabwe. Currently sponsors the English Premier League; consequently, it is officially known as the "Barclays Premier League." Also bought the naming rights to the home of the Brooklyn Nets.
- Lloyds Banking Group - formed by the merger of Halifax Bank of Scotland and Lloyds TSB (itself a merger between Lloyds Bank and TSB) in 2008, essentially as a shotgun marriage at the behest of the government to stop HBOS falling over, and then bailed out anyway - the government still owns a small portion of it. The structure and interrelationship of its various components is a bit complex since it consists of lots of businesses that merged together and then demerged into new businesses with the same names as the old ones. Now contains:
- Lloyds Bank - Very old and dates from 1765, and was one of the first banks in England outside London (it was founded in Birmingham). Was split out of Lloyds TSB due to EU competition law relating to LBG's government ownership.
- Halifax - Mass market bank, formerly a building society; merged with Bank of Scotland in the late 90s to form HBOS, which promptly shit the bed around the time of the financial crisis and was forcibly taken over by Lloyds TSB at the behest of the government in order to stop one of the largest banks in Britain imploding. Notably aims itself at a far more downmarket audience than other banks; its early 2000s adverts featuring its staff singing covers of pop songs were notoriously irritating. Halifax is still technically a trading name of...
- Bank of Scotland - Not to be confused with the similarly-named Royal Bank of Scotland, which is an entirely separate group to which it has never been related. It's a bank for Scots.
- One unusual feature of the British monetary system is that the three major Scottish private commercial banks are authorised to issue banknotes; no public entity issues banknotes in Scotland, though Bank of England notes are widely circulated and accepted. The Bank of Scotland is one of these three private banks.
- MBNA, a credit card company formerly owned by Bank of America, taken over by LBG in 2017.
- TSB - Split out of Lloyds TSB (see above) after the bailout under EU competition law. Consists of a large chunk of Lloyds TSB and Lloyds' old Cheltenham and Gloucester brand; since taken over by the Spanish bank Sabadell. Markets itself as being "different" while in reality not actually being that much different other than by purely being a retail bank. The previous TSB - a demutualised agglomeration of lots of tiny "trustee savings banks" hence the name - merged with Lloyds Bank in 1994 to form Lloyds TSB; the name was resurrected purely because everyone still knows it (and many people still called Lloyds TSB "TSB" anyway.) Famously had the slogan "the bank that likes to say yes" but hasn't resurrected that for some reason.
- RBS Group - majority government owned after a bailout in the wake of the financial crisis, which it was a major player in and consequently victim of, and something of a basket case as a result. While the government's stake in Lloyds is being slowly sold off, its stake in RBS is still with it almost ten years on. Contains:
- Royal Bank of Scotland - not, as mentioned above, to be confused with plain old Bank of Scotland, to which it is wholly unrelated. Its branches in England (and NatWest's Scottish branches) are supposed to have been demerged from it in the same way TSB was from Lloyds TSB, but it's floundered repeatedly and now may not actually happen at all. Like the Bank of Scotland, it is authorised to issue banknotes.
- NatWest (the National Westminster Bank), bought by the Royal Bank of Scotland in the early 2000s despite RBS being markedly smaller and almost wholly subsumed into the group.
- Americans: From 1988 to 2014, RBS owned Charter One Bank and Citizens Bank through Citizens Financial Group. They still use an RBS-inspired logo (four rounded arrows converging in a circle), albeit in a green colour scheme (the RBS logo is in blue).
- The Co-operative Bank - Famously ethical formerly quasi-mutualnote bank that prides itself on using discretion over who or what it wants to provide with accounts; it has turned away over £1billion of business solely due to this policynote . Something of an oddity, as it was previously owned by the customer-owned Co-operative Group, but then hit the skids in 2013 due to mismanagement and a disastrous takeover of Britannia Building Society. It was then saved from immediate disaster by being mostly taken over by hedge funds, but time hasn't helped it and it's now up for sale and may well even be wound down.
- Lloyd's of London - not to be confused with the previous bank, this is a very famous insurance company and has been around in some form since c.1688. Not technically a company, but a society of underwriters,note it has (apparently) insured some very interesting things, such as both Betty Grable and Tina Turner's legs and America Ferrera's smile.
- The famous Lutine Bell is based at Lloyd's. The bell is the ship's bell of HMS Lutine, an 18th-century French warship captured by the Royal Navy during the Siege of Toulon of 1793; the Lutine sank while carrying a large sum of gold insured by Lloyd's, and when the underwriters paid out in full they gained a claim on the wreck. When they managed to pull the bell up from the wreck in 1858, Lloyd's claimed it, and started to use it as a signal to its underwriters: it would be rung once if a ship was lost, and twice if a ship feared lost had returned to port safely. This had a practical aspect to it; ringing a bell made sure that everyone heard the news at the same time, thus ensuring that nobody had any unfair advantages. However, back in The '70s, it developed a crack, and so to make sure it doesn't fall to pieces it is only rung on ceremonial occasions now—once for bad news, twice for good news.note The last time it rang once upon receiving bad news was upon the death of Prince Philip in 2021; however, it also rings once annually at the end of the two minutes' silence on Armistice Day. The Lutine Bell has rung twice a few times in recent years on the occasion of good royal news, including the birth of Prince George in 2013 and a visit by HM The Queen and Prince Philip in 2014.
- Lloyd's List, a shipping journal running since 1734, is no longer owned by them.
- Santander UK, an operationally independent subsidiary of the Spanish Santander Group. An amalgamation of a number of different former building societies into one; due to this, it often has multiple branches in the same town very close to each other (banking being a very unionised industry and these branches typically being very small relative to other banks, and so one not being able to handle the footfall of three, explaining why not many have been closed.) Formed as an agglomeration of:
- Abbey, formerly Abbey National, formerly the Abbey National Building Society, formerly... you get the idea. A former building society that demutualised in the late 1990s in order to become a bank. Quickly gained a reputation for poor customer service, especially after the Santander takeover in 2004. Rebranded as Santander in 2010.
- Alliance and Leicester, formerly the Alliance Building Society and the Leicester Building Society, the combination of which then demutualised. Acquired by Santander in 2008, eventually amalgamated into Abbey/Santander's systems and rebranded as Santander at the end of 2010. Its "plus" logo can still be seen on certain bill payment slips, even though the organisation itself has not really existed for a number of years. A&L itself included...
- Girobank, the innovative former banking division of the Post Office, subsequently privatised.
- Bradford & Bingley - Former building society that demutualised, nationalised following the credit crunch and then picked up by Santander for a song (less its toxic assets, which remained with the UK government).
- HSBC - bought out Midland Bank in 1991 and relocated its headquarters to Canary Wharf in London. While by some measures the biggest bank in the world, HSBC is probably the smallest of the big four banks in terms of the UK market; as its original name—the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank—suggests, it actually does most of its consumer banking in East Asia (it is still the largest bank in Hong Kong, with a rather famous Norman Foster-designed headquarters). P. G. Wodehouse worked for it as a young man. The Midland Bank was famous for its golden griffin logo and its long-dead slogan "The Listening Bank", as well as sponsoring and therefore having its logo all over the god game Theme Park for god only knows what reason. Also includes...
- First Direct (marketed as first direct) is a subsidiary of HSBC (from the Midland Bank days) and was the first bank in the UK to operate solely via the telephone (and later the Internet). Renowned for its customer service.
- M&S Bank, a subsidiary that provides Marks and Spencer branded current accounts, credit cards and other services, with branches located in larger Marks and Spencer stores.
- John Lewis Financial Services provides the John Lewis Partnership card.
- Nationwide Building Society, the UK's largest building society and the only one that clears its own cheques. note In theory, a mutually owned organisation that exists for the benefit of its members; in practise, it offers mostly the same products with the same rates and charges as the big banks and is as such more or less indistinguishable from them. Was for a while in the 1980/90s called Nationwide Anglia and was originally the Co-operative Building Society.
- Yorkshire Building Society is the UK's second largest building society. Also includes a number of formerly independent building societies, such as the Norwich and Peterborough Building Society and the Chelsea Building Society, although these are now being subsumed into the YBS brand.
Supermarkets and Grocery Stores
The Big Five
- Tesco (not, in fact, "Tesco's")- controlling about 30% of the grocery market, it's the biggest British retailer, at least in UK operations. Not too long ago, it was the third-largest retailer of any type in the world (only Walmart and Carrefour beat it), but it's now out of the top 10.note It's a somewhat controversial firm, being accused of labour exploitation, planning violations, being too big, and grammar errors. Tried to expand into the US with fresh&easy, which promptly died on its arse. Has expanded into an incredible array of different markets, from financial products to mobile phones - it is quite possible, if somewhat inadvisable, to live while using only its products and services.
- Sainsbury's (has the 's) - previously considered an upper-class-sort-of supermarket in the same vein as Waitrose, now more or less the same as its rivals.
- Asda - For a number of years owned by Walmart; suffice to say the name of the MMO "Asda Story" amuses Britons who see their ads. Has an Artifact Title - it was originally an abbreviation for Associated Dairies. For Americans and Canadians, the "George" clothing brand you see in Walmarts is an Asda brand that migrated across The Pond. In late 2020, the majority stake was sold by Walmart to the Issa brothers, bringing it back into British ownership, though Walmart maintains a minority stake in the company.
- Morrisons - big in the North of England, expanded into the South when it bought out former big-name Safeway in 2004.
- The Co-operative Group (the Co-operative, or just the Co-op) is the world's largest and oldest co-operative, run along ethical lines including a strong support of fair trade. Most often seen and used as small convenience stores - some cities have an extensive network of them (Portsmouth alone has at least twenty). Not all Co-operative or Co-op stores are owned by the Co-operative Group - there are about 20 independent Co-operative societies still around such as ScotMid, Central England, Allendale and Southern. Bought smaller chain Somerfield in 2009. Now advertises itself, essentially, as the place you go when you've forgotten to buy things from somewhere else, which is an interesting strategy if nothing else. It's wholly owned by its customers; having one of its loyalty cards is actually part-ownership of it and entitles you to a profit share each year based on how much you've spent with it. This dividend is sometimes referred to as "divi" in slang.
- Marks and Spencer (not, in fact, "Marks and Spencer's") - known as "Marks and Sparks" (or just M&S), it aims for the upper middle-class market. High quality but tends not to worry too much about being the cheapest. For this reason, it experiences a big boost in numbers around December when people start stocking up for Christmas dinner. Had a famous advertising campaign that used a high-class version of Sex Sells, employing literal Food Porn with a seductive voiceover by Dervla Kirwan: "This is not just X, this is M&S X".
- Waitrose - Like M&S, also aims for the upper middle-class market and also has an emphasis on quality. Part of the John Lewis Partnership, as mentioned above, and has undergone a major expansion in recent years, including buying stores from other supermarkets including Somerfield and Morrisons. Often a shorthand in British fiction for being posh, or at least having delusions of being such (although in reality, Waitrose tends to price match against Tesco and isn't usually that far off their prices on standard goods otherwise).
- Booths A small chain based in Lancashire and spreading into the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales and the affluent Cheshire suburbs of Manchester. A kind of upmarket Waitrose, which surprises Southern folk who think Oop North is all grime and poverty. Is in a buying agreement with Waitrose which explains why there are very few Waitrose branches in the North West of England.
- Budgens, featured in 28 Days Later. Tends more towards small convenience stores rather than large supermarkets; pretty much a non-entity in the sector. Owned by Tesco through its subsidiary Booker Group, a major food wholesaler.
- Lidl and Aldi - The two German supermarkets have quickly become known in Britain for cheap, non-brand stock. As a result, they're kind of the opposite of Waitrose in British fiction.note Following the 2008 recession, these two supermarkets have gradually gained traction amongst the middle class market which has seen its income squeezed, with Aldi in particular being held to increasingly higher regard.
- Iceland - vaguely downmarket chain which focuses (as the name implies) on frozen food. Generally the food is not that bad considering the price paid; however it has a bad (and somewhat justified) reputation for selling cheap, unhealthy convenience food to people who don't know any better that it is trying desperately to shake off. This reputation has not been helped by its previous policy of "simple" rounded-to-the-nearest-pound priced goods (the implication being that Iceland's customers are confused by decimals), or its advertising which usually features former soap stars or other non-entity celebrities like Kerry Katona or Peter Andre. Its slogan was the vaguely sexist "Iceland makes it easy for mum", which was then warped into the cringeworthy "Because Mums are heroes" and finally dropped altogether. Hilariously, Iceland (the supermarket chain) tried suing Iceland (the country) over the right to trademark their name in the EU; the resulting case lasted several years, but ended when the EU ruled in the country's favour, thus thoroughly embarrassing the chain.
- Marks and Spencer - in later years has tried to make itself more sexy in the clothes department. Nonetheless, is still thought of by most Britons as the source of grey socks and white underpants. For some reason, their returns policy was a popular subject for comedy in The '80s.
- JJB - a sports clothing chain. Originally set up by Dave Whelan, a Blackburn footballer who got a career-ending injury in the 1960 FA Cup Final, claimed an insurance payment and invested it in a food stall, which he built up, sold to Morrison, then started this chain, which he has now sold on.
- Primark - Piss-cheap, originally Irish clothing chain owned by Associated British Foods (yes, really). Renowned for ridiculously low-priced clothing that tends to fall apart quickly, although in truth this isn't entirely fair (much of their clothing is actually rather good for the price paid). Sometimes ironically called "Primani" to hint at it being a more fashionable brand than it actually is, although it's worth noting that none of its clothing actually carries the Primark brand (they have a variety of sub-brands, e.g. men's clothing branded "Cedar Wood State"). It does not do online shopping whatsoever, which is a pity since thanks to the combination of a large teenage customer base, low prices causing high footfall and often grossly inadequate floor space for the customers they serve its stores are often a living hell, capable of making a shy bald Buddhist plan a mass murder and everyone else come a pubic hair away from carrying one out. The clothes are cheap though. Has recently begun expansion in America, primarily in mall anchor stores that were either abandoned when their chains went out of business, or rent them out from others (specifically the dying Sears).
- Woolworths, usually referred to as "Woolies" - although this was originally a US companynote , the UK stores had been a separate company since 1982 and had operated in the UK since 1909. Remembered by many from their youth for the Pick'n'Mix sweets and as a good place to get stationery, The Noughties saw the chain's business (largely confectionery and videos, games etc.) being increasing eroded by the big supermarkets on one hand and online stores in the other. The 2008 credit crunch and the announcement of huge debts led to the chain closing down over Christmas 2008-January 2009, in a closing down sale in which even the shelves and staff microwaves were sold.
- Argos - a long-standing and very unique retailer, owned by Sainsbury's since 2016. Argos shops tend to be rather barebones, as they don't display many if any goods, which in larger locations are generally kept in the warehouse at the back. Instead, you pay for items at cash desks, unmanned payment terminals and online, and then collect these from a dedicated collection point. Because Argos doesn't have to worry about displaying goods in a pretty way, it can sell a huge variety of stock from what are otherwise rather small stores, and indeed it sells almost everything - from appliances to home furnishings to games consoles to plug adapters - from its vast catalogue of items.
- It's sometimes referred to as a "catalogue retailer" because for most of its history goods were selected from large, heavy paper catalogues that were roughly the size and weight of two house bricks. The catalogue itself has a somewhat positive association in many Brits' minds, largely from childhoods spent flicking through the toy section and wishing you owned it all. Bill Bailey referred to it (or at least the laminated versions Argos themselves have in their shops alongside stock checker terminals) as the "laminated book of dreams", so laminated as to "catch the tears of joy" from beholding the vast quantities of goods available. In July 2020 the company announced they would no longer be printing the catalogue to the dismay of the British public.
- B&Q, short for Block & Quayle after its two founders, Richard Block and David Quayle, is essentially the UK equivalent to The Home Depot in the USA, though B&Q precedes it by 11 years, having been founded in 1969. B&Q stores are typically huge, warehouse-like buildings full of almost any material or power tool you might need, and also stock other goods such as plants, gardening supplies and inexpensive furniture. In 1999, The Home Depot was interested in purchasing B&Q to gain a foothold in the UK, however the deal fell through by 2005 when it was made clear that B&Q's parent company, Kingfisher plc, would have to be purchased as well. As Kingfisher owns several other DIY chains across Europe, The Home Depot baulked at the idea as at the time they were solely interested in the United Kingdom.
- Wilkinson, now fully branded by its previous colloquial nickname "Wilko" in a bizarre form of reverse Brand Name Takeover - essentially a continuation of Woolworths' business model but with a heavier emphasis on household goods and hardware than Woolworths (which, as noted above, tended to focus more on entertainment right up until the bottom fell out of that particular market). Sells basically everything from power tools through to make up at reasonable prices, with a very large range of own-brand products.
- Boots (sometimes suffixed "the Chemist", especially by older people - it was known as this and is now simply "Boots", but definitely NOT "Boot's"), a huge chain of chemists (read: pharmacies) that as well as dispensing medicines does most of its trade selling beauty and health products, along with a range of somewhat decent lunch foods and other such things (for reasons nobody quite understands). Extremely abundant - a reasonably sized city will likely have multiple within walking distance of each other and most towns will have one (e.g. Norwich has three in its city centre alone within five minutes' walk of each other, Portsmouth has five, Manchester at least ten) - although many of these stores are quite old and therefore fairly grotty and tatty. Now owned by Walgreens, with the combined company now the world's fourth-largest retailer (peaked at third in 2019), it's the retail segment of a large and well-respected pharmaceutical business that invented ibuprofen, amongst many other household names. Their No 7 own brand make-up range is internationally known and is even sold on QVC in the US, as well as US Walgreens locations.
- Superdrug - like Boots, but aimed at a younger audience and so somewhat more tilted towards the beauty/fashion end of the spectrum and a bit more downmarket, with fewer actual in-store pharmacies and more make-up. Owned by AS Watson; also owns Savers, a discount cosmetics/household goods/cheap alcopop store which is kept at arms length from it brand wise, despite selling many of the same goods only cheaper.
- Poundland - Yes! Everything's a pound! Really. A mix of cheap Chinese-imported crap household goods, no-name brands of household goods and foods, remaindered/stock clearance goods from other shops and actual brand name products sold for a pittance. Has undergone an ENORMOUS expansion, with some cities having several. Recently purchased their closest rival 99p Stores (guess what their gimmick was?) and amalgamated it into a pound shop empire. Often a byword for cheap, potentially dangerous/lethal crap, although in reality many of their goods are actually handy in a pinch and/or are actually brand name products, just with fewer of them in a pack or for a lower price. Ashens regularly covers some of the more bizarre or unpleasant items they sell. Dollar Tree is the American equivalent.
- CeX (pronounced "sex", much to the amusement of anyone who encounters their adverts), a second-hand entertainment shop that sells used electronics, computer games, CDs and DVDs. Has an absolutely terrible reputation for customer service and also for its clientele, who are often assumed to be selling stolen goods for drug money (although it should be noted that the company does try and stop this by insisting on ID if you sell valuable goods to them). Still good for some bargains, although its buying prices aren't particularly wonderful. Accepts Bitcoin for some reason nobody can quite fathom, and did so before it even took American Express of all things.
- Game - video game store. Has been put into administration multiple times but has bounced back and appears to be doing fairly well.
- Costco - Another American chain that made it across the Atlantic, Costco first appeared in the UK in 1993, and has gradually expanded since then.
During the late sixties and seventies, British car manufacturing was dominated by the British Leyland group, which was formed from the mergers of such companies as Jaguar, Austin, Morris, Rover and Triumph. British Leyland had serious difficulty as a company due to repeated labor strikes, inept management, poor design, and horrible build quality. It underwent nationalization and eventually was forced to sell off its more successful lines to competitors. The company reorganized as MG-Rover, which would go though its own troubles (see below). In British programs set in the 1970s or focusing on cars, expect jokes about British Leyland's poor performance, frequent strikes and the poor quality of its mass-market cars.
While mass-market British cars are generally objects of ridicule, Rolls-Royce and Bentley are among the most widely recognized brands of luxury car, and Jaguars and Aston Martins can be expected to make appearances when high-performance sports cars are called for. The fast, gadget laden car driven by James Bond, the quintessential British action hero, has been at various times, a Bentley (in the novels), an Aston Martin, a Lotus, and a BMW (German). Crowley also drove a Bentley in Good Omens.
However, all major British-rooted car companies are under foreign ownership:
- After an intense bidding war in the late '90s, BMW got Rolls Royce (the trademark, which is owned by Rolls Royce the airplane engine maker) and VW got its hands on Bentley and the old Rolls Royce plant. Now BMW assembles Rolls Royces in a brand new manufacturing facility near Goodwood, not too far from the South Coast.
- Also in the '90s, BMW bought the ailing Rover Group (Land Rover, Rover, MG), but could not revive the business. A decade later, the Rover group was dismantled. BMW kept MINI, sold Land Rover to Ford, and the rest of the group became independent. Eventually Rover disappeared into the dustbin of history, only to have the factory in Longbridge was literally moved piece-by-piece to China, where their cars are now developed and produced for the domestic (Chinese) market under a variety of names. There are plans to restart MG manufacturing in Britain on a much much smaller scale, but the plans are still up in the air.
- Ford got a hold of Jaguar in the '80s, and over the next two decades managed to fix (some) of the legendary reliability problems and even occasionally churn out a popular model. In the 2000s Ford bought Land Rover from BMW, which joined it with Jaguar, Aston Martin and Volvo as an attempt to form a premium brand portfolio. Soon after, though, mounting losses and other problems (both foreign and domestic) forced the sale of the companies. Jaguar and Land Rover, both British icons, are now under the ownership of the Tata group, makers of mini econo-boxes headquartered in the former British domain of... India. (Funny how that works.) Aston Martin was granted its independence after the company was bought by a group of British businessmen backed by Kuwaiti money.
- Lotus: manufacturer of sports cars, came under the ownership of the Malaysian Proton group.
- Morgan: A minor player specialising in handbuilt sports cars, still British owned but gets its engines from BMW and Ford.
- Vauxhall: Founded in the UK in 1857 as a maker of pumps and marine engines; started making cars in 1903. Purchased by General Motors in 1925, and eventually became a UK-only brand, with engineering largely shared with another GM subsidiary, the German-based Opel. GM pulled out of Europe in 2017, selling Vauxhall and Opel to Groupe PSA, the French-based maker of Peugeot and Citroën. Now part of Stellantis, the company created by the 2021 merger of PSA with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.
- Alexander-Dennis (ADL): Still completely British (HQ in Falkirk, Scotland) manufacturer of buses, coaches and formerly fire engines. Buses are operated all over Britain and beyond in Hong Kong, Las Vegas and Toronto.
- Wrightbus: Actually a Northern Irish company, based in Ballymena. Bus manufacturers like ADL, they pioneered the British version of low-floor buses preferred today for accessibility reasons, and make the double-deck New Routemaster, or "Borismaster" as it is called.
- London EV Company: Current manufacturer of the famed London taxicabs; based in Ansty, just outside Coventry. Founded in 1919 in Coventry as Carbodies, specialising in building coachwork for smaller automakers. After WWII, it got into the taxicab business, and after being purchased by BSA Group in 1954 evolved into primarily a maker of taxis. Bought by Manganese Bronze in 1973 and renamed LTI Limited in 1992. Chinese automaker Geely bought a minority stake in 2009, three years before LTI went into administration. Geely bought the company's taxicab business in 2013, changing the trading name to London Taxi Company before adopting the current name in 2017, when it opened its current Ansty plant and began making exclusively electric taxis. The company has since announced plans to make electric commercial vehicles alongside taxis.
Despite the disappearance of a native car industry, car manufacturing remains a robust industry in Britain - in fact, more cars are produced in Britain than Italy (which has one major mass-market automaker and several high-end automakers), and more per capita than the USA. Many car companies (including Toyota, Honda and Ford) have plants in the country, and the car enthusiast culture remains very strong in the country. Also, bizarrely, until recently there was the strange entity that was Fiat Chrysler Automobiles: the company formed from the merger of the Italian car company Fiat and the American car company Chrysler was registered in the Netherlands and had its small executive headquarters—a group of around 30 people working directly under the CEO—in St. James's Street in London. That ended with the merger that created Stellantis, which decided to place its HQ in Amsterdam.
- Royal Dutch Shell - One of the six oil "supermajors", Shell is a joint Anglo-Dutch affair with HQ in the Hague but certain major operations (including refining, marketing, finance, and HR) managed out Lambeth. Formed by a slow-motion merger of the Royal Dutch Oil Company and the British firm Shell Transport (or something),note it was initially done just to stay in competition with John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil. It is still the world's largest private-sector oil company and the largest energy company in Europe.
- BP - Formerly British Petroleum, and before that the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. It changed its name to "British Petroleum Company" in 1954, a year after the CIA and MI6-backed coup in Iran. It quickly diversified its operations, striking oil in Alaska and the North Sea—a good thing, given the Iranian Revolution of 1979 that deprived BP of its assets in Iran. After buying up several pieces of the former Standard Oil (most notably Amoco) in the US, British Petroleum decided to call itself simply "BP" without the letters meaning anything in 2001. Also a "supermajor", and also in very deep shit IN AMERICA! thanks to that Deepwater Horizon thing.note
- Stagecoach - a Scottish-based bus and rail firm with a somewhat controversial history. Namely, that owner Brian Souter keeps endorsing and/or donating money to anti-LGBT causes such as Section 28 or opposing the Scottish Parliament's proposals to legalise gay marriage, and performing some rather underhanded tactics in its earlier days.
- As well as running East Midland Trains and South West Trains in its own right, is actually the joint owner and effectively operator of Virgin Trains' franchises - it now runs both the East Coast main line *and* the West Coast main line. Tends to be regarded as one of the more competent franchisees.
- Megabus, a "no frills" bus service is a subsidiary, and has expanded into North America.
- FirstGroup - another Scottish-based bus, coach and rail firm. Runs the Greater Western franchise (i.e. the Westcountry and certain commuter and regional services west of London). Private Eye likes to call them "WorstGroup", which many of their more disgruntled customers like to use as well.
- Until recently, FirstGroup had large operations in the US. It first purchased Greyhound Lines in 2007, and later established the BoltBus discount service (under pressure from Megabus and the Chinatown bus services) under the Greyhound brand. It also owned the school bus subcontracting giant First Student and First Transit, which contracted with many local governments to provide transit services, as well as many other operations. However, by the end of 2021, it had pulled completely out of the US, selling First Student and First Transit to a private equity firm and Greyhound to German company FlixMobility.
- FirstGroup wasn't just in the US. It also had bus operations in Canada, Germany, and Hong Kong, and was a minority partner in a joint venture to provide rail services in Denmark and Sweden. However, it sold off all those operations as well.
- Arriva - a North-East based bus, coach and rail firm. Is less attention-seeking than the other groups, but has substantial operations in mainland Europe. Now owned by Deutsche Bahn (German Railways, known as DB for short), the state-owned German Rail operator. Runs trains in Wales under its own name and also Chiltern Railways, Northern and Crosscountry.
- Go-Ahead Group - a North-East based group. Apart from in London and in the North East, is unique in running companies with their own liveries. Also has airside operations and is part of a joint venture (Govia) that runs a large swathe of the rail system - it runs Thameslink, Great Northern, Southern, London Midland and Southeastern.
- National Express - a bus, coach and rail firm, best known for long-distance coaches. Based in Birmingham. Has had financial problems which ended up with them abandoning running the East Coast Main Line suddenly, leaving the government to pick up the pieces and take it into public ownership. Also ran trains in East Anglia and didn't get their franchise renewed due to their severely pissing off the government.
- Abellio, owned wholly by the Dutch national rail operator Nederlandse Spoorwegen. Runs some local buses and a number of rail franchises. Much like Arriva, no longer uses its own name on its trains, the only former exception being Abellio Greater Anglia, which obviously serves Wales and is now just called "Greater Anglia" (potentially to avoid brand damage due to their inheriting a basket case of a franchise). Used to run rail services in the north of England as Northern, and currently runs them in Scotland under the ScotRail brand, though the Scottish Government have recently announced that this arrangement will end as of March 2022.
One of Britain' thriving industries, the second or third largest in the world depending on standard of measurement. The Other Wiki has an article on the subject. Should be brought up whenever people in the pub moan that Britain doesn't make things. The British aerospace industry has made many important contributions to the history of aircraft, and was solely or jointly responsible for the development and production of the first aircraft with an enclosed cabin (the Avro Type F), the first jet aircraft to enter service for the Allies in the Second World War (the Gloster Meteor), the first commercial jet airliner to enter service (the de Havilland Comet) the first aircraft capable of supercruise (the English Electric Lightning), the first supersonic commercial jet airliner to enter service (the Aérospatiale-BAC Concorde), the first fixed-wing V/STOL combat aircraft to enter service (the Hawker Siddeley Harrier), the first twin-engined widebody commercial jet airliner (the Airbus A300), the first fly-by-wire commercial aircraft (the Airbus A320), and the largest commercial aircraft to enter service to date (the Airbus A380). Britain would also have been the first to break the sound barrier had the United States kept its post-war technology sharing agreements, instead of letting the British share their engine and aerodynamic designs with them and then pulling an I Lied.
- British Airways (BA)- Not to be confused with the next two examples, this is the national airline of the UK. Famous for Concorde, although that's gone, a row over tail-fin imagery and just being stylish.
- BAA Limited (British Airports Authority)- The company that used to run seven UK airports before being told to sell four of them. Most notably, Heathrow, where the opening of the fifth terminal ran into a lot of problems...
- BAE Systems- Combining a lot of defence companies (Avro, English Electric and Vickers to name but three), they have been accused of unethical practices quite a bit. Makes the Typhoon and Hawk aircraft, as well as submarines, aircraft carriers, missile systems and... everything else, much of it bleeding-edge (BAE was under contract with the US Navy to develop the first operational railguns). They periodically trade off between Lockheed Martin and Boeing to be the largest defence contractor in the world (BAE was number 1 in 2008). It also supplies the US and French armed forces (the M2/M3 Bradley Fighting Vehicle and iconic M113 APC are both produced by BAE today). It also inherited its predecessor British Aerospace's stake in the Airbus Indusrie consortium; when Airbus incorporated itself, BAE got a 20% stake, which it then sold off in 2006.
- Airbus SAS: Although not strictly a British corporation—it is in fact pan-European, with HQ in a suburb of Toulouse—but it has a major presence in Britain and benefits greatly from British participation. The wings for most Airbus aircraft are produced in Wales at a facility formerly owned by BAE.
- Rolls-Royce plc. The real Rolls-Royce, manufacturer of damn fine engines for planes, and the second largest in the world. Produced the Merlin, which powered various iconic aircraft of World War II, such as the Spitfire and P-51 Mustang. Now has major stakes in naval propulsion and space. Fun fact: Rolls-Royce was the preferred manufacturer for engines on the iconic Boeing 747, but the US government pressured Boeing into buying American, courtesy of Pratt and Whitney. Ain't free trade wonderful?
- Reaction Engines Limited. A tiny company founded by a collection of boffinsnote in 1989, it deserves to be noted for the breathtaking ambition of its current projects, the Skylon and the A2. Essentially, a traditional "garden-sheds and dreams" company is trying to go where giants of the space and aviation world have failed by creating a single stage to orbit spaceplane to explore strange new worlds, seek out new life, and new civilizations - no wait, instead they want to create a single-stage-to-orbit spacecraft (essentially what the next Space Shuttle should look like) that could carry 15 tonnes or 30 peoplenote to space in one go at 4% of the cost per kilogram of conventional rockets, and a green hypersonic airliner that could travel from Brussels to Sydney in just over 4 and a half hours (the trip today takes a full day). As of 2013, the various tests have gone off swimmingly. Watch this space.
Travel Booking and Information Firms
- Thomas Cook Group - One of the oldest such firms in the world, with the main component founded in 1841, organising rail excursions to the 1851 Great Exhibition. Recently, and suddenly, collapsed overnight, leaving tons of travellers in the lurch (with the government having already created a pop-up airline to rescue stranded holidayers).
- George Bradshaw - Publisher who made a lot of maps and railway timetables.
- Bradshaw timetables get mentioned a lot in 19th and early 20th century works.
- Jaffa Cakes. Cake-like cookies with an orange-flavored jelly and chocolate topping. A Mitchell and Webb sketch featured a man who could control biscuits with his mind, but had no power over Jaffa Cakes, as the Jaffa Cake is a cake, and not a true biscuit. Giles was also very glad to find some of these in Season 7 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
- The cake/biscuit issue was the subject of a court case. This isn't as strange as it sounds: under British law chocolate covered biscuits are taxed at a higher rate than cakes (chocolate covered or not), as they are "luxury items". Supposedly the clinching argument was that Jaffa cakes go hard when stale, as cakes do, whereas biscuits go soft. The company also baked a cake-sized version of the pastry to show that, despite its size, it uses a cake recipe.
- Jelly Babies. Fruit-flavoured sweets shaped like babies. A favorite of the Fourth Doctor.
- They were introduced to celebrate the end of World War I, and originally known as "Peace Babies".
- Marmite. A yeasty bread-spread (similar to Vegemite, the Australian equivalent). Famous for being a foodstuff you either love or hate: its advertising has played this up.
- Bovril: a sticky, tarlike beef extract that you stir into boiling water to create a warm, nourishing savoury drink/ disgusting undrinkable mess (again, you either love or hate it). Strongly associated with football matches where flasks would be brought along to accompany the inevitable terrible pie. Often assonated with the West Midlands and North of England. Temporarily replaced with a yeast-based version to try to move into the vegetarian market but the yeast version was horrible/ slightly more horrible so the company went back to the old recipe of heavily rendered miscellaneous cow parts to the delight/horror of all. Can also be spread on toast in the manner of marmite to simultaneously delight the senses and show those yeast-loving, marmite eating vegetarians whos boss/ torture yourself.
- Irn-Bru, Scotland's "other national drink". Bright orange, tastes like bubblegum note . Outsells Coca-Cola, but only in Scotland. "Made from girders", according to the adverts.
- It is also highly caffeinated (as well as containing quinine of all things) and generally held to be a great hangover cure — it's often known as the Scottish Alka-Seltzer. Also highly regarded in some quarters as a mixer for vodka—although, let's be honest, everything mixes well with vodka.
- The West of Scotland also has a fondness for Red Kola, a drink that makes Irn-Bru seem like an all-natural health supplement.
- Tizer - a fruit flavoured drink popular in the North of England, owned by Barr's (Irn-Bru and Red Kola) since 1972.
- Irn-Bru is apparently also popular in Russia, where it is marketed with blue and orange ostriches, for some reason.
- Buckfast tonic wine is an alcoholic fortified wine made by monks (yes, really) and essentially something you drink if you're Scottish and you want a fight. Notorious for being ludicrously cheap and easy to get pissed on.
- Although it's not a British company, you cannot get Dasani in UK McDonalds. This was the result of a) an advertising campaign that failed to take into account British slangnote , b) the discovery of potentially harmful bromate levels and c) the discovery of its sourcenote
- You can't get Mountain Dew in England either. It was out for a while, then discontinued, and now only the energy drink version is available.
- And it is minging.
- Vimto - mixed fruit drink, available as both a fizzy drink and a diluting cordial. Often mentioned in UK media because it's a quirky and distinctly British soft drink, with a name that fits the pattern of Inherently Funny Words.
- Ribena - A fruit cordial made from blackcurrants. Nearly the entire blackcurrant crop of the UK and in Ireland is bought out to make this drink. It is not a small crop either, blackcurrants are very popular in the UK for cordial, juice, or as an ingredient in dessert cookery. Available in the regular, highly sugared, variety and a sugar-free "toothkind" variety. Ribena has tried breaking into the market for non-blackcurrant cordials, but hasn't had mixed sucess.
- On a corporate note: Ribena was originally marketed as a health product and thus produced by the pharmaceutical company Beecham Group, which merged with Philadelphia-based Smith, Kline, & French to become SmithKline Beecham, which in turn merged with another large pharmaceutical company, Glaxo Wellcome,note to form GlaxoSmithKline (GSK to its friends; HQ in London with a strong American presence). In 2013, GSK divested itself of most of its drinks business, including Ribena, to the Japanese drinks company Suntory (as in "Suntory Whisky makes you happy faster").
- Horlicks, a hot malted-milk drink associated with comfort and wintertime warmth in 20th century Britain. Still made by GSK. Similar to Ovaltine, which is also available in the UK and US but is originally Swiss.
- BT (British Telecommunications plc), the privatised former monopoly telephone provider floated on the stock market by Margaret Thatcher in The80s. Still owns the core trunk telephone network, operated somewhat at arms' length and with access by ISPs and other telephone companies resold through its subsidiary Openreach - the subject of some resentment, as if you're in an area that isn't served by cable your choices are, almost literally, either using Openreach (and therefore, ultimately, giving money to BT) or going without Internet access or a phone line; not helped by Openreach being notoriously inflexible and literally impossible for end users to contactnote . The side you'd use to get services in your house (BT Retail) doesn't have a very good reputation, to put it mildly; often extortionate and with poor service to boot. Also offers TV and mobile services and runs a sports channel. BT now also owns...
- EE (Everything Everywhere), the UK's biggest mobile network which was itself formed from the merger of the Deutsche Telekom-owned T-Mobile (originally One 2 One) and the France Telecom-owned Orange, originally owned by Hutchison Whampoa. Was formed and is branded specifically to take advantage of the roll out of the 4G network across the UK - it was the first on the scene for this, with EE originally only referring to the 4G side of things with the Orange and T-Mobile brands now more or less gone. Merged with BT in early 2016.
- Virgin Media - cable TV, Internet, phone and mobile group formed from a merger of the two largest cable companies, NTL and Telewest (who each served different geographic areas over separate infrastructure and therefore were never directly competing with each other anyway), who were themselves an agglomeration of smaller cable companies like Cable and Wireless and Nynex into bigger ones. Makes great play of its credentials as "fibre optic", although in reality their service is only fibre about as far as your street, with the bit between there and your home being copper. Regardless, offers the greatest headline speeds in the UK, having just rolled out a 200MBps service and promising to go faster. Has a rather poor reputation for service but nowhere near as much as BT, nor for that matter even close to the near-legendary revulsion inspired by its progenitor NTL.
- Sky, Rupert Murdoch's UK telecoms outpost— until it was sold to Comcast in 2019. Formerly (officially) BSkyB, a legacy of the very brief competition in satellite services between Sky and British Satellite Broadcasting, who wound up merging basically to put BSB out of their misery. Operates the Sky satellite service, the most popular paid-for TV service in the country, as well as offering telephone and broadband services (using Openreach infrastructure). Also a broadcaster and programme maker in its own right.
- O2, a mobile operator demerged from BT as mmO2 in the early 2000s after years being called BT Cellnet. Used to operate home phone and broadband as well, which has since been sold off to Sky. Part of the Spanish group Telefonica, although shortly to become owned by Hutchison Whampoa, who are themselves the owners of...
- Three (or "3"), the UK's first 3G network launched in a blaze of glory in 2004 by, as mentioned, Hutchison Whampoa (their second crack at the mobile market, having sold off Orange some years ago.) Brands itself as "the network built for the Internet", and made a big play of offering "all you can eat data" on its plans right up until that proved financially unviable. Intriguingly, Three are the last company that's purely a mobile networknote left in the UK, with the other companies having interests in other things too. It's not clear at this point as to whether Hutch will merge it into O2 or leave it as is, as they tend to target different markets. Used to use EE networks as a 2G fallback, now does not offer 2G at all.
- Vodafone, for a number of years the biggest mobile phone network and one famed for its reliability, which has sadly gone somewhat downhill as of latenote . Still a corporate behemoth, now rather more well known for having a rather interesting approach to paying its taxes which has led to it becoming a target for protests. Owned half of the US company Verizon's wireless service in the 2000s, but has since sold out.
- Unilever - Another Anglo-Dutch affair (with HQs in the City of London and Rotterdam). Established in 1930 by the merger of the Dutch Maragarine Unie ("United Margarine"; you don't get three guesses as to what they made) and the British soap manufacturer Lever Brothers for the more efficient importation of palm oil (a key ingredient in both soap and margarine).note From there, it sort of got crazy, and the company now makes everything from Dove soap to Lipton Tea to ice cream (of which it is the world's largest manufacturer; including its "Heartbrand" ice creams—e.g. Wall's in Britain and Good Humor in North America—as well as other brands like Breyer's and yes, you hippies, Ben & Jerry's, too). Most importantly for some people in Britain, they make Marmite.
- Eddie Stobart - One of Britain's premier multimodal haulage firms, founded by the titular Edward "Steady Eddie" Stobart. Known across the nation for their iconic dark olive green lorries that have become ubiquitous enough to have gathered entire fan clubs dedicated to spotting them on A roads.
- Beecham Group, one of Britain's largest pharmaceutical companies, since subsumed into GlaxoSmithKline. They produce the infamously disgusting yet all-encompassingly effective Beechams All-in-One medicine, a combination of paracetamol, phenylephrine and guaifenesin. As mentioned previously, they used to own Ribena, and also formerly owned the sugarrific Lucozade energy drink; they still own Aquafresh toothpaste.
- Acorn Computers A computer company founded in Cambridge in 1978, its best-known product was the iconic 8-bit BBC Micro under licence to the Beeb. The BBC Micro dominated the UK educational market in the 80s, and spawned a budget version in the Acorn Electron. Its next product, the 32-bit Acorn Archimedes, wasn't as popular, but proved to be one of the most influential designs in computing history. Like most systems of the day, the Archimedes used a RISC-based processor, but unlike its competitors, it used an in-house design. The Acorn processor, later known as ARM (from Acorn RISC Machine), proved immensely popular, but not for its original platform. The company ran into financial problems in the last half of the 80s, but soldiered on until it was split into multiple companies in 1998, with Acorn formally folding in January 1999. Which brings us to...
- Arm Ltd (stylised as "arm") Originally the processor design arm of Acorn and spun off in late 1990, it has continued developing the ARM technology to this day. Today, most mobile phones and MP3 players, a fair number of netbooks, and the iPad use ARM-based technology, and Apple began to transition its Macs to ARM-based processors in 2020. Bought by the Japanese conglomerate SoftBank in 2016, but still operates largely independently, and has its global HQ in Cambridge. Arm is currently in the process of being sold to American chip designer Nvidia, which would continue to operate Arm as a Cambridge-based company, but the deal is facing strong regulatory scrutiny. Stay tuned...