Do You Remember Bejam?
by Mark Nobes, chief editor
Since the 90s, the best-known frozen food retailer in the UK has been Iceland. However, during the 1970s and 80s, it was Bejam. In fact, Bejam was hugely successful and had around three times as many stores as Iceland. So for this post, I'm going to share with you some of my memories of shopping at the stores, and provide you with the history of the retailer.
The company was founded in 1968 by the potato merchant John Apthorp. He is also the co-founder of Wizard Wines, which Bejam purchased in 1987. The wine specialist was originally set-up in 1986 by Tony Mason. In September 1991, Wizard Wines merged with Majestic Wines, and these stores are still going strong today.
Bejam had a chain of hundreds of stores across the United Kingdom, and I certainly remember regularly visiting our local store with my Mum and stocking up on frozen ice pops and those cheap stacks of cheese and tomato pizzas.
As well as frozen food, the stores also sold electrical appliances for the kitchen including fridges, freezers, microwaves and dishwashers.
Microwave cooking was hugely popular in the 80s, and you may well have read this book featuring 100 recipes for the microwave. Bejam actually produced a range of books including Instant Cooking and Cooking Without Additives.
The 1980s was the decade of the ready-made meal, and I remember that almost everyone seemed to have a chest freezer back then. We had one in the garage which was half filled with Vesta curries, Findus Crispy Pancakes and Walls Vienetta. They were a bit of a nightmare to rummage through, though, and I remember often getting frozen fingers while trying to find the ice pops which had found their way to the bottom!
I also remember my Dad buying half a pig and sawing it up to store in the freezer. We used to give the trotters and head parts to Jack, our German Shepherd. I remember the sight of him chewing on an ear, which almost caused me to throw up! However, I remember many families who would eat the trotters and probably used many parts of the head, too. Many families were cash-strapped back in those days, and not much went to waste.
In 1988, Bejam bought the Victor Value supermarket chain off Tesco. Then, while it was still hugely successful, Althorp sold Bejam to Iceland in 1989, and all of the stores used the Iceland name.
This Bejam button badge is from 1988