Damaged Goods book review: A page-turning insight into Sir Philip Green and the BHS scandal

 
Alys Key
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First BHS Stores Shut Their Doors For Good
The book shows how previous ventures established a blueprint for Green’s dealings with BHS (Source: Getty)
Damaged Goods
5.0

It will not be a huge surprise if Damaged Goods, Oliver Shah’s account of the rise of Sir Philip Green and the BHS scandal, ends up one day being adapted for screen or stage.

From the glitzy parties to the threatening phonecalls, the larger-than-life characters to the speedy downfall, this real-life tale of hubris has all the elements of a Greek tragedy. Either that or a James Graham box office hit.

Readers keen to find the juicy details of BHS’s implosion may be tempted to skip straight to chapter eight: ‘The Great BHS Plunder’. But it is well worth reading those first 100 pages or so, which detail how Green grafted his way to the top.

Read more: Sir Philip Green is mulling legal action over a book about the BHS collapse

These deeply-researched chapters, bursting with amusing and often shocking anecdotes about the so-called ‘Bond Street Bandit’, show how previous ventures established a blueprint for Green’s dealings with BHS. Like every good Greek tragedy, the impending catastrophe is foreshadowed at every turn.

Nevertheless the book truly comes alive at the point when Shah himself enters the narrative. Casting himself as the plucky young retail correspondent, chasing the story and enduring aggressive phonecalls from Green, the author transforms what could have been a dry recounting of the events into a fast-paced boardroom thriller.

As Shah’s investigation progresses, the once cosy relationship between Green and the Sunday Times deteriorates into “a state of war”. The tense back-and-forth between Shah and Green is almost as interesting as the actual demise of BHS and its aftermath. “I know it’s not personal,” Green tells the journalist during one of his calmer moments.

Read more: Sales slide at Sir Philip Green's retail empire

But in many ways this is a deeply personal story. It is impossible to pick apart why Green and everyone around him acted the way they did without delving into the man himself.

It is also personal because the consequences of business decisions manifest themselves in the lives of those involved. “Philip Green doesn’t realize the human side of what he’s done,” a former BHS worker says in one of the final chapters.

The contrast of that human cost with the luxury yachts, cars, large houses and lavish parties enjoyed by Green, Dominic Chappell and their circle is sometimes enough to make you wince.

The book starts and ends on an ominous note, with Shah warning at the beginning that BHS will not be the last household name to disappear from the high street. A final chapter looks into the current "deep-rooted problems" facing TopShop, once the jewel of Green's Arcadia empire.

If news is the first rough draft of history, then Damaged Goods is the first proper edit of that draft which pieces the BHS debacle together and puts it in context. But as the final chapter makes clear, this is a bit of business history that is not over just yet.

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