Partnerships famous in alternative history

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The Independent Online

We all know the great partnerships of history. Romeo and Juliet. Gilbert and Sullivan. Alcock and Brown. Marks & Spencer...

But what if different partners had met each other? How would things have turned out? Would Alcock and Sullivan have become the first Britons to take a light operetta across the Atlantic and make it run on Broadway? Would Marx and Spencer have become a workers' co-operative chain store? Would...?

Enough. Let us peer down the annals of alternative history and see what partnerships we can spot.

Fortnum and Gamble

Fortnum was interested only in the luxury end of the market. Pile it small and pile it expensive, that was his motto. Gamble was different. All he was interested in was washing powder for the millions. They had nothing in common at all. Except... It was Fortnum's idea, really.

"You're a genius at producing stuff for the mass market," said Fortnum to Gamble. "But why not have a stab at the top end as well? What about a luxury washing powder for the very rich?"

"What would be the point?" said Gamble. "The very rich don't buy washing powder."

"They would if it was expensive enough," said Fortnum. "Make it silky and smooth, exclusive and hard to get and ridiculously expensive, and they'll flock to our doors."

"Hmmm," said Gamble. "Well, we have nothing to lose."

And so was born the Cartier of washing powders, Fortnum and Gamble, with its HQ in Mayfair and branches nowhere.

WH Smith and Wesson

WH Smith sold newspapers like nobody else sold newspapers.

Wesson made bullets like nobody else made bullets.

Unfortunately, he had no retail outlet to bring the bullets to the people who had the guns. So he persuaded WH Smith that people who carried guns were as literate as anyone else, and an extra till for the gun-toter would double their profits.

"And think of the extra sales for magazines like Gun Quarterly, the New Shootsman, and Country Death," said Wesson.

WH Smith needed no further persuasion.

Crabtree and Boon

"Books that smell?" said Boon. "What would be the point?"

"Every point in the world," said Crabtree. "When people are in a romantic mood, they benefit from every stimulus they can get. Music... soft lights ... romantic odours... Well, you can't put music in a book, or soft lights, but you can put subtle fragrances in a romantic novel."

"What - sprinkle talcum powder over the pages?" said a doubtful Boon .

"No, silly," said Crabtree. "You just give the pages a minimal impregnation, a very slight hunt of musk or tea rose, and the reader will soon fall under the spell."

And so they did, as we all know. And we all know, too, that Crabtree was wrong about putting music in books, as those other adventurous publishers, Mills & Olufsen, were to prove.


Rolls was a car designer. He loved luxury cars.

Rogers was an architect. He loved making glittering buildings and putting the working parts on the outside.

Rolls liked gleaming walnut and vintage leather.

Rogers loved glass and steel and black plastic.

The car they dreamt up together was like no car ever made before or since.

It went from 0 to 70 in two minutes, as silently as a lift going up the outside of a building.

Through the tough glass bodywork you could see all the workings of the engine without opening the bonnet.

It was the most sensationally modern car ever built, and if it hadn't also been the only car in history that needed planning permission (mostly because of the small upstairs area), Rolls-Rogers would have made a fortune.