Despite its later reputation as purveyor of quality to the middle classes, Marks & Sparks began life as a proto-poundstore. David Marks - a Belarussian emigre living in Leeds - borrowed a fiver from a chum and opened his Penny Bazaar on the city's Kirkgate market in 1884, selling haberdashery and household knickknacks under the slogan 'Don't ask the price - it's a Penny'. In 1894, he acquired a partner and book- keeper, Thomas Spencer, and M&S was born.
By the 1970s M&S ruled the high street, dominating sales of everything from oven-ready chicken to underwear, Black Forest gateaux to wedding dresses.
In 1998 the company made history as the first British retailer to post a £1bn pre-tax profit.
But M&S fell victim to the incumbent's malaise of competition plus its own hubris. Unsustainable margins eroded customer loyalty and let in rivals such as Primark, H&M (and latterly Asos and even Net-a-Porter).
Marks & Sparks' decline from its late 1990s peak was vertiginous - by 2001 shares had tanked by two-thirds and profit crashed to a mere £145m.
A new boss, Stuart Rose, was drafted in, who promptly found himself facing down a series of aggressive takeover bids from his billionaire former employer, Philip Green.
Things got pretty heated - Green once grabbed him by the lapels - but Rose saw him off and stopped the rot. However, M&S's days of high street dominance were gone for good.
M&S Cardiff branch, circa 1900. Image credit: M&S
Who's the boss?
In May 2010, former Morrisons head Marc Bolland took over. He has not had an easy ride, facing heavy criticism for his lack of ragtrade experience - in July, M&S reported its eighth consecutive quarter of falling clothing sales.
On the bright side, M&S's online and food businesses are doing well. But investors are circling - if Bolland can't sort out the schmutter sharpish he's going to be in trouble.
The secret formula
Bolland has belatedly drafted in some big guns to help sort out M&S's fashion sense, notably ex-Jaeger chief exec Belinda Earl, whose first collection is in stores now with 80% more dresses with sleeves, apparently. But is there still a living to be made in fashion by a generalist like M&S?
Takeovers - talk of M&S being acquired is back on the menu, this time with Sainsbury's as favourite, thanks to the deep pockets of its Qatari backers.
Pre-tax profit: £564.3m