Two of the UK’s best known retailers – Woolworths and MFI – were close to collapsing last night.

The failure of the chains, with the potential loss of tens of thousands of jobs, would send shock waves through the beleaguered retail sector which is already facing its worst Christmas for more than a decade.

Retailers have been squeezed by a collapse in sales in the run up to the crucial Christmas trading period as consumers have cut back spending. The collapse of the high profile chains could also spark further discounting as administrators try to clear stock in the run up to Christmas – hitting the profitability of other retailers.

Talks to save beleaguered retailer Woolworths were on the verge of breaking down last night as the group struggled to persuade a syndicate of its lenders to back a restructuring plan — despite a last minute £110m bid for Woolworth’s stake in DVD publisher 2entertain from BBC Worldwide, its partner in the joint venture.

Daily Telegraph