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Wavechange: ‘Why I’ve been reading Which? since the late 1950s’

Which? March 1987

Which? turns 60 this year. To celebrate, each week we’ll be featuring a post from a Conversation community member on what Which? means to them. This week, it’s Convo regular Wavechange’s turn…

I was first introduced to Which? as a child, when my aunt and uncle moved to the next village to our family home in the late 1950s.

My uncle was a great enthusiast of the Which? magazine and would often produce a pile of issues for me and my parents to read.

I recall him explaining how his choice of cine camera, radio and TV had been influenced by what he read in the magazine. He once wanted to buy a modern washing machine for my aunt, but she insisted on keeping her ancient, but reliable, Servis machine and wringer.

At work, colleagues often left copies of recent Which? magazines in the coffee room and, according to Member Services, I eventually joined in 1987.


Although product reviews are useful, I find the other content more interesting, especially when I can relate to particular consumer issues.

It was encouraging when Which? campaigned to stop electrical retailers from pushing customers to buy very expensive extended warranties, sometimes by claiming that products were likely to fail prematurely.

More recently, I am very grateful for the long-running Which? campaign to put an end to nuisance calls.

Product testing

Over the years, Which? has identified many safety issues affecting consumers, including poor car and boiler servicing.

Product testing has revealed many unsatisfactory or downright dangerous items on sale. Years ago, I learned from the magazine that I had an unsatisfactory smoke alarm in my home and more recently, Which? has identified poorly performing smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.

Removing poor products from the market is vital and I would like to see Which? pushing for the restoration of Trading Standards as an effective organisation for dealing with unsafe products and other problems that consumers encounter.

I recall Which? magazine covers showing a small 4×4 car on the point of rolling over when cornering and an iron with a melted metal soleplate. I would like to see regular use of similar memorable images. The current covers are attractive, but unlikely to be remembered.

Joining the Conversation

I started contributing to Which? Conversation in 2010. Initially, I saw it as a way of keeping up with changing technology and learning about new developments. I have enjoyed the variety of topics and, thanks to the help from the moderators when needed, it has remained a friendly environment for informal debate – unlike some discussion forums that I have used in the past.

It is good to see more input from Which? staff, particularly those who provide the Conversation topics. The inclusion of some light-hearted topics is a vital feature, without which we might spend all our time putting the world to rights!

Congratulations to Which? on its 60th anniversary, and best wishes for the future.

This is a guest contribution by community member, Wavechange.

What are your memories of Which? What have been your favourite front covers?


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I can only echo Duncan’s comments. I think JW joined a year or so before I did.

Hear, hear duncan!

I was also a subscriber to ‘Which’ from the early sixties and despite travelling a lot and not being a regular subscriber over the years, have always had access to the magazines and advice. I have been pleased to have some impartial advice to rely on.
I regret to say that of late I have become to a large extent disappointed in the Consumers Association ethics as a charity now that I understand that Senior Executives take home extraordinary sums of money, out of all proportion to their responsibilities, the man at the top having been awarded well over £500.000 in one year. I was also astonished to realise that ‘Which’ acts as intermediary and accepts payment from companies that it recomends. For example, I relied on advice to use a firm to act for me in a property sale and purchase and then discovered that the firm paid ‘Which’ £200 for the introduction.
Maybe age is making me naive and I am assured that all this information is freely available but this is not the organisation that I was pleased to support in the past. Will someone take sides with ‘Which’ and argue their side?

Hi Pilgrim, I’m very sorry for the delay in responding to you. It’s great to see you on here and I hope you do stick around for longer.

I wanted to share that we’ve brought our commercial and advocacy activity closer together this year in order to increase our overall impact. This is also means that our old longer-term incentive schemes, which focused primarily on commercial growth, are being replaced by a new approach that considers both our commercial and charitable aims. So that means we’ve now closed the old schemes.

Also, on your comment about receiving referral payments. It’s really important to share that these referrals do not affect our recommendations in anyway. We will always recommend what’s best for you (and all consumers) whether or not a payment is received. This has and will not change. I hope that helps.

As you’ve known of Which? for many years, I’d love to hear about your memories of Which? if you have any you’d like to share.

Thank you for taking the trouble to reply, I’m not entirely sure what this copied paragraph means.

‘I wanted to share that we’ve brought our commercial and advocacy activity closer together this year in order to increase our overall impact. This is also means that our old longer-term incentive schemes, which focused primarily on commercial growth, are being replaced by a new approach that considers both our commercial and charitable aims. So that means we’ve now closed the old schemes’.

Are you referring to incentive schemes offered to management to increase subscriptions? I have nothing against incentives, my politics are slightly to the right of Ghengis Khan, my complaint is that obscene sums of money being extracted by a few people in management of what I always understood to be a ‘Charity’ working on behalf of its members, the consumers.

Good business requires the best management but there is a limit to what is a reasonable reward. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner, a fairly responsible position, earns less than £300.000 per annum. Are you saying that your top management is worth more?

I too was a subscriber for many years, but have become disenchanted with various aspects of the current setup. Edited highlights for instance would be the way more and more of the subject matter has moved / is stored online, anyone who remembers the heft of the annual car reviews, which contained every aspect of motor related topics from tyres to insurance etc ,all in one magazine which could be saved and used as a ready source of info throughout the year, along with many other one-off large ticket ticket items. The move to online reviews may seem logical in current use, but, like a subscription to SKY you only retain access while you subscribe. This is just one example, another would be the reviews of products by the same manufacturer where the only difference is the colour, and yet many other similar products are omitted through lack of space.

Yes Which has changed much from humble beginnings much for the worse in many ways not for the better But it is still needed by some people who cannot reason or think for themselves Many things included are not needed at all maybe just an ignorant one or two

Thanks for your comment about online versus print information from Which? – it’s helpful feedback that I’ll share with the magazine team. Our flagship publication has always been at the heart of what we do. Although it clearly remains very popular (it’s the UK’s bestselling monthly subscription mag), there is definitely an increasing appetite for online information. And we’re print and online can happily co-exist. I know you raised concerns over our car guide, which I’m sorry to hear. We still have our annual guide, which we sent out in August, and it’s still very popular. We do aim to include as much information in our magazine’s and guides as possible so that people can continue to use it as useful resource. But again, it’s always good to have feedback and I’ll be sharing it on with our magazine team.

Have been reading Which for as long as I can remember…..literally. My Father had the first ever copy and editions were always lying around the house. Even as a ‘child’, it was something that I would pick up when it arrived.

Which? ‘Conversation’ is a great part of the portfolio and creates an interesting and diverse input.

Always good to see ‘Wavechange’ around.

Wow! That would be interesting. I wonder what was on the cover, hmm…

Autumn 1958. Close. Also thanks to BBC New

Might this be it? Thanks to BBC News

Car test supplement started 1962. BBC News again.

Consumer power
Shopper’s Guide – produced by the British Standards Institution – was actually the UK’s first consumer comparison magazine, beating Which? by a few months.
But after five years it had 40,000 subscribers compared to Which?’s 350,000.

The guide was later bought by a group including Tory minister Michael Heseltine, but closed in 1963.

BBC News again.

This is the one, malcolm 🙂 I have a copy on my desk, too.

It most certainly is! Our feature on sunglasses, in the very first magazine, is still one of my favourites 🙂

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Duncan lucas – “There again I am not a Member and I am sure those who are hold a different view as to the original aims of Which. I dont mind Which making money from third parties …”

I am a member and it is my subscription money that is paying for your freedom to post. I do mind if the charity is not working for the aims that I and many others signed up to. The Articles prohibit in running profit making companies as I suspect the founders realised that getting entangled with other companies could lead to unfortunate compromises.

So whilst you are getting the free ride I think telling me that it is just the modern way is a simplistic view of the situation. I suggest you investigate the other consumer bodies in the world that manage very nicely to operate in an open non-third party commercial fashion funded almost entirely on subscriptions.

I suggest you research Consumentenbond , Que Choisir, Choice [Australia] and ConsumerReports, and the Consumerist so you can appreciate that your view is perhaps not as wide-based as it could be.

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As a Member, there are some of Which?’s practices of which I do not approve, or do not wholeheartedly support, including some of those that are commercial (business and salaries included). I make no secret of my criticisms, but intend them to be constructive, not negative. Why not give an honest personal view? And, occasionally, I believe Which? listen and take note, including begin to contribute to a valuable organisation that I believe they can usefully assist.

There are, however, very very many more things about Which? of which I approve and support. If I continually recorded these I would swamp Convos and no doubt be rebuked for taking up far too much space. I simply believe that when I give a 3 figure sum to help Which?’s activities each year I should expect it to do a good job, and only justify complimentary comment when it does an exceptional job (a bit like rewarding with a bonus payment, instead of it being the expected norm for just doing your job).

@patrick and team – please take heart from this as I must sometimes give you the groans 🙂

duncan, keep posting. Your brain works overtime and I’m pleased it spills its contents into Convos. Ever thought of joining Which? ? 😀

Duncan – It is a free to post website open to the world. I have no problem with that. I welcome it.

Your advice as to the direction that the charity should follow I maintain is based on an inadequate appreciation of what is offered given you cannot see what is available to subscribers here and for the other three consumer sites I have referred to unless you pay subscriptions.

I am also not clear what experience you have in business finance so your statement ” I am not dictating any policy as regards Which but I am not stupid I see where Which is going , some might not like it but its inevitable in this day+age if its to go from strength to strength and I believe the Board are being realistic too. If you disapprove of their actions that’s up to you to change it but its expansion is achieving results and that’s what counts in the business world . To me its strategy is going in the right direction and its achieving fame worldwide and prestige by using modern business methods”
seems based on a misunderstanding of the actuality.

I am not sure if you have read the Accounts for the last five years so that might explain part of your view. I am bemused by the reference “achieving fame ” as surely any fame it has has been earned in the past decades. As for ” fame worldwide” believe you me I think you are completely wrong and assume you must get this impression from your computer responses.

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To some extent I feel we are pooping on Wavechange’s post by hijacking his interesting and informative Conversation Intro to debate the shortcomings of Which?.

But here goes anyway . . .

My thoughts on Which?’s position in the world echo Patrick T’s more than Duncan’s. I am just a subscribing ‘member’, rather than a subscribing and voting [‘Ordinary’] member, and have similar opinions to Patrick’s on the use of our subscriptions, which for me are the biggest by far that I pay to any of the organisations to which I belong. Personally, I feel that Which? should not be measured by its international profile, which I consider to be completely irrelevant. Its purpose is to represent UK consumers, that’s all. It does it well but could do better in my view.

A further point . . . Conversation is not “free”: it comes at considerable cost in personnel, office resources, and communications technology and services. It is paid for out of the money we pay for the magazines. I have absolutely no objection to access to Which? Conversation being open and free too all comers. Outreach is a vital part of what subscribers sign up to when joining Which? and is part of its educational role for which charitable status is appropriate. On the other hand I am wholly in favour of access to the product reports and reviews being restricted exclusively to subscribers.

On that note I congratulate Wavechange on being one of the pioneers of Which? Conversation. I have very rarely – fewer times than the fingers on one hand – found it difficult to agree with him and his approach has been inspirational on many topics. I blame the rigours of academe: those of us who have not formally been either a receptacle or a dispenser of higher education can only sit at the feet of the master and admire.

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That’s a fair point in terms of open access, Duncan. I have nil knowledge of trackers and what they achieve. Is it the case that Which? is generating income from trackers that inhabit its site? I am intrigued to know what you call Which?’s ‘money-makers’. I don’t get the impression that my internet experience is in any way affected by trackers and I certainly don’t see any advertisements unless I stray into newspaper sites – but I would see a lot more if I bought a paper copy.

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Good to see the range covered in each issue. Gardening , and money, hospital food. being noteworthy.

I think I started subscribing to ?Which magazine sometime in the early 90’s, largely because of the product testing. I agree with what Wavechange says in his article and in turn I echo what Duncan and Ian say.

I enjoy Conversation in part because it sort of puts a “face” to a name. I also would have stopped taking part in it a long time ago if it weren’t a healthy place to visit. Thank you moderators and contributors for keeping it this way.

Cheers, everybody.

Thanks for all your support Sophie! It’s great to hear how much you’ve enjoyed it.

“I enjoy Conversation in part because it sort of puts a “face” to a name.” That’s the reason I believe the original forum was such a success and why, as you say, Sophie, W?Cs is enjoying similar success.

I believe the value of putting a human face and human interaction at the very core of an institution like Which? is incalculable and should never be underestimated. Which? is – uniquely – concerned with tackling issues that real people face every day in every aspect of their lives. To be able to engage directly with the very people actively attempting to address the issues affecting all of us is, I believe, the most valuable and indispensable aspect of Which?, transcending all the articles, surveys and reports ever produced.

It’s long been a serious concern for me that not everyone in the Institution shares that conviction and perpetuate a notion that the very top only ever speak from on high to the masses and never engage directly. I think that’s a mistake and one which, ironically, could be very easily remedied.

Absolutely agree Ian. You’ll start to see more people here soon