The first issue of Which? was published 60 years ago this month. Here, our guest, community member Ian, reimagines how the seed was first sown…
Once upon a time, there was a little boy who lived with his parents in a tumbledown (not to say ramshackle) house. The little boy was generally happy, had some nice friends and looked forward especially to two events in the year: his birthday and Christmas Day.
However, he found that the toys he was given as presents sometimes broke rather too quickly. He also noticed that the accumulator powering the suitcase wireless often expired at the start of the weekend, when it was too late to replace it as the shop was shut. This made him sad.
One night, in the run-up to Christmas, a fairy appeared at the end of his bed and twinkled. The little boy sat up sharply, and said: ‘Hello. Who are you?’
The fairy grimaced, muttered something about current educational standards slipping, and then seemed to compose herself. ‘I am your Christmas fairy and I am here because you’ve been good – mostly – and I can grant you one wish,’ she told him. ‘Oh, and no wishing for more wishes. Read the Ts and Cs, kid.’
The little boy stared for a moment, then realised this was likely to be a one-off chance and he’d better not screw it up. ‘Er…’ he began, hesitantly.
‘C’mon, kid,’ rasped the fairy, in a passable impression of James Cagney (well, this was a while ago…). ‘I ain’t got all day.’
The little boy swallowed hard, then said, carefully: ‘I want a way to know which presents won’t break too quickly.’
The fairy frowned, thought for a moment and said: ‘Hmmm. Not the usual request. What’s your name, kid?’
‘Michael,’ answered the little boy, nervously.
‘OK, Michael,’ said the fairy, spitting. ‘I’ll grant you your wish, but you’ll have to wait a while.’
‘How long?,’ asked Michael.
‘Until you’re 42,’ replied the fairy, mysteriously, and twinkled off.
A brief history…
Which? entered the world in October 1957.
Michael Young (then aged 42) had suggested to Harold Wilson that the Labour Party should include a Consumer Advisory Service as part of its manifesto in the early 1950s.
However, it was Americans, Ray and Dorothy Goodman, who’d mocked up a magazine separating good products from bad.
The couple were to return to the States before they could publish the magazine, but left a dummy copy of their proposal with Michael.
A few months later, the first quarterly copy of Which? was printed in a converted garage in Bethnal Green, east London.
This month, Which? is celebrating its 60th birthday. It may not be perfect, but it remains a force for good in consumer terms, it continues to lobby relentlessly on consumer issues, and you can still find out how many sheets there are in a loo roll.
Happy Birthday, Which?!
*This is a creative story about the birth of Which?, as penned by community member, Ian.