/ Travel & Leisure

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.

Campaigning

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?

Comments
Member

I am very pleased Wavechange is here , I am able to bounce ideas off of him without it turning into an argument . He has a steadying influence on me and he has actually changed my outlook on some things , a near impossible feat in itself because of his calmness, rationality and down to earth thinking processes. To me he is a cornerstone of Which and I value his opinion greatly . I cant say more than that except, if he doesn’t mind being called “an institution ” .

Member

Thanks Duncan. I would like to point out that I did not write the title for the Convo. I simply looked at other people’s copies of Which? magazine for a long time before I became a subscriber. I’m very impressed by how long John Ward has been a supporter.

Member

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

Member

Hear, hear duncan!

Member
Pilgrim says:
1 October 2017

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?

Member

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.

Member
Pilgrim says:
8 October 2017

Patrick,
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?

Member

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.

Member
bishbut says:
1 October 2017

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

Member

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.

Member

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.

Member

I don’t suppose that you still have the first issue of Which? magazine, John. I’m sure it would make interesting reading in 2017.

Member

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

Member

The cover was blue and featured kettles. I expect that one of your colleagues will dig it out as part of the birthday celebrations. 🙂

Member

Autumn 1958. Close. Also thanks to BBC New

Member

Might this be it? Thanks to BBC News

Member

Car test supplement started 1962. BBC News again.

Member


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.

Member

That’s the one I was looking at, Malcolm, but I was hoping to find a better quality image so we could read the writing.

Back in these days, electric kettles were expensive and may have had only a six month guarantee. The Sale of Goods Act 1893 would not have helped much if things went wrong.

Member

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

Member

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

Member

In answer to Pilgrim- I have posted many times that Which is only conforming to the latest commercialism and globalization of this world . I am no far-right neo-con but I am practically realistic , there are many websites that depend on third party backing and ban youn from posting if you so much as criticise their backers even a little. I have been banned from many in the USA , so, in my view , Which is being democratic and allowing a certain amount of free speech that others would not allow. 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 and if you are going to criticise Which for it –dont any of you realise the amount of trackers here of various sorts that I allow as a concession to me posting here ? This is Britain in the year -2017 going back to altruism/ high moral values / tradition / when all around you is “Americanization ” of this country is to me non-realistic . Even now trade deals are being talked about between the USA and the UK do any of you think they will favour the poor/sick/old ? of course they wont . Your fuel will go through the roof in years to come for one and control over this country by the ordinary tax- payer will be lost to bigger entities abroad . Long term vision ?? yes but open your eyes its happening now . You either take a stand for the traditions of this country or you say – well we cant beat them so –we join them , you will not be given a middle course . Make up your minds what you want a future Britain to be like . There are much worse than Which out there and I would rather work with a website that admits its just conforming to modern practices – at least its honest about it . I keep admiring its advertising dept . its certainly doing a great job internationally at least .

Member

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.

Member

Why do some here think I have limited knowledge Patrick ? If I was an enemy f the state that would be an advantage as I would be underestimated but I know some of the organisations you mention especially the US one . There is me thinking this is a free to post website , do those that are not members realise its restricted to “Members Only ” ? and does the “Great British Public ” realise that also ? . . I did make the point I am not a member and obviously it upset you , I was just being honest like I always am . I am not privy to any “Inner Sanctum ” of Which and my view is a modern view and realistic even though I am an old guy.. Of course I am an “Outsider ” I never said I was otherwise but this isn’t 1950 and it isn’t a London exclusive “Members Only ” club and if you are waiting for me to be -,umble –its never going to happen . 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 . If I was a shareholder I wouldn’t be complaining of that. How do non-members who post here feel about it ?

Member

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? ? 😀

Member
Patrick Taylor says:
2 October 2017

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.

Member

That is most gracious of you malcolm written like a gentleman I am more influenced by soft words spoken to me than harsh even to the extent I will think on your comment on becoming a member . I have turned down joining ( by subscription ) very many organisations from all parts of the spectrum and world that even includes Woman’s Rights Groups and even though I am not in business , some USA business groups and two UK ones . I don’t hold a limited view of life .

Member

The only thing I will agree with you on is Which,s finances . I haven’t posted my “horoscope ” of Which yet as I am hampered in actually making the circular “wheel ” due to no time of day given. This forces me to rely on the planetary aspects on that day . The one real downside of Which –and there are many GOOD sides is the dire need of a hard-nosed City Accountant to guide Which in the right direction and by that I mean somebody who hasn’t got ulterior motives as Which could be “tricked ” financially if not careful.

Member

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.

Member

A small quibble John , when you mention costs of Which Conversations , it looks like anybody not a member is a “freeloader ” but that is not quite true . Many websites don’t “charge for admission ” in the straight forward sense . I have said innumerable times that I don’t block any of Which,s “money makers ” which I accept as a “payment ” for posting here. One Which web-page had 27 trackers that’s getting near some daily newspaper websites. I feel I have paid something to post here , my privacy in data collection , I am not complaining , I accept it but one newspaper I will not name has now blocked me a la “American style ” as I wont allow their ridiculous adverts popping up everywhere. I got round that by using a small open browser that managed to remove the worst ones while allowing me to read the web-page and has the added benefit of completely removing the trackers on close-down.

Member

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.

Member

I visit many sites, many in connection with our discussions on Which? Convo. The news sites are probably the worst for adverts and pop-ups and they can be very intrusive but I accept that this is how they fund their existence. Sometimes the adverts are clearly related to my activity. For example, I kept seeing advertising by BSI for two or three weeks after visiting their website. I suspect that some of the adverts are random because they relate to websites I’ve neither visited nor heard of. Until a few years ago I blocked cookies but found a growing number of websites would restrict what I could do. After a particularly traumatic experience with the Waitrose website I decided that I would have to accept cookies from sites that I visit.

I do clear the cookies regularly, though I don’t know what might happen if I did not. I do my best not to click on adverts and pop-ups.

I’m glad you are back, John. At one stage I thought we had lost Beryl, but at least I could see that you were looking in occasionally even when you were not posting, thanks to ‘Find other community members’. Our visits are being tracked. 🙂

Member

To give -“A Common Mans Guide to internet Tracking (Available soon from W.H .Smith ) see : https://www.digitaltrends.com/web/top-100-websites-how-are-they-tracking-you/

Member

There are many early issues advertised on eBay and it’s interesting to look back at the cover photos. Here is the cover of the September 1988 issue, one of the photos I remember well:

Credit: eBay

Continuing the search, I see that the photo of dangerous iron was on the cover of the November 1990 magazine:

Credit: eBay

Member

Great to see all of these old covers – sure we can get ours out of the archive and share them on here. @adam-gillett?

Member

Here you go – a quick selection from the 1960s and ’80s:

Member

Thanks Patrick. I looked at many on eBay before finding the ones I was looking for. A few of the covers are on Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/davedye/which-magazine-covers/?eq=which%3F%20magazine&etslf=3210

Edit: Thanks Adam. That was quick service.

Member
Patrick Taylor says:
2 October 2017

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

Member

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.

Member

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

Member

“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.

Member

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

Member

One of the reasons that Which? magazine appealed to me from an early age was that it provided information that was often not available elsewhere. It was Which? that encouraged me to ask questions when I visited shops. Sometimes I asked sales assistants to let me have a look at the manual and they were usually helpful.

The first experience with poor service was when I was a student. I took back a recently purchased Grundig reel-to-reel tape recorder and the retailer was neither helpful nor polite. That was long before the Sale of Goods Act 1979. I eventually gave up and repaired the recorder myself. I certainly don’t enjoy making complaints but having the magazine – and Which? Convo – has made me better informed and more confident.

Can anyone else remember their first poor experience as a consumer?

Member

That’s lovely to hear how we’ve helped you. Thanks for your kind words, Wavechange!

Member

I bought a pair of Hush Puppies from a High Street chain back in the ’60s. They rapidly developed a small hole in the upper adjacent to a little toe. The shop initially said it was normal wear but I persisted and was given a replacement pair.

I don’t remember when I first started subscribing to Which? but I suspect it was around the late ’60s as I had a colleague who thought the Which? product test reports were of little value, and I recall disagreeing. The basis was none of us can have experience of enough versions of a product, nor the expertise, to be able to make a fully informed decision. Which?’s reports help fill that gap.

Member

It has been a nostalgia trip looking at many old Which? magazine covers on eBay, Alex.

I was reading an old book or article about early testing of shoes, Malcolm. I’ll see if I can find it again.

Member

I think mine was a radio-cassette player that chewed up cassettes that I bought from Dixons in the 70s or 80s.

I took it back to the store within a week or 2 and they sent it for investigation. They then tried to fob me off with telling me I had been using the wrong cassettes. I made them test it and after it had chewed up quite a few of their tapes in ascending price order, they finally agreed the player had a problem. They then wanted me to choose another player or accept a credit note. I made them test the other players on show and every one of them chewed up cassettes.

On the basis they could not sell me a working radio-cassette player, I eventually got a refund, but it was hard work.

Member

There was a good technical reason why many of the earlier cassette recorders were prone to chewing up tapes. The better designed ones would stop the motor before damage was done when the take-up spool stopped rotating. Getting a refund from Dixons is something of an achievement. 🙂

Member

I am mightily impressed alfa. It’s that kind of attitude that should be circulated now in the Forums so people realise that it is a default for many companies to inadequately train staff and for them to attempt to fob consumers off.

Member

I have been searching through old magazines in the hope that I might find the odd copy of Which? magazine from the 90s or even the late 80s, without success. I realise that I was fairly ruthless in downsizing my magazine collection when moving home last year. 🙁

Please could we be treated to some articles from some of the early magazines as part of the birthday celebrations.