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John Ward: ‘Why I’ve been with Which? for 53 years’

Which? at 60

Which? turns 60 this year. To help us celebrate, each week we’ll be featuring a post from a Which? Conversation community member on what Which? means to them. This week, Convo regular John Ward shares his memories…

I was too young to remember the birth of Which?, but my father soon became a subscriber and I would read his magazine from cover to cover.

At 17, in 1964, I became a subscriber in my own right and have been so ever since, without interruption.

Then…

In the 1960s, families were starting to equip their homes with modern appliances, rent televisions, run modest motor cars, and embark on DIY projects.

Back then, there was no other independent and objective source of information on what was available, how much it would cost, and whether it would be good value. The concept of a ‘Best Buy’ was a novelty and it enabled customers to speak on equal terms to sales assistants.

The original test reports in the magazine were more technical by today’s standards and had a necessary air of formality and scientific rigour. There were lots of tables, fewer images, and very little light relief. It was very much a set of reports rather than a coffee-table magazine.

Which? June 1963I enjoyed reading the early Which? magazines and learnt a lot about how things were made, how they worked and how they were sold.

And now

These days, I only dip in and out of the magazine because I spend more time keeping in touch on the internet.

I became a keen participant on Which? Conversation seven years ago and they now call me a ‘regular’.

Not many days go by without me wanting to put in my two-penn’orth and there are a number of fellow contributors who have a wealth of knowledge who are only too eager to pass it on and help people with their consumer problems.

I’m less concerned nowadays about the comparisons between individual products. That’s not to say I won’t do my homework before I buy anything important or expensive though.

Over the years, I’ve become more committed to consumer rights and consumer protection. Although products have generally improved due to new technology and the influence of Which?, the standards of commerce still leave a lot to be desired in terms of honesty, fairness, and customer support.

In the past decade, buying or doing business online has opened up a whole new set of pitfalls and constant vigilance is required.

Which? has come a long way in 60 years and it has achieved an enviable reputation. It isn’t without its critics, but I still think it commands respect.

So Happy Diamond Anniversary, Which? Long may you flourish and progress.

This is a guest contribution by community member John Ward.

What are your memories of Which?

Comments
Member

Congratulations, John, on your debut leading article and your thoughts on Which, now and then. You have every right to be called a “regular” and, indeed, your two-penn’orth has accrued interest over the years and has made it a sound investment for other subscribers to Which Conversation. I, too, believe that Which, in all its guises, has a future and its past reputation and contribution to consumer issues, is something that it will continue to develop as we enter that uncertain world of post Brexit referendum life. I join with you in wishing Which a wholly warm, wonderful, warranted wassail on their diamond anniversary.

Member

As Vynor has said – congratulations John, and to Which? I wonder how many people have been subscribers from such a young age, or for so long. I recently learned that I joined a mere 30 years ago.

I was happy with the earlier format of the magazine but appreciate that it has changed to make it appeal to a wider range of people, and it is encouraging how many supporters Which? has. Perhaps the more detailed information that some of us seek from time to time could be put on the website, in addition to the growing amount of general advice that is provided and updated as necessary.

Which? Conversation has provided significantly more opportunity to engage with consumer affairs and other topics. When I unwrap my copy of the magazine I now look to see which topics have recently been discussed online and might appear in the near future.

Member

Hear hear, hear hear, two comments above.

Which? Convo a flash of inspiration, for sure. Helps you feel you are part of a mostly like-minded community. Divided we are conquered, united we stand.

Member

Weclome to the Guest…something club, John. Look forward to a steady flow of wisdom from here on in.

Member

Is there any chance of seeing the full contents of an issue of Which? magazine from each decade? It would be interesting to see how the magazine has evolved over the years.

Member
Patrick Taylor says:
27 September 2017

Congratulations on your maiden Conversation John.

Whereas 60 years ago there was a dearth of information we have now moved to an era where there is a surfeit of “information” and of products. Helping people negotiate that morass and provide the best information, or direct people to where it is already hosted, is how I see the future for an independent consumer organisation of repute.

Member

Very commendable John, I think you are indeed a ‘regular extraordinaire!’

I would however, like to suggest that anyone who can deservedly boast 50 plus years Which? membership should receive honorary membership. How about it Which? as part of a diamond anniversary celebratory goodwill gesture 🙂

Alas, as a relative newcomer to Convo, I will never reach that status. I can however, through some mysterious and unexplained technological quirk unbeknown to me, make claim to be the only regular with a face!

Member
Patrick Taylor says:
27 September 2017

I have spoken to quite a few members who have been with Which? for more than 50 years. The Dutch Consumentenbond think this worthy enough to make a small presentation to their long-standing subscribers. Unfortunately Which? /CA do not see it as a significant matter and ignore it.

Member

It would be interesting to know the number of Which? members who can claim over 50 years of membership.

Member

That would be interesting. I’m not sure if we can find the exact number but I do know it’s quite a few. We are very lucky to have such loyal supporters.

Member

A percentage would suffice Alex 🙂

Member

I’ve got a number for you, Beryl. We have 8, 864 subscribers who have been with us since 1967 or earlier. 🙂

Member
Patrick Taylor says:
28 September 2017

That is quite interesting as that means a considerable number are subscribers but not Ordinary Members given OM’s are around 6500.

Alex, did the people who provided the information to you remove libraries and businesses from the subscriber database?

Member

Wow! Thanks Alex – those figures speak for themselves. With an estimated 600,000 subscribers, that is pretty good going and quite a few potential honorary members?

Member
Patrick Taylor says:
27 September 2017

The CA records are a bit ropey and AFAIR from the shareholder Register it is below 50 of the 6498 but my memory is hazy on that. The number who claim to have been members from the beginning that I have spoken to have not got this backed up on the Shareholder list. I am inclined to believe they are correct.

There was another Govt sponsored consumer body that was subsumed into Which? relatively early that complicates matters. It is a shame that no one is collating the early memories when meetings were actually held in halls or at stations when the Trustees met the subscribers. [so I am told]

I suspect it is possible to have been a subscriber for 50 years without being a current shareholder.

Member

Yes wonderful mag, been subscribing good few years now. BUT have growing concerns over it’s governance, loss making on things it should not be involved in India, Legal advice and Mortgage brokering for example and the rather obscenely high remuneration paid to senior staff.

I do hope Which? returns to its roots.

Member
Ann Hawkins says:
2 October 2017

Ann Hawkins. We joined shortly after getting married (issue no. 2 I think). With very little money we had to be sure that what we bought worked. Over the years we found the Gardening, Motoring and Computing Magazines very useful. Now I am pleased that I can telephone for Legal Advice (how do you find a good Solicitor when you need one?) I don’t subscribe to magazine

Ann Hawkins. We joined when we got married — think I have issue no. 2 somewhere. With very little money every penny had to count. We were both in research of one sort and another and the ethos of unbiased testing by “hands-on people was – and is – of great value to consumers and designers alike
There are still far too many “snake-like salesmen about in all sections of goods and commerce, all determined to part other folk from their money with total contempt for any adverse consequences to others. No member has to pay for the magazine’s they are not interested in, researching sources is important (remember the Chinese grinding melamine up into baby milk). I trust the movement will flourish to protect all consumers for many years.

Member
Patrick Taylor says:
2 October 2017

I too hope the movement continues in testing products and exposing dubious rackets working to the detriment of consumers. I am not enamoured of the commercial ventures Which? has become involved in.

I note that John Lewis , and British Gas are also plugging trustworthy traders, like Which? and no doubt all are taking a fee. It would have been nice if the Government approved scheme had received more attention:
https://www.trustmark.org.uk/

Member

Agenda Item No. 1 is Apologies for absence. I am sorry I have not been around in Which? Conversation for a few weeks but publication of this Conversation occurred at a rather busy juncture with a combination of family circumstances of both the sad and joyous kind and intense activity levels on a couple of other projects that I am involved with in an administrative capacity. Apart from the occasional news bulletin I haven’t watched any TV for three weeks either and I now question whether it is necessary if there are other absorbing and fulfilling activities to participate in.

I am glad I am far from alone in having racked up over fifty years of Which? ‘membership’. This is exceeded only by my unbroken readership of Private Eye from 1962 since when I have not missed an issue even though I have never had a subscription. It would appear that everything else in my life has been ephemeral.

I appreciate the comments made in response to my article. This is not actually my maiden piece as I wrote a Conversation about the plastic carrier bag charge some time ago. And I do put my hands up to unoffficially ‘running’ some of the Conversations over the years, especially the one on how the UK state retirement pension compares to those in other countries which, annoyingly, ran out of puff because of the lack of reliable data on equivalent and comparable schemes abroad and the relative costs of living.

To those who suggest there should be a special prize for longevity of subscription I would say that, like Which? itself, I cannot be bought and would probably cancel my subscription if such a thing were put forward.

Member

Welcome back John. You have a bit of catching up to do.

Member

Welcome back, John 🙂