Which? celebrates half a century as the consumer champion
The first issue of the magazine, published on 7 October 1957, was snapped up by shoppers desperate for independent, unbiased advice about the products they were buying. There were 7,000 subscribers within a week; today there are over 1 million subscribers across all Which? products.
To mark its birthday, the consumer organisation has opened up its archives to reveal some of its more bizarre tests, the famous faces that have given a helping hand, and its major campaign successes.
Which? was founded in 1957 by Michael Young, who went on to set up other institutions including the Open University
Today it is the second largest national consumer organisation – but it began life in a converted garage in Bethnal Green
The first product tests were aspirin and kettles
In 1963, Which? gained some notoriety when it published a revolutionary supplement on contraceptives
As long ago as 1964, Which? called for a ban on lead paint in toys which led to its first campaign success
Which?’s calls for seat belts to be fitted in new cars helped make it compulsory to ‘clunk click’ for every trip in 1983
It has played a part in many consumer laws - including the Consumer Credit Act 1974 and Consumer Safety Act 1978
World Cup winners Geoff Hurst, Bobby Moore, Gordon Banks and Martin Peters helped test footballs in June 1982
Legendary Grand Prix racing driver Sir Stirling Moss has been a Which? member from the start
Which? has awarded almost 14,000 ‘Best Buys’; Panasonic has received the accolade more than any other company
The Which? website went live in 1996 – two years before Google
When Geoffrey Howe appeared on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs he chose The Which? Good Food Guide as the book he would take
Which?’s youngest ever tester was 14 year-old Kieren Leigh, who wrote to TV’s Jim’ll Fix It asking to join on a temporary basis
In 2007, Which? made history by issuing legal proceedings on behalf of consumers unlawfully overcharged for football shirts
Which? had been mentioned in the Houses of Parliament 733 times since 1988 – once every three days that Parliament sits
About half a million people have downloaded Which?’s online guide to challenging unfair bank charges
Recommended products fly off the shelves - sales of a Sainsbury’s champagne rose 3,000 per cent in just one month when it won a Which? taste test
Which? tests go further - tyre tests are equivalent to driving to the moon and back
Bizarre product tests have included taking mobile phones into mine shafts to determine signal strength
In 2007 alone, three major pieces of legislation have been introduced following campaigning by Which? – on pensions reform, estate agents and legal services.
Peter Vicary-Smith, Chief Executive, Which?, says: “Although we’ve widened the range of issues we cover and the number of products we test each year, Which? has been consistent over the last five decades in its commitment to making individuals as powerful as the organisations they deal with in their daily lives.
“Our relentless campaigning has improved product safety and given consumers more rights. Today, Which? continues to guide people through an ever-increasing choice of products and services and to campaign on the issues that really matter to consumers – from unfair bank charges to food labelling.”