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Which? celebrates half a century as the consumer champion

23rd September 2007 Print
This month Which? celebrates half a century of independently testing products and services and campaigning on behalf of the consumer.

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.”