6 OCTOBER 1967, Page 9

Happy birthday


This week sees the publication of a bumper issue of Which?—an issue that devotes eighty- four of its pages to solid information and only four to the festive marking of the magazine's tenth anniversary.

The anniversary is obviously of consuming interest. Apparently it is of political interest too. • For each of the party leaders has sent to the Consumers' Association a message of congratu- lation and encouragement. Which? refrains from any comparative rating of these messages; the choice of a best buy being here a matter of taste, even prejudice. But what the keen student of consumer politics will spot is that, whilst all three are basically saying exactly the same thing, the robustness of their language is in inverse proportion to their proximity to power. Thus the Prime Minister contents himself with ortho- dox economic generalisation: 'An aware and informed buying public is the best stimulus to the raising of standards by manufacturers and traders generally.' The Leader of the Opposition heralds the beginnings of a 'consumer revolu.:;

Lion' in which a new and demanding generation 'insists on higher standards' and 'impatiently rejects restraints and inefficiencies.' The Liberal leader does not seem to mind whose toes he treads on in proclaiming that 'before you came along nobody really dared to name names or criticise goods constructively.'

Constructively is the operative word. For many manufacturers and traders have improved their products or services as the result of criticisms in Which?, and more than one government department has strengthened the law when it has been shown up as inadequate by Which? Thus the influence of the magazine penetrates more deeply into the community than might be supposed simply from looking at its predominantly middle-class readership. Towards the socially unrepresentative nature of this readership the Consumers' Association has a slightly ambivalent attitude. On the one hand, it is genuinely anxious to help provide (through what it calls 'consumer clinics') pre- shopping information to the less educationally privileged. On the other hand, it is happy to leave untranslated the epigram which appears alongside the politicians' birthday greetings, Principibus placuisse viris non ultima taus est. Presumably each of its 440,000 subscribers is either a classical scholar or sophisticated enough to know in which dictionary of quotations to look this up.

As I looked down at the breakfast table the other day, I had a little translating to do my- self. For on the carton of yoghourt thoughtfully .provided by my hostess was a drawing of a quaint key-ring and the words, 'ce magnifique porte-clefs metal facon vieil argent pour 100 capsules a 2 timbres a 0.30 F.'—a nice example from the world of sales gimmickry of what John Wells described in these pages three weeks ago as 'the wonderful sameness awaiting the traveller abroad.' Alas, I was not on the Cate des Maures sufficiently long to collect a. hundred yoghourt tops. But I was there long enough to reflect once again upon the advantages of holi- daying in off-peak months. No traffic bottle- necks; no parking problems; no difficulty in securing a room at the pension, a table at the bistro, a Penrod at the bar; only a scattering of bathers on the beaches and, if the weather conditions are a toss-up, the occasional oppor- tunity to improve oneself culturally as well as physically. (I admit, to my shame, I had never before realised that the otherwise bizarre attrac- tions of St Tropez include a Museum of the Annunciation, housing an enchanting exhibition of post-1890 French paintings in which Boudin is particularly strongly represented.)

It is now five years since a report on tourism in OECD member countries emphasised the growing need to stagger holidays, and identified `at least 25 to 35 per cent of the population' —those unconstrained by employment condi- tions or school terms—who could and should be encouraged to do so. If you are among this substantial proportion of the unconstrained, and haven't been abroad yet this year, you are entitled to your 1966/67 currency allowance of £50 only up to 31 October. So why not hurry round to your nearest travel agency before it's too late and you have to start using next year's allowance? Were I in your shoes I'd probably be off now, not to sea or countryside, but to the eternal city, armed for intellectual purposes with H. V. Morton's A Traveller in Rome and, for the purposes of satisfying the inner man, Cyril Ray's little book in the Observer 'Time Off' series.