Mass Observation: my part in its triumph

Today’s Today Programme guest editorship by Mass Observation brings back repressed memories of my own experiences with the organisation.

A family friend was M.O. Gauleiter for the Home Counties. I was still stuck in the blinkered rut that says indoors office-based 9-5 jobs are boring and what’s important is to be Outside and Doing stuff. And so during my gap year I dabbled with Mass Observation.

Meaning that during the months of October/November/December 1984 – great times to be outdoors – I stood in the doorway to Our Price in Guildford and asked random shoppers about their purposes and intended outcome for their visit to the shop. I trudged around Hounslow prior to the launch of Raffles cigarettes, ringing bells and praying for an obviously adult smoker within the right age parameters to answer, so that I could ask them how much they smoked and whether they had ever heard of Raffles. This being prior to the launch, unsurprisingly none had. (There would be further research drives during and after the launch, to rate its success and market penetration over time.) And I had to stand at strategic points around Guildford, at specific times of day, with a clicky counter in my hand and count passers-by, declining offers of cider from the town drunk who was following me around.

This outdoor, non-office thing, I was deciding, really is overrated. 9-5? Bring it on.