Iain Murray’s recent article on Clipboard Vultures (MW May 10) reminded me of an incident I witnessed some years ago.
In the mid-Seventies, Norwich was a favourite hunting ground for the research brigade, and clipboards could regularly be seen being gripped by anxious young women patrolling the pavements in front of the local market.
However, these were clipboards with a difference, in that they often came bearing gifts. It was not uncommon to be awarded a trial pack from the commissioning company after completing the questionnaire. Anything from a packet of biros, to a minuture bottle of gin could be yours simply by agreeing to answer a few questions.
Far from being avoided, then, many of these young ladies were actively sought out by would-be gift receivers, as proved one lunchtime in the summer of 1974. Having failed to attract the attention of the young lady with the clipboard, despite having slowed our walking pace as we passed her for the second time, the friend I was with decided to pursue a more positive approach.
Strolling over, he encouraged her with: “Go on, ask me.”
The young lady took a step back and replied: “I don’t think so, thanks.”
Undeterred, he tried again. “Go on, I’m good at this sort of thing.”Again, she resisted. By now my friend had become convinced that there was real treasure to be had, and putting on his most persuasive look, he practically pleaded: “Oh please, I’d really like to help.”
The young lady succumbed. “Very well,” she said and handed my friend a sheet of paper. “Would you look at the list and tell me which of these sanitary towels you have used in the past six months?”
I swear there was a glint in her eye as we retreated without claiming our free gift.