The Big Issue

(NB Far wiser people than I are writing everywhere about the political, social and spiritual ramifications of the current pandemic and isolation. For the time being, I shall endeavour to make this blog a nearly corona-free zone.)

We recently watched again the very first Ninth Doctor episode (Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper). It contained a montage of “current”, ie 2005, life which included a seller of the “Big Issue” magazine. Yes, the Big Issue has indeed been a British institution for that long (much longer in fact.) This is a sad fact, since it wouldn’t exist without the serious problem of homeless and “vulnerably housed” people; but on the other hand, a great institution.

I was going to say two exciting and wonderful things about the Big Issue. The first is that of all the things that Britain can take credit for launching on the world, the Big Issue is one of the best. The second is that the Editor, Paul McNamee, surely has the coolest job for a former professional sportsperson ever.

Unfortunately, in researching this post, I learned a) that the Big Issue wasn’t the first: it was inspired by a New York paper called Street Lights; b) that editor Paul McNamee doesn’t seem as I’d thought to be half of the famous tennis double act McNamara and McNamee, who won many Wimbledon and other titles.

Shame, that. However, I still want to sing the praises of the Big Issue, which has been going since 1991. Vendors, as you all know, buy copies and sell them to the public at a profit. The Big Issue supports them, doesn’t judge them – but tries to ensure that they treat their customers well.

For example, it’s been many years since any of them tried to pull on me the trick “Can I keep the copy to read?” to which the reply was, “Well, no, I’ve bought it.” They’ve become much more professional over time. Some vendors (I hear) can take card payments. and they don’t beg.

As a magazine, the Big Issue is unquestionably “worthy”, although its production values are high. I can imagine that it might be more popular on the left than on the right. It is very interested in those who are trying to improve the world, but it also gets high profile interviewees and guest editors. Sometimes its features are decidedly quirky, but I highly value its film reviews and fact-check page.

The issue for 16th – 22nd March was particularly good. It featured the tale of the vendor with ADHD and Asperger’s, who married a customer four years ago; a fascinating piece on Florence Nightingale as the founding mother of hospital hygiene; and an answers-to-standard-questions-“interview” with the actor Richard Dreyfuss, which contained much that was very unexpected, including his encounter with Sir John Gielgud.

The letters page often contains a letter saying something like “I have never bought a copy before last week, but it was so great I’ll be buying it every week from now on”… which makes one wonder where the writer has been for the last thirty years.

I once paid for an advert for the Tales from Ragaris in the Big Issue. I have to say it had no discernible effect whatever, and no one I knew seemed to have seen it.

I don’t know what’s going to happen to Big Issue vendors now that everyone’s staying at home. I suspect that Paul McNamee and John Bird have a plan.

Love from the PPI Blogger

The next post is due on 10th April.

  • Matthew Perry

    27th March 2020 at 5:34 pm Reply

    I bought a copy of the Swedish equivalent a while back. I have to be interested in the subject to read in Swedish and this was nowhere near as good as the UK version, in my opinion. It was mostly stories of some of the vendors, which, sadly, left me understanding why they ended up homeless.

  • Malachi Malagowther

    27th March 2020 at 11:00 pm Reply

    I think your comments on the effect of your advertisement in the Big Issue were a bit harsh. There was a definite spike in the sales of WDNKC shortly after the Big Issue came out and you briefly reached number 1 spot in the Amazon category of Christian fantasy. This may only have meant that you sold about five copies within five hours but the effect was still real. Apart from that your own brother mentioned having come across the advert by accident without having know it was going to be there.

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