Why vox pops are important

  • 21 January 2019
  • From the section UK
Mark Easton vox popping a woman

"A parade of ignorance and prejudice." "Cheap filler." "Lazy journalism." "Can't you find any proper news?"

The vox pop, the news segment where reporters ask the opinions of the public, comes in for some pretty hefty criticism on social media and elsewhere. But far from dismissing it as pointless padding, I believe it is a vital ingredient in trying to understand Britain - and never more than now.

I am not going to defend the bad vox pop. You know the kind of thing: people are asked a simplistic question in a shopping precinct and we broadcast one person saying yes, one person saying no and the "hilarious" response of someone who misunderstands the question.

That is not only pointless, it is also patronising and disrespectful. Broadcasters reduce the voice of the people (the meaning of "vox populi") to the equivalent of TV wallpaper paste and, more importantly, we learn nothing.

But there is so much to learn from listening to people, giving them the chance to offer a view, however incisive or ill informed we might think those opinions are. Vox pops are not scientific tests of public opinion but they often tell us something important about what is bubbling away below the surface.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Shopping streets are regularly used for vox pops

Read full article Why vox pops are important

Boxing Day Family Puzzler 2018

  • 26 December 2018
  • From the section UK
Mark Easton game image

It's time once again for my Boxing Day Family Puzzler - a seasonal distraction now in its 11th year. As regular readers will know, this is the quiz where no-one is expected to know any of the answers.

The questions relate to events in the past 12 months - and all the solutions are numbers. This year, as a special treat in these troubled times, I've included bonus questions, raising the number from 20 to 23.

Read full article Boxing Day Family Puzzler 2018

Why August's 'silly season' is good for the soul

  • 18 August 2018
  • From the section UK
Aerial image of parasols on a beach in Albania Image copyright Getty Images

Around the world, the phrase "mind the gap" is regarded as a British curiosity.

Thousands of "hilarious" mind the gap T-shirts have been stuffed into holiday luggage since the practical health and safety warning was introduced on London Underground in the late '60s.

Read full article Why August's 'silly season' is good for the soul

How super-rich tourism may help the planet

  • 9 August 2018
  • From the section Africa
North Island, Seychelles

On a remote tropical island in the Indian Ocean, a man in a woman's wig has been hiding in a bush for hours. Armed with an air rifle, he plans to kill the island's last three surviving specimens of an exotic bird.

This, unlikely as it might appear, is the current front line in a conservation revolution.

Read full article How super-rich tourism may help the planet

Do people think heatwaves are un-British?

  • 1 August 2018
  • From the section UK
People sunbathing at the mixed bathing pond on Hampstead Heath, London Image copyright PA

How does Britain, known around the world for its famous grey skies and rain, react to a lengthy heatwave?

"Hallelujah," someone shouted, as a small boy ran into the street and started to dance.

Read full article Do people think heatwaves are un-British?

Can England become optimistic again?

  • 7 June 2018
  • From the section UK
Tower Bridge

The saccharine aroma of reminiscence pervades many an English front parlour. As mantel clocks tick, the faces of England stare regretfully through net curtains, yearning for yesterday.

Nostalgia, the old joke goes, ain't what it used to be. But in England it appears to be making a comeback, with half the country saying things were better in the past.

Read full article Can England become optimistic again?

What lies beneath England's allegiances and rivalries?

  • 5 June 2018
  • From the section UK
The cliffs of the Seven Sisters

Beneath the veneer of national identity, England is an elaborate tapestry of allegiances and rivalries.

For centuries, bureaucrats have drawn lines on the map without understanding the invisible ley lines of belonging that criss-cross the English countryside. There are deep loyalties to ancient counties, proud cities and towns, even legendary kingdoms.

Read full article What lies beneath England's allegiances and rivalries?

The English question: What is the nation's identity?

  • 3 June 2018
  • From the section UK
House covered in St George's flags Image copyright Getty Images

I spent St George's Day this year in Nottingham, among a large crowd bedecked in the red and white of their national saint. "Why can't we celebrate St George?" they asked me. "The Irish, Scots and Welsh have their national days. Why can't we English have ours?"

The irony was obvious. No-one had suggested they couldn't. Indeed, a huge St George's flag was draped across the town hall and police were good-naturedly marshalling hundreds of patriots to the main square. The lord mayor of Nottingham, in full regalia, had given the official send-off.

Read full article The English question: What is the nation's identity?

Crossing Divides: Split British town fights back to foster tolerance

  • 23 April 2018
  • From the section UK
Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionCasey and Waj have forged a rare and deep friendship that cuts across Rotherham's ethnic divides

The virtue of tolerance is regarded as fundamental to the British character. We are taught that our respect for the values, ideas and beliefs of others is somehow written into our national DNA.

Indeed, the government has passed a law requiring teachers and other public servants to promote just this idea as a way to deal with the threat from terrorism.

Read full article Crossing Divides: Split British town fights back to foster tolerance

London killings: No easy answers to gun and knife crime

  • 5 April 2018
  • From the section UK
A forensic tent in Hackney Image copyright Getty Images

The deliberate killing of one human being by another is a crime that defies easy characterisation.

Among the more than 50 tragedies that make up the current spike in homicides in the capital this year are some that may be premeditated or gang-related, but most will be unpredictable acts of violence in moments of mental anguish, involving a victim and a perpetrator who are well known to each other - family disputes or an argument between friends.

Read full article London killings: No easy answers to gun and knife crime