The Association for Qualitative Research
The Hub of Qualitative Thinking

Worst memory of a group

25 years later and Roddy Glen still vividly recalls his worst group episode

What was I doing 25 years ago? I was working at BMP, as it was called then, and back in those days when we wanted to play TV ads to respondents we had to take special great big machines called Sony U-Matics to play them on. The man in charge of these machines at BMP was a fearsome character called Bill, who was then the head projectionist.

One night I got ready for groups the following day in an area of Greater London famed for being over researched, and for having too many recruiters. I loaded this huge video machine into the boot of my car and left it there, outside my flat in W10 overnight. What I hadn't realised was that they don't work if they get remotely damp.

So I drove to the recruiter's house (I probably shouldn't name this lady) and when I arrive, I knock on the door. I've never been there before, she opens the door and she's got this huge dog that instantly goes off its head and tries to eat me. Eventually she pulls the dog off, pushes it upstairs and into the bedroom where you can hear it snarling and throwing itself at the bedroom door.

I'm ushered into this room that's got a huge, rather sticky-feeling shag pile carpet (she's not strong on cleaning), and I set the kit up. I try to play it and the machine doesn't work. At this point I start swearing. I'll have to phone the agency, and say, sorry, how do you make it work?

I rang Bill, using a phone (no mobiles then!) the handset of which seemed to be coated in something akin to ear-wax. Between expletives he tried to talk me through it but ended up saying: 'I'll send Barry (the company van driver) out with another machine.' In the meantime the client had arrived and I had to start the group, but the dog was making so much noise upstairs that we couldn't actually proceed.

That's when the recruiter said: 'He'll be much better if he comes down.' So the dog, a Great Dane, a Doberman or something like that, a huge nasty thing, came down and was allowed into the room. He had to sniff everybody really hard in the groin, so that's me and a lot of housewives. Great. Really relaxing.

Eventually he settled down on the shag pile in the middle of the group and tried to eat my tape recorder, which was on the carpet in front of me, and proceeded to fart profusely. These poor women were trying to talk to me about cereal bars or whatever it was with their jumpers up over their noses looking like Wilfred from the Bash Street Kids.

So this dog's farting like crazy and trying to eat my microphone and making the tape inaudible and the client in the meantime has gone into the kitchen saying: 'I know a thing or two about video machines. I can probably fix it.' The recruiter leads him into the kitchen where he takes the fearsome Bill's video machine apart on the kitchen table. I am stuck, unable to implore him not to as it is a sin punishable by death to go inside one of Bill's machines.

Then, because she's nuts, she says: 'Do you know about these things? I wonder if you could look at my toaster.' So he then, being the sort of the guy he was, took her toaster apart as well. The BMP driver arrives just before the end of the first group and so I'm able to play a quick couple of ads on the replacement machine before the women absolutely have to go. He then has to wait while the client reassembles the original machine so he can take it back to the agency.

At the end, the recruiter gives me the respondent receipt forms and a strangely angular and rather technological looking piece of metal to take back to the agency. 'It's probably from inside the machine that that man took away.' Convinced that Bill would kill me I went back to the agency with it to be told that he'd rip my head off if the returned machine didn't work.

Next day my panic rose when Bill appeared menacingly at my desk. He dropped the piece of metal on it, scowled and said 'this thing doesn't actually come from inside one of my machines. It looks like a bit of a toaster.'

And that was 1981.

 

Roddy Glen
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2006