At the time of the Townsend 1968-69 Poverty in the UK survey, the questionnaires used were paper-based and came in the form of a survey booklet. Field interviewers, trained in an ad hoc fashion, would code the interviewee's answers into the various boxes by each question and could make notes amplifying, justifying and explaining their coding decisions. They could also write further notes in the margins, providing additional information.
Below you can scroll through some examples. They provide insights into the attitudes and approach of the interviewer, the feelings and opinions of the interviewee and additional, often very revealing, information on the conditions and circumstances of the household and area. They add to our understanding of life in the late 1960s as well as the research methods used.
For each example, the unique survey questionnaire number is given and by clicking on that number you can go to the pdf of the questionnaire itself. These examples are just a few of the many notes that can be found on the Townsend questionnaires. The 1968/69 survey questionnaires provides a full archive of all the existing questionnaire booklets which is searchable by the extent of marginal notes, region and interviewer.
In some of the notes, the interviewer records their judgments, sometimes very sceptical, as to the reliability of the information they were being given – or not given.
"She 'wants' to get a job but is not really seriously trying I think."
"Strangely enough informant refused to give any details of exactly what his job was. Walter Mitty?"
"This was a sod of an interview –
1. I’m still not clear about the shop, either he evading tax + the police.
2. If his brother exists, he is fiddling...."
"Informant: ‘I feel guilty when I eat. I always think it’s Mary’s next dinner I’m eating’"
"When I had 3 children to bring up myself after my divorce what I got to keep them wouldn’t have kept a fly. I had to work at night after looking after them all day to keep them properly fed and that. I reckon women ….."
The informant was deaf and the interviewer notes the problems with the interview and then comments:
"It was rather sad, informant had lived alone for two years, sister had died in 1966. Informant kept on crying. On this bright summer evening we sat in front 'parlour' with curtains drawn and lights on, newspapers covered the 'good' chairs. Informant did not really understand why I was there – hoped that perhaps I might manage to get her more money to live on. She would not, however, think of applying for national assistance. I think that something could be done for her…."
The informant lived with her husband, who was ‘in bed with heart trouble’, and daughter, who had had ‘a series of major operations’ and was ‘something of a wreck’. The interviewee comments:
"One of those interviews where, I fear, the slant of our questioning may have crystallized the informant’s despair. A household declining into ill-health and isolation. The house inconvenient with a basement flat for the daughter, & the kitchen below, & lacking amenities. Front room filled with antiques, relics of the grand houses the couple had been servants at. Daughter has a bed-sit..."
This household was coded as not having a bath. This note explains this decision.
"Got one but no hot water so can’t use it. Landlord won’t put in hot water. This is serious because the daughter is disabled and ought to be getting hot water bath every day."
This interview has extensive notes throughout and comments at the end on ‘cystalizing’ the respondent’s ‘despair’ (see above).
A note clarifying the kitchen arrangements.
"kitchen shared with about 30 other people"
A note providing the interviewer's view on the informant's assets.
"The interviewee invited, even often prompting, that she would never (?) sell any of their many possessions. The home was laden with saleable goods all in very good condition – the inf. Was also wearing 3 good rings and a good gold watch!"
"Employees should not discriminate – as they do - against the relatively older man – 45/50. He had experience of this discrimination…"
A newspaper clipping was attached:
"Interestingly nearly all the houses around here have got dry rot. They were built with unseasoned timber all about the same time."
This page was authored by Joanna Mack, University of Bristol and The Open University.
PSE:UK is a major collaboration between the University of Bristol, Heriot-Watt University, The Open University, Queen's University Belfast, University of Glasgow and the University of York working with the National Centre for Social Research and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency. ESRC Grant RES-060-25-0052.