Timeline of Plain English Campaign

Timeline clock

1971

  • Chrissie Maher launches the Tuebrook Bugle, Britain's first community newspaper. The Bugle is written by local people in their own style. Its success inspires many other groups to publish their own newspaper.

1974

  • Chrissie launches Impact Foundation, a community group to teach typography and print skills to ordinary people. The Liverpool News is Britain's first newspaper for adults with learning difficulties. Impact produced many other publications, including simplified forms for Liverpool City Council. This is the first example of plain English editing.
  • Chrissie is invited to join the National Consumer Council, and creates the Salford Form Market, a one‑stop advice shop to help ordinary people claim benefits. While running the Form Market, Chrissie notes the misery caused by needlessly complicated forms. She helps rewrite a series of forms for the Supplementary Benefit Commission, but the Government is slow to pick up the message.

1979

  • Outraged at the lack of progress on plain English, Chrissie officially launches Plain English Campaign by shredding gobbledygook in Parliament Square, Westminster. A passing policeman tells the group they have to leave, and reads out the relevant law, the Metropolitan Police Act. As it was written in 1839, the Act is filled with legalese and overly complicated sentences. To the delight of journalists, Chrissie translates it into plain English: 'Does that gobbledygook mean we have to go?'
  • Dressed as the Gobbledygook Monster, Chrissie delivers the first issue of 'Plain English' magazine to 10 Downing Street.

1980

  • Plain English Campaign launches a professional editing service to provide enough funding to keep itself entirely independent.
  • The first Plain English awards see six organisations rewarded for their use of plain English, and 100 organisations collect a booby prize for gobbledygook - the first Golden Bulls.

1981

  • The Government responds to Plain English Campaign by setting up a review under Sir Derek Rayner. With our help they rewote 58,000 forms, making immediate savings of £15 million.

1983

  • Plain English Campaign publishes 'Small Print', a report on the gobbledygook used in contracts. The report includes several examples of how a contract can be rewritten in plain English.

1984

  • 'Gobbledygook' is the campaign's first published collection of waffle.
  • The Cabinet Office distributes 1,700 copies of 'The word is Plain English', a guide to clear writing for civil servants.

1987

  • Plain English has become so successful throughout the civil service that the campaign introduces the 'Inside Write' awards, given solely for internal government communication.

1988

  • A new package, 'The Plain English Course', allows companies to train themselves in plain English for the first time.

1989

  • By our 10th anniversary, we are being consulted by the majority of major organisations in the country.

1990

  • The first plain English international conference is held in Cambridge.
  • The plain English voice is heard as the European Commission drops plans to put all medical labelling on a separate leaflet, rather than on the medicine packet itself.

1992

  • The new one-year long 'Plain English Diploma' course is launched, allowing companies to have a plain English expert in their company.

1993

  • Chrissie leads campaigners on a crusade to the United States, protesting in New York and Washington DC.
  • Perhaps the most famous Golden Bull award sees the NHS 'rewarded' for its 229 word definition of a bed.

1994

  • 'Utter Drivel', the sequel to 'Gobbledygook', brings together another collection of baffling public information.
  • Chrissie is awarded the OBE for her lifetime's campaigning.
  • After intense lobbying by Plain English Campaign, an EC directive declares that any term in a consumer contract can only be enforced if it is written in 'plain and intelligible language'.
  • We fund an international team of experts visiting South Africa to advise the new government on plain English. The team helps draft a plain English version of the Human Rights Commission Bill, proving that legalese is unnecessary.

1996

  • 'Into the Light' earns the first-ever Crystal Mark for a Bible. The book is a plain English version of the Contemporary English Bible.
  • We publish 'Language on Trial', a crystal-clear argument against legal jargon. The book is so well received that we begin specialised plain English courses for lawyers.

1998

  • Campaigners John Wild and George Maher visit five continents in 80 days as part of a worldwide series of seminars and workshops.

1999

  • Possibly the campaign's finest hour comes as the Lord Chancellor's reforms of the legal system see Latin and legal jargon banished from England's civil courts.
  • Abbey National's 'Guide to using your ISA' becomes the 4000th document to earn the Crystal Mark.

2000

  • Brian White MP uses an adjournment debate in Parliament to call for plain English drafting for all new laws.
  • A television investigation, assisted by us, finds that almost a million people with learning difficulties found party manifestos and ballot papers difficult or impossible to use.
  • Meanwhile an untested and confusing ballot paper in Palm Beach, Florida, causes chaos in the United States Presidential election.
  • The first 'Crystal-clear day' is held in Manchester, and seven people are selected as 'Plain English champions'.

2001

  • Lord Justice Auld concludes a year-long review by declaring that 'plain English should be the norm' in the criminal courts.

2002

  • Impartial Group of Companies (a financial group) becomes the 1000th organisation to earn a Crystal Mark.
  • Plain English Campaign becomes the first plain language group to be invited to Russia, to speak at a major linguistics and journalism conference in Moscow.
  • The Plain Language Association holds its fourth conference in Toronto, Canada, where campaigners John Wild and George Maher speak to delegates from eight countries.

2003

  • The Law Society (which regulates solicitors in England and Wales) adds a new clause to its code of conduct, promising that solicitors will make 'every effort to explain things clearly, and in terms you can understand, keeping jargon to a minimum'.
  • John Wild and George Maher travel to Moscow once again to speak at the State University's International conference.

2004

  • The campaign celebrates its 25th year of fighting for crystal-clear communication.
  • Our participation in public activities involving plain English reach new heights when campaigners are invited to appear in front of the Parliamentary Select Committee on open government.

2005

  • Our staff make visits to Ireland, South Africa and Jerusalem, and the Grundtvig project - a network which links different plain language organisations from around Europe - starts coming together.
  • Peter Griffiths and George Maher travel to Moscow to speak on behalf of the campaign at an international conference organised by the State University.

2006

  • We survey the public for their favourite 'football quote' during the World Cup in Germany. The winner is Bill Shankly, for his quote 'Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I'm very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.'
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