Dinner table talk turns to law and order

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THE BRITISH are in newly sombre mood - preoccupied by unemployment, crime and the state of the health service. They also spend much of their time discussing the Government, according to a report published yesterday.

An analysis of topics of conversation between family and friends found that the biggest issue in pubs, clubs and over the dinner table last year was law and order. Nearly 4 out of 10 people said they had discussed it - more than double the proportion of the late 1980s.

Unemployment has also climbed rapidly up the conversational agenda - 37 per cent of those questioned say they talked about it last year, compared with 9 per cent in 1989 and 1990.

By contrast, far fewer people appear to talk about bringing up children any more, religion figures in the conversations of only 2 per cent and television programmes, once the hottest topic of all, are yesterday's issue. From 1986 to 1991, television's chat ratings ranged from 43 to 48 per cent. Last year they dropped to 7 per cent.

The statistics are based on the TOM attitudes to advertising survey, published in the Advertising Association's Lifestyles Pocket Book 1994, a source of information much prized by marketeers who want to get closer to their clients.

Among its disclosures are that 83 per cent of us drink alcohol, more than one-third have had a headache in the last month and our most popular sporting and leisure activity by far is a good walk.

The report suggests the 'chattering classes' are more than journalists' fiction - the tendency to have guests in for meals is highest in the AB groups, at 85.7 per cent, and declines steadily to 56 per cent in group E.

However, their conversational landscape appears to be changing. Sport and newspaper articles are no longer much discussed. Big business and trades unions remain dialectical dead zones. Interest in the health and social services is much increased, but the cost of living commands half the attention of a few years ago.

(Table omitted)