Miles Kington: Size does matter. Just ask any British army general

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The Independent Online

"You mustn't think that obesity is a problem which is confined to people," says Rory Poplar. "People are becoming more and more overweight, yes. But so are 4x4 cars. So are corporations. So are quangos. And so, incidentally, are newspapers."

Rory Poplar is the Professor of Size Studies at Toynbee University (formerly Poly Toynbee), where he is doing pioneering work in, as his label suggests, the study of size. He believes that size matters, because every organism has an ideal size towards which it should strive for its ultimate health and survival.

"Unfortunately," he says, "all organisms also have a tendency to increase in size, even if it damages their efficiency. Take a very simple example. Your home address. I have found from experience that almost every address in use has one line in it that is unnecessary, and often two or more.

"Since the advent of postcodes, it is quite pointless giving the name of your county, as the post office does not need to know it; and some sorting offices are even in a different county from the addressee, so it may go to the wrong one.

"Yet people think that a longer address is always more impressive. People in London are always sticking their area in the address. Chelsea, South Ken, Dulwich, Hoxton, whatever. Total waste of time. People who work in big buildings even include the floor number. The room number, even!"

But isn't that . . . ?

"The dinosaurs grew too big," says Professor Poplar, who is not a man to let interruptions stop him. "They outstripped their natural size and perished. All empires grow too big, and collapse. Aeroplanes get bigger and bigger. The director's cut of a film is always bigger and longer. All restaurant chains grow too big, and wither."

Good news! Does that mean that McDonalds will vanish?

"McDonalds is not a restaurant chain," says Poplar strictly. "A restaurant is a place where a chef chooses interesting ingredients and cooks them in a personal way."

So ...

"Cars are the same. At the moment they are going through a pronounced dinosaur phase. Seeing 'Chelsea tractors' lumbering through London is the nearest most of us will get to seeing a small dinosaur like a Deinonychus making its way through the swamps.

"What is extraordinary is that it comes at a time when we are all agreed that cars should be smaller and less greedy. The same with newspapers. There is a move to slim newspapers down into the tabloid format, yet at the same time all these slim newspapers are expanding by including more and more sections, free wallcharts, give-away DVDs, fashion extras, you name it.

So newspapers are becoming slimmer and fatter at the same time. Lighter and heavier. They are like a woman who is trying to lose weight and enjoy huge meals at the same time."

Or a man, too, come to that?

"Novels, films, magazines, all going the same way," says Poplar, forging on through the conversation like a wild boar in the undergrowth. " 'Blockbuster' is thought of as a compliment. So are 'epic' and 'massive' and all those prefixes like 'super' and 'mega' and 'hyper'. Bigger is better. A supermarket is better than a market. Jumbo jet. Can you think of a single thing that has been sensibly reduced in size recently, down to its real fighting weight?"

How about the British armed forces?

"Very good!" says Professor Poplar. "Our armed forces have been reduced, even if the MoD hasn't. Unfortunately, the Government's megalomania hasn't been reduced either and our forces are now being asked to do things in Iraq and Afghanistan which they should not be asked to do.

"Not at their present size, at any rate."

Professor Rory Poplar's new television series, Size Can Kill, begins later this autumn on BBC-19. The unabridged version of this interview, which runs to over 10,000 words, can be found online.

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