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Monday, 27 April, 1998, 13:54 GMT 14:54 UK
Standing up for tall people

Imagine a world in which everything is too small for you.

Everywhere you go you bang your head or are forced to stoop. Ceilings are too low, doors are too narrow, desks are not high enough.

Tall call: 6ft 8in Phil Heinricy
Tall call: 6ft 8in Phil Heinricy
Imagine you're tall. Really tall.

These are the problems of Britain's "vertically endowed", according to Phil Heinricy, a former chemicals salesman who is 6ft 8in and the founder of the 1,500-strong Tall Persons Club. He says that worktops, cars and aeroplane seats are all designed with scant regard for tall people. Even worse, society treats tall people as a nuisance.

But never fear. The Tall Persons Club is taking action. Chris Greener, who measures in at 7ft 6in and is the club's tallest member, has arranged a European convention in London next month at which "heightism" will be discussed.

Britons are getting taller

As standards of living and nutrition have improved, the average Briton has got taller at the rate of 0.75 inches a generation.

Official Health of the Nation figures show 30% of men under 25 are now over six feet tall. If the current trend continues the average British man's height will be 6ft within a couple of generations and the average woman will be nudging 5ft 7in.

Retailers, says Mr Heinricy, are not keeping up. Many design standards - especially clothes - are 50 to 100 years out of date.

The Tall Persons Club claims to get up to 100 letters a day from people who are suffering because of their height. The majority of letters are "consumer-related" queries. Where do you find clothes, shoes, beds, desks and other furniture for tall people?

But a significant number are from people - many of them women or teenagers - who are bullied or ridiculed at school or in the workplace.

Millions of working days lost to backache

Peril to those who ignore the problem, warns Mr Heinricy. Britain loses 70 million working days each year because of backache and much of the trouble is caused by designers failing to take into account taller people.

"If you made a desk four inches higher it would enable me to put my legs under it," Mr Heinricy said. "Short people need not suffer because they can use adjustable chairs and footstools."

Bob Cook, who is 6ft 9in, runs a branch of the specialist clothes retailer High & Mighty in Oxford Street, London, agrees.

He says: "There is a definite demand. We sell shoes sized 12 to 16, which you can't get in ordinary shops and trousers with inside leg measurements of up to 40 in."

British companies lagging behind

Mr Cook says some High Street retailers have begun to catch on - Marks and Spencer has added an extra 2.5 in to the length of some shirts - but most of their goods are imported.

But Mr Heinricy says British manufacturers and retailers are lagging behind their American and European competitors.

"Most of the brands for larger people are foreign, especially American, people like Land's End, Talbot Classics and LL Bean.

"People are getting taller world-wide but British companies and government agencies need to wake up and do something about it."

British Standards Institute spokesman Tom Godfrey said most of their standards were voluntary.

"All standards are reviewed every five years. If during this review process it became necessary to amend a standard, we would do so."

But time, like the rest of us, might be short.

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