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50 Years of decimalisation

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  • 50 Years of decimalisation

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    The Golden Jubilee of our new pence...

    Nineteen Seventy-One - the year that Bless This House, The Generation Game and Mr Benn was first seen on British television; Diamonds Are Forever and Melody (aka SWALK) were seen in cinemas; George Harrison became the first solo Beatle to have a number one hit; Private Eye changed from two shillings to ten pence (i.e. no price change which was ironic considering); and the pound was split into percentages thanks to changes decided in both government and at the Royal Mint. And Edward "Call Me Ted" Heath was Prime Minister with a recently demoted Harold Wilson as his Opposition Leader in which five years into the future was a long time in politics, never mind just one week.

    Monday 15th February 1971 was when it started properly, and Monday 15th February 2021 marks exactly half a century since Britain went decimal, bid farewell to the shilling and replaced it with five new pence, (and there was a postal strike happening at the time as well). I know that we have discussed decimalisation on here a few times in the past, but 50 years on, it's fascinating to have a look back and see what has changed since - I notice that there doesn't seem to be any TV programmes about it coming up. It was indeed the Brexit of 1971, and most of the late 1960s, come to that. The overlap between a shilling and a 5p coin stems from April 1968 on St George's Day that year when the 5p was introduced, right up until 1990 when the 5p shrunk in size to become the same size as the halfpenny coin which was withdrawn in 1984. Likewise, 10p and two shillings was double that value. One could get a whole month worth of Daily Mirror issues (with a horrible 1970-1971 redtop logo on the front page) for one pound where it would just afford one day's worth these days. The old LSD was no more - and I wonder how many thought that it was withdrawn because resembled a type of drug?

    Even that day's television looked great: in the morning, you may have seen at school (or even on the bedroom portable at home if you were ill or a school refuser) Merry-Go-Round which had responded to the decimalisation situation on "New Money Day", and in the afternoon, Decimal Five was on after the "Telephone" episode of Trumpton. Noakes, Singleton and Purves oversaw Blue Peter; and later on, A Question of Sport, Z Cars and Panorama was on BBC 1 with a post-watershed Come Dancing was on later - no Strictly in those days. Over on BBC 2, a monochrome series on preventing crime which was followed by The High Chaparral. That itself was followed Bobbie Gentry who presented that week's "Show of the Week", and Horizon looked at people who were both dependent and addicted on drugs. ITV's evening schedule consisted of some magic from David Nixon; a Rovers' return to colour in Coronation Street; left-wing Grauniad journalism in World in Action; and Kenneth Haigh who was the Man at the Top. Yorkshire viewers saw Granny Gets the Point in the afternoon.

    Looking at old newspapers from back then, it is fascinating to see supermarket advertisements advertising their latest items for sale - the 7 1/2p of 1971 could be the 24 1/2p of 1978, and the 42p of 1985. Three main television programmes were on at the time in the run up to the second biggest D Day since 1944 - the first was D-Day Minus One, seen in the early Sunday afternoon slot on BBC 1 (known 15 to 30 years later as the sluggish EastEnders omnibus slot, and was otherwise used for sport, films and the odd Tom and Jerry cartoon up until then), and the Scaffold of Lily the Pink fame singing a very 1960s sounding song in the opening titles to what was still a monochrome programme - even Max Bygraves tried one with his novelty hit on Decimalisation - no wonder he got excited about Big Money on Family Fortunes a decade and a half later! Robin Day might have been involved with that.

    The second one was Decimal Five - a five minute programme in the post-Watch With Mother slot on BBC 1 on weekday afternoons, giving those people a helping hand to telling them about the new currency - the premiere of Mr Benn was shown around this time of day as well. And the third one was Granny Gets the Point which was shown on ITV during the day, so therefore it didn't get a networked slot, although stations such as Yorkshire and Grampian did show it. "Granny" happened to be Doris Hare of On the Buses fame, and someone who lived to see the start of the year 2000. Cue Granny getting upset when a young man tries to show her the ropes of the new money to her - a pity that Reg Varney wasn't around, considering ironically enough that he had used a cashpoint before anyone else did in Britain just a few years earlier. Even in Hare's regular haunt back then, Blakey was asking Stan Butler "how can a canteen work on quarter Ps?" "Well, we have split peas", came the reply from the cheerful bus driver to the Hitler lookalike - the episode was in black and white due to the colour strike.

    The Public Information Films used on BBC 1 and some ITV regions were released in the late 1990s on the Charley Live video, and many of them were made on behalf of the Decimal Currency Board - a government quango, (was that word around then? - I thought it was introduced along with John Major over 20 years later), with politicians and civil servants such as Lord Fiske and Noel Moore involved working with the Heath and first Wilson governments. It was born in around 1966 and would eventually be wound up towards the end of September 1971 according to the Daily Express - many of its adverts appeared in national newspapers throughout the late 1960s and up to August 1971. It rubbed shoulders with the 1971 Census PIF on there as well. Never mind about the "discarded fridges near railway lines" PIF before Nationwide as they were at least five years into the future.

    And Nationwide still in its "three times a week" Philip Tibbenham era were getting excited as well, interviewing in pre-colour a sub-Gail Grainger/Valerie Leon/Margaret Nolan-alike woman dressed in scenically-clad way as a "Decimal Dolly", helping Queen Mother generation pensioners out with the new translation from old to new. When Channel 4 did a documentary Funny Money about decimalisation in 2001 in order to mark 30 since the changes took place, a 1971 perspective of an elderly woman being vox-popped in the street, probably somewhere in Leeds, was quoted as saying "why don't you wait until we're all gone before making these changes?", and others saying: "I know I have got my head in the sand, but it is my head in my sand".

    In a colourful Coronation Street, thankfully back from its three month monochrome sabbatical, the regulars (Hilda, Betty and others) were debating in the Corner Shop about the new money; only two years before the late Jack Walker thought that the 50p coin was a foreign one when he was given it in payment for a pint of beer. Old episodes on YouTube show that the DCB poster in the shop was there for at least a year or more. The fact that apart from the odd filmed scene, Corrie was to be made in fulltime colour again, just like it is to the present day - it's a pity that ITV 3 (or Granada Plus for that matter) hardly ever show episodes from this era, although rumour had it that many were missing anyway.

    I have to admit that being born 7 1/2 years into decimalisation, I think that the "100 pennies make a pound" system seems a lot more straightforward than the shillings and old pence format, similar to dollars and cents, and I would have still said that if I had been around to experience the pre-decimal currency back then - 68% of a pound is 68p of course and all that - what was that in pre-decimal currency, I wonder? I would love to see more Tesco adverts from around February 1971 to see exactly how much a 100g (sorry, a 4oz) jar of Nescafe was back then - no Sale of the Century prices needed there of course - I would guess under 50 new pence.

    As British Decimalisation now tries to blow out in one breath its 50 candles on its birthday cake, I was wondering whether the huge 1971 changes were actually remembered by yourselves or even whether decimalisation is better than the old system? I know that we have had similar topics on this before on here, but it is a big anniversary we are now at, after all...
    Last edited by George 1978; 2 weeks ago.
    I've everything I need to keep me satisfied
    There's nothing you can do to make me change my mind
    I'm having so much fun
    My lucky number's one
    Ah! Oh! Ah! Oh!

  • #2
    Was thinking about this the other day.In the long run it was much easier to count your change than the old system.When we used to have half pennies,pennies,threepence piece,shilling,Florin which was 2 shillings.Crown half crown 10 shilling notes.

    Comment


    • #3
      I have a vintage half penny in a box of my Grandad's old things. It seems like it was a chore to keep track of all of it and how many of one made up some other coin. Same with the stones and hands measurements. We started to get indoctrinated in metric early in school but I do still think in feet and inches rather than meters and centimeters.
      My virtual jigsaws: https://www.jigsawplanet.com/beccabear67/Original-photo-puzzles

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      • #4
        Just seen the Royal Mint website where they have recognised the anniversary on their front page, and also BBC News has had a couple of news articles about it on their website.

        Here are some advertisements from newspapers during the week of decimalisation back in February 1971 - interesting how the companies were adapting to the changes back then:


        (If you have difficulty seeing the pictures, please let me know).

        Attached Files
        Last edited by George 1978; 2 weeks ago.
        I've everything I need to keep me satisfied
        There's nothing you can do to make me change my mind
        I'm having so much fun
        My lucky number's one
        Ah! Oh! Ah! Oh!

        Comment


        • #5
          Here's a thought…

          Lots of time and effort was spent teaching money calculations in pounds shillings and pence in primary school maths lessons during the 1950s and 60s. Decimalisation vastly simplified the teaching of money calculations in the 1970s, but it also generated a theory that it reduced the mathematical prowess of British primary school students as a result.

          A comparison of the mathematical prowess of British 11 year olds in the 1950s and 60s with 11 year olds from countries using a decimal currency at the time would be interesting.

          Did calculations in pounds shillings and pence really improve mathematical prowess, or was it just a specialist skill useful only in the peculiar national environment of Britain?

          Did primary schools in countries with a decimal currency teach certain mathematical topics (such as algebra, geometry, statistics, and probability) generally only taught in British secondary schools? If yes, then was it the result of time being available to teach these topics that was rarely available in British primary schools because it was spent on teaching calculations in pounds shillings and pence?

          Does the fact that all of the countries where students in recent years have a greater mathematical prowess than British students have had a decimal currency for as long as anybody can remember demolish the argument that decimalisation reduced the mathematical prowess of British school students? Except in the minds of an older generation which clings to the notion that the 1950s was the golden age of education.

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          • #6
            My brain hurts already (phobic towards most things involving maths).

            I'm not sure that question of comparitive systems will get answered here.
            My virtual jigsaws: https://www.jigsawplanet.com/beccabear67/Original-photo-puzzles

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            • #7
              On a tangent from Arran's post, I did read somewhere (probably on Ben Clarke's website) that some schools programmes circa 1970-1971 couldn't be shown again on TV because decimalisation made them out of date, and editions of the programmes only dealt with pre-decimal currency - I assume that it was the second main reason why they no longer showed them apart from the fact that they were made in black and white.

              In 1985-1986 we were having a Maths lesson which dealt with ink stamps version of incumbent decimal coins (we used to stamp the coins into our Maths exercise books), and the teacher quickly removed the halfpenny one from the set saying that "we don't use that one anymore".

              I've everything I need to keep me satisfied
              There's nothing you can do to make me change my mind
              I'm having so much fun
              My lucky number's one
              Ah! Oh! Ah! Oh!

              Comment


              • #8
                I remember some maths books at my primary school still had the odd question with halfpences, and no mention of 20p or Pound coins.
                The Trickster On The Roof

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                • #9
                  Schools had to buy new textbooks as a result of decimalisation, although some of them had been in print since the late 1960s.

                  I get the impression that decimalisation, and the change from imperial to metric measurements in education, left a 'hole' in the primary school maths curriculum from the early 1970s to the late 1980s when the National Curriculum was introduced. My primary school taught geometry, Cartesian co-ordinates, statistics, and basic algebra in the 1990s, but my mother who attended primary school in the 1970s says that she didn't touch on these topics until secondary school.

                  My primary school had a few educational resources containing the halfpenny and a VAT rate of 15% - when the rate was 17.5%.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Richard1978 View Post
                    I remember some maths books at my primary school still had the odd question with halfpences, and no mention of 20p or Pound coins.
                    I can't quite remember whether one pound and 20p coins were represented in the ink stamp set used in my Maths lessons - the set might have been older than the 1980s if they weren't. Ironic that we were still legally using one and two shilling coins at that point because of the same value as the 5p and 10p coins respectively - I bet that they would have been acceptable in our Maths lessons back then.
                    I've everything I need to keep me satisfied
                    There's nothing you can do to make me change my mind
                    I'm having so much fun
                    My lucky number's one
                    Ah! Oh! Ah! Oh!

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Yes I liked to get a 2 shilling coin to buy sweets with because the I liked the design on the reverse side.
                      The Trickster On The Roof

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                      • #12
                        The sixpence remained in circulation until 30 June 1980 because in 1971 many coin operated machines took it and they could not easily be replaced or upgraded to take decimal coins.

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                        • #13
                          I heard London Transport lobbied to keep the Sixpence in circulation as many tickets machines couldn't give change in the 1970s.
                          The Trickster On The Roof

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Richard1978 View Post
                            Yes I liked to get a 2 shilling coin to buy sweets with because the I liked the design on the reverse side.
                            Some amusement arcades had machines that took old 10p and 2 shilling coins well into the 1990s. The arcade kept a stock of these coins and users had to buy them in order to use the machines.

                            Originally posted by Richard1978 View Post
                            I heard London Transport lobbied to keep the Sixpence in circulation as many tickets machines couldn't give change in the 1970s.
                            London Transport was a large owner of machines which took the sixpence around 1970. Also numerous parking meters and arcade game machines throughout Britain. A sixpence had a similar purchasing power to 20p today in the early 1970s.

                            Payphones took sixpence and shilling coins in 1970. Post Office Telephones converted them to 2p and 10p operation (losing the facility to take 5p coins) then later in the 1970s converted them to 5p and 10p operation as a result of inflation.

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                            • #15
                              Was the guinea abolished on the same time as decimalisation or was that abolished a few years before? The DCB didn't really make any reference to it in their 1968-1971 advertising, and so I assume that it went before 1971 - at the end of the day it was one pound and 5p combined in value.
                              I've everything I need to keep me satisfied
                              There's nothing you can do to make me change my mind
                              I'm having so much fun
                              My lucky number's one
                              Ah! Oh! Ah! Oh!

                              Comment

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