Britain from Above

A fascinating new series from the BBC comes up to expectations. (Article contributed by Derek Pollard).

This new series of six programmes has aerial photography, graphics, simulations, and other technical wizardry, with explanations presented by Andrew Marr. It is a â??must seeâ?? for anyone interested in Britainâ??s geography, and in the systems that enable us to live in the style to which we have become accustomed.

The first programme is called â??24 hour Britainâ??. Metric Views was particularly impressed by the gps traces showing taxis rat-running when the main roads in London become congested, and the simulation of the British telephone network coming to life as the day progresses.

Those who expect a random muddle of measurement units from the BBC will also not be disappointed. A mixture of metric, imperial/US and analogue units was used in the first two programmes, and is summarised in this table:

                    metric     imperial/US       analogue

length/height   metre      foot, mile         world circumference

area                            acre, sq. mile    football pitch

volume           litre         gallon              bathtub

mass/weight   tonne

power            GW, MW

Metric Views does not favour the use of conversion tables, but for those who prefer showers to baths or donâ??t watch football, we provide the following conversions:

 1 BBC football pitch is about 4000 square metres
 1 BBC bathtub is about 900 litres

The programmes are being shown on BBC1 and BBC2 on Sunday evenings from 10 August, and are available on BBC iPlayer until the following Saturday. There is also a web site at Take a look, and let Metric Views know what you think.

5 thoughts on “Britain from Above”

  1. The world circumference is not as daft an analogue measure as it might seem – the metre was originally defined as being 1/10,000,000 of the distance from the North Pole to the Equator through Paris, making that distance 10,000 km. In reality, it is about 10,002 km.

    Obviously, if the world circumference is used, then it should be done so in conjunction with the definition of the metre.


  2. Derek wrote “1 BBC football pitch is about 4000 square metres”

    According to the FIFA laws of the game, the width of a football pitch must be between 45 and 90 metres and its length 90 and 120 metres. Thus its area lies between 4050 m² and 10800 m². For international matches, the width must be between 64 and 75 metres and its length must be between 100 and 110 metres, giving an area of between 6400 m² and 8250 m². [Actually, UEFA mandates 105 m x 68 m, but can give dispensation for slight variations. This gives an area of 7140 m2. See   – Ed].  However the BBC approximation of 4000 m² is equivalent to one acre.

    Derek also wrote “1 BBC bathtub is about 900 litres”.

    My bathtub is 1.5 m long, 0.55 m wide and the overflow is about 0.35 m above the bottom of the bath. If we ignore the curvature of the bath and the volume displaced by the person taking a bath we get a volume of 280 litres – I have usually assumed that a person taking a bath uses about 150 litres of water.

    Half-time scorecard – BBC: nil, Reality:2.


  3. This gimmick of using football pitches and bathtubs to measure area and volume is a sad comment on the standards of education of the British public. It harbours an assumption that people cannot understand measurement data in proper units.
    An admission that the measurement muddle has taken its toll perhaps.


  4. Martin, you are quite right. There is only one of these analogue measures that is meaningful, and that is the circumference of the earth.

    In the first programme, we hear that the area of Mogden STW is “300 acres or 280 football pitches�. The Nicholson London Street Atlas and Google earth show its area to be 83 ha, leading to a football pitch area of about 3000 sq. metres. Clearly this is below the size of any recognised football pitch (that includes rugby, American, Australian Rules as well as Association football). Hence my suggestion of 4000 sq. metres.

    The BBC bathtub is indeed huge – about four times the size of the bath you would normally find in a British home. But who is to say what goes on behind the scenes at Broadcasting House?

    All this goes to show that analogue units, far from being helpful, can actually be misleading.


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