We take a look at a film from 1973 made with the aim introducing the metric system to the general public.
One of our regular readers has drawn our attention to a 15 minute film entitled “Simply Metric”, produced in 1973 by the Central Office of Information on behalf of the UK Metrication Board:
The film explains in simple terms the principles of the metric system and introduces some of the measurement units that the public are likely to encounter. It concludes by saying that the metric system is “simple, straightforward and systematic and is the measurement system of the world.” Which is more that can be said for the Imperial measures that it was intended to replace.
Viewed 45 years after its production, the film illustrates some of the things that have changed in the intervening years, for example we have switched from ‘gramme’ to ‘gram’, timber is now sold in lengths that are multiples of 300 mm, and the sexism, though humorous, would probably be unacceptable today. But eleven Olympic Games later, the UK is nowhere near bringing its metric changeover to a successful conclusion.
There was steady progress after the announcement in Parliament in 1965 that “the Government hope that within ten years the greater part of the country’s industry will have affected the change”. But it was quickly realised that it made little sense for industry to “Go metric” in isolation. In 1969, the UK Metrication Board was set up to promote the voluntary changeover of the whole UK economy, and the film was one of its initiatives. As we know, the planned changeover, which had proceeded smoothly during the mid-1970s, was abandoned between 1978 and 1980, and this resulted in the muddle and confusion we live with today.
The Prime Minister’s visit to China this week illustrates the shortcomings of the policies on the metric changeover of successive governments over the past 40 years. Then, China was weak and introspective, having suffered decades of disruption, culminating in Mao’s ‘Cultural revolution’. Today it is the third largest single market in the world and its second largest economy, forecast to overtake the US during the next decade. And in common with almost every other country around the world, it uses metric as its primary system of measurement.
The UK is now likely to face the even bigger challenge of exiting the EU. We must hope we make a better job of it than we did of the metric changeover. For a start, there is that 50 year transition period …