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This month is the 50th anniversary of Decimalisation in Britain when 'funny money' was introduced in 1971

Ted Prangnell returned to England six years after decimalisation and found the country still hadn't embraced thinking in 10s.

He explains that his wife had gone to a craft shop in Ashford to order two yards' length of ribbon.

The new pence 10p minted in 1968
The new pence 10p minted in 1968

He added: "The shopkeeper said: 'We don’t do yards, we are exclusively metric,' and then asked: 'How wide do you want it to be, one inch or half-an-inch?'”

Mr Prangnell, now 86, of Ashford, had in England been a draughtsman for the then CEGB (Central Electricity Generating Board).

He said: "I was surprised when I returned to find that they were still using the old imperial units.

"The English TV weather forecasts were still being given in Fahrenheit."

Even today, 50 years after our currency changed, the UK is still not in full metrication, part of the same tree as decimalisation.


Our road signs are still in miles, even though we buy our fuel in litres, and many of us still weigh and measure ourselves in stones and pounds and feet and inches.

And it was 50 years ago this month, Britain changed to decimal currency in 1971.

Mr Prangnell was in the early 70s with the CEGB in London and arrived in New Zealand that January, with his German wife Mechtild, for a new draughtsman's post.

They returned to England in May 1977.

Mr Prangnell said: "In 1970 the NZ government went metric, no messing. Road signs and so on were all changed.

Ted Prangnell. Picture: Gary Browne
Ted Prangnell. Picture: Gary Browne

"The metric system is essential for modern day design and engineering, building and so on."

Alan Jarrett, now leader of Medway Council, was 20 and living near Maidstone in February 1971.

He said: "I well remember the impact decimalisation had, in as much as all round prices went up.

"My peer group at the time all noticed the change over the following months and years.

"Whilst there was a great deal of sentimentality attached to pounds, shillings and pence it was the impact on prices that concerned us the most.

Cllr Alan Jarrett the leader of Medway Council
Cllr Alan Jarrett the leader of Medway Council

"We all thought it a precursor to us joining the then Common Market, and partly accounts for my lifelong dislike for what became the EU."

North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale was 27 and living and working as a TV and stage actor in London.

He remembers resistance towards the new currency, labelled "funny money" by sceptics.

He said: "On balance decimalisation was probably a good thing, while retaining the pound sterling.

"But there was a great deal of hostility, particularly from older people and small shopkeepers at the time.

Sir Roger Gale. Picture: Tony Flashman
Sir Roger Gale. Picture: Tony Flashman

"There is no doubt that it also led to a lot of 'rounding up' of prices. The difference? Apart from the price rises and some grumbling, not a lot."

He also remarked: "The ending of the world was greatly exaggerated."

Banks had to close for four days before February 15, Decimal Day, to prepare for the transformation.

Currency converters were available for everyone and prices in the shops were shown in both types. This helped ease some people's worries that shopkeepers might use the changeover to increase prices.

People were helped to understand with a two year public information campaign by the then Decimal Currency Board.

How shop prices were shown pre-decimal. Ashford, 1956. Picture: Steve Salter
How shop prices were shown pre-decimal. Ashford, 1956. Picture: Steve Salter
How pre-decimal shop prices were shown. Ashford, 1956. Picture: Steve Salter
How pre-decimal shop prices were shown. Ashford, 1956. Picture: Steve Salter

This was through methods such as public information broadcasts on TV.

One, called Granny Gets the Point, had Doris Hare playing an old woman who at first resisted the approaching changeover while her family accepted it.

She told them: "You and your decimals. You've all been brainwashed."

When it happened she got confused and upset, and had nightmares, until her grandson explained it clearly to her.

Hare was a star in a popular TV comedy show from that time, On the Buses.

A 1965 old penny
A 1965 old penny
A 1961 sixpence
A 1961 sixpence

The elderly took more time to adapt but overall the population soon absorbed the currency change.

During the following years those who had been steeped in the system of shillings and pence often used the phrase: "What's that in old money?"

It's now used by some when trying to work out imperial weights and measures from metric.

Decimalisation, having currency based on simple multiples of 10 and 100, only affected the loose change.

The pound was exactly the same before and after 1971.

A 1966 shilling and its 1968 replacement
A 1966 shilling and its 1968 replacement

But the conversion involved going from 240 pence in £1 to 100.

Within the complicated old system there were 12 pennies in a shilling (5p) and 20 shillings to £1.

It made adding up the three parts of the currency, with their awkward sums, harder.

Pounds, shillings and pence, (£sd), can be traced back to the times of the Romans when they divided their money into librum, solidus and denarius.

But by the 20th century Britain was being swept into the conversion by an increasingly strong tide.

The old and new ha'pennies
The old and new ha'pennies

France and the United States started their decimal currency in the 1790s and by the 1960s some of Britain's own Commonwealth countries, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, did the same.

Britain changing too was seen as making its international trade easier.

Finally, in 1966, Harold Wilson's Labour government announced in Parliament that the changeover in the UK would happen.

It started gradually with the first decimal coins, the 5p and 10p, coming into circulation in April 1968.

Because they were the same size and value as their predecessors, the one shilling ('bob') and two shillings ('two bob'/florin), both types were legal tender for decades.

Two shillings. The last pre-decimal coins were minted in 1967
Two shillings. The last pre-decimal coins were minted in 1967

That came to an end as late as the 1990s when smaller, lighter 5ps and 10ps came in.

The sixpence ('tanner'/2.5p) was also able to stay in circulation until 1980.

The 50p coin was introduced in October 1969 to replace the 10 shilling note, which went out of circulation in November 1970.

The old halfpenny was withdrawn in July 1969 and the half-crown (2s 6d/12.5p) went out that December.

All this was part of easing in the transition.

The copper New Pence, the 1/2p, 1p and 2p, came into circulation on Decimal Day itself, (Feb 15, 1971).

The old pennies and thruppences were used with them side by side and then withdrawn in August 1971, completing the decimalisation process.

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