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‘It’s rubbish!’: Watch UK citizens complain about the prospect of switching from miles to kilometres in 1978

Footage from 1978 shows how members of the British public felt about the prospect of switching from miles to kilometres and it’s like something out of a Monty Python skit.

The BBC hit the streets in 1978 to ask the public if they thought the UK should adopt kilometres instead of miles, and the answers are as terrible as they are hilarious.

When you see today that some of the world’s biggest celebrities believe the planet is flat and the president of the United States fails to comprehend the concepts of weather and climate (among many other things), you would be forgiven for thinking we’re living in the age of stupid. But after you watch this clip, you’ll realise we’ve kind of always been this dumb.

One of the interviewees was convinced the unit change would mean people would have to use more petrol:

“Well I travel abroad a lot, well when we go abroad, you don’t get as much mileage to th… to it.

And therefore, you’re going to use more petrol, and then they say oh… so many miles, right, well you’re not doing that. You’re not going to do the mileage what they say you’re going to do… because the kilamometres [sic] … are not the same as the mileage, it’s shorter.”

And another young lady even blamed globalism. Kind of.

“It’s the treaties of Rome, as my husband would say.

Everything’s being decimalised, it’s horrible, I can’t stand it.”

Now, is it just me or does this sound like people talking about Brexit?

Another chap seemed to feel embarassed the UK was no longer ruling the world.

“We’re an island on our own, you know. Let’s face it, we once ruled the world, didn’t we, and now we’re just being part of a community.

I don’t agree with it at all.”

Check out the full compilation of interviews:

Metrication – the process of adopting the metric system – has been happening in the UK for decades, and it’s been anything but smooth. Early discussions in parliament about the metric system date back to 1818; today, pints, litres, pounds and kilograms coexist in daily life. While the metric system has been officially adopted in commerce and industry, traditional imperial units are still often used to describe height (feet, inches), vehicle speeds (miles per hour) and the volume of beer and milk (pints).

Things really started to get messy in the mid-1960s when many industries and government institutions voluntarily adopted the metric system. As it was not required by law, this partial adoption led to an insanely convoluted mix-up of units that ended up pushing the government to order mandatory metrification in certain sectors in 1978.

The metric system is unanimously regarded in the scientific and industrial sectors as the most efficient, simple, consistent, rational and coherent unit of measurement. It is also the most common system of weights and measures on the planet, and for good reason.

Unlike the imperial system, in which units of volume and area evolved independently and have their origins in things as arbitrary as the length of an average man’s foot or the size of a barleycorn, the metric system was devised as a logical, coherent system based on natural constants.

About the author

Filmmaker. 3D artist. Procrastination guru. I spend most of my time doing VFX work for my upcoming film Servicios Públicos, a sci-fi dystopia about robots, overpopulated cities and tyrant states. @iampineros

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Comment (2)

    Paul Trusten

    Monday 4 March 2019

    Many of the people being interviewed are elderly citizens, and even regarding the young ones, the metric system is being dumped on them full-force, indifferently, without education or even explanation. I can’t blame a single one of them for reacting to the question the way they did. Changing over the unit of length from the mile to the kilometer DEMANDS PUBLIC EDUCATION, both in schools and in the media, with the full and enthusiastic backing of the national government. Otherwise, it will fail from both a practical and from a public relations standpoint.


    Michael Glass

    Tuesday 2 April 2019

    I don’t understand how the British and the Americans could be so resistant to the metric system. It was adopted in Australia and New Zealand with a minimum of fuss