10 February 2021
Tom Hockenhull, Curator: Medals and Modern Money, British Museum, provides an insight into 'D Day' and the UK's decimalisation project, explaining how D-Day and the transition to a new currency went relatively smoothly.
On a grey, drizzly Monday, 15 February 1971, Britain went decimal. Ten years in the planning, 'D-Day' upended a currency system that had been unchanged for more than a millennium.
Celebrating the publication of a new book, Making Change: the decimalisation of Britain’s currency, here are a selection of little-known facts about how it happened.
D-Day was a ‘non-event’
Image: Front page of the Daily Mirror, 15 February 1971
Bill Fiske, Chairman of the Decimal Currency Board, famously declared that D-Day would be the non-event of 1971. By and large, he was right.
February had been chosen for the changeover because it was the least inconvenient time of the year – a quiet day for businesses and banks. Banks had, in fact, been closed since the end of Wednesday 10 February, giving them four days to prepare – an inconvenience for customers that was offset slightly by a recent innovation to the high street: the cashpoint.
A survey commissioned by the DCB on the day found that 67 per cent of those interviewed found shopping easy, 25 per cent found it hard and 8 per cent had no feelings either way. Crucially, of those interviewed, 73 per cent said it would get easier over time.
Newspapers were quick to declare that D-Day had been a success: ‘You’re getting the point’, said London’s Evening Standard.
Making Change: the decimalisation of Britain’s currency by Tom Hockenhull is available from Spink Books
Published by Spink Books, in association with the British Museum
Hardback, with illustrations throughout, 198 x 129mm, 64 pages
RRP: £15, ISBN: 978-1-912667-57-4
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