Last weekend’s move back to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) from British Summer Time (BST) represented the twice-a-year occasion when the entire population either cheers (clocks go back, so an extra hour in bed. Hurrah!) or groans (clocks go forward an hour. Boo!). For overseas visitors and foreigners, it probably leaves them scratching their heads in perplexity wondering, yet again, what is it with the Brits? No doubt too, some travel plans went awry as travellers got their timings wrong. So where did these bi-annual changes come from and are they still strictly necessary in 2015?
The original idea for tinkering with our time came from a William Willet in 1907. A keen horseman, he was apparently upset to see so many people in bed still asleep whilst he was out riding early in the morning. Thanks to Willet’s cajoling – he wrote an influential pamphlet entitled ‘The Waste of Daylight, – he finally persuaded the British Government to pass a law (The Summer Time Act), although not until 1916 and not because the government wanted everyone out of bed on early morning horse rides but rather to save fuel and money during the First World War.
The Second World War represented another opportunity for the British government to tinker with our clocks. During that War, the government adopted Double British Summer Time, with the clocks one hour ahead of Greenwich in winter and two hours ahead in summer. When the British Standard Time experiment ended, the Home Office carried out an exhaustive review to find out whether it had been successful. The answer was both yes and no and so, on balance, the Government decided to return to the original British Summer Time.
A third experiment took place in In 1968, when clocks went forward as usual in March, but in the autumn, they did not return to Greenwich Mean Time. Britain had entered a three-year experiment, confusingly called British Standard Time, and stayed one hour ahead of Greenwich until 1971. Confused? You would have been!
Today’s government shows no sign of wanting to meddle further, so we have to assume that the existing status quo will remain in place for the foreseeable future. And we can be thankful that we don’t live in North Korea (for lots of reasons) as their government in August created their own brand new time zone (‘Pyongyang Time’) which is 30 minutes behind where it used to be. The government deemed it necessary to make the changes so as to snub Japan – or “wicked Japanese imperialists” as its state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) described them.
Interestingly, India has form here to. It reportedly snubbed its former rulers too by choosing to be five and a half hours ahead of GMT.
Modern day clocks and watches can make these changes automatically, but spare a thought for two brothers, Roman and Maz, who, with 700 clocks between them, have arguably the largest collection of cuckoo clocks in the UK.
Or the Palace of Westminster Clockmakers, who are responsible not only for changing the time on the Great Clock (otherwise known as ‘Big Ben’) but have 2,000 other clocks throughout the Palace of Westminster and the parliamentary buildings to adjust as well.