The new decimal money will be with us on D-Day. Decimal Day. The 15th February 1971. Decimal Day in the United Kingdom and in Ireland
was on 15 February 1971, the day on which each country decimalised its respective currency
of pounds, shillings, and pence. In the United Kingdom, the British pound was
made up of 20 shillings, each of which was made up of 12 pence, a total of 240 pence. With the decimalisation, the pound kept its
old value and name, and the only changes were in relation to the subunits. The shilling was abolished, and the pound
was subdivided into 100 “new pence” (abbreviated “p”), each of which was worth 2.4 “old pence”
(which were abbreviated “d”). In Ireland, the Irish pound had a similar
£sd currency structure and similar changes took place. In 1960, various reports, and the success
of decimalisation in South Africa, prompted the Government to set up the Halsbury Committee
in 1961, which reported in 1963. The adoption of the changes suggested in the
report was announced on 1 March 1966. The Decimal Currency Board was created to
manage the transition, although the plans were not approved by Parliament until the
Decimal Currency Act in May 1969. Under the new system, the pound was retained
but was divided into 100 new pence, denoted by the symbol p. New coinage was issued alongside the old coins. The 5p and 10p coins were introduced in April
1968 and were the same size, composition, and value as the shilling and two shillings
coins in circulation with them. In October 1969 the 50p coin was introduced,
with the 10s note withdrawn on 20 November 1970. This reduced the number of new coins that
had to be introduced on Decimal Day and meant that the public was already familiar with
three of the six new coins. Small booklets were made available containing
some or all of the new denominations. The old halfpenny was withdrawn from circulation
on 31 July 1969, and the half-crown (2s 6d) followed on 31 December to ease the transition. There was a substantial publicity campaign
in the weeks before Decimalisation Day, including a song by Max Bygraves called “Decimalisation”. The BBC broadcast a series of five-minute
programmes, “Decimal Five”, to which The Scaffold contributed some specially written tunes. ITV repeatedly broadcast a short drama called
“Granny Gets The Point”, starring Doris Hare, the actress in “On The Buses”, where an elderly
woman who does not understand the new system is taught to use it by her grandson. At 10 am on 15 February itself (and again
the following week) BBC1 broadcast ‘New Money Day’, a ‘Merry-go-Round’ schools’ programme
in which puppet maker Peter Firmin and his small friend Muskit encountered different
prices and new coins when they went to the shops. Banks received stocks of the new coins in
advance and these were issued to retailers shortly before Decimalisation Day to enable
them to give change immediately after the changeover. Banks were closed from 3:30 pm on Wednesday
10 February 1971 to 10:00 am on Monday 15 February, to enable all outstanding cheques
and credits in the clearing system to be processed and customers’ account balances to be converted
from £sd to decimal. In many banks the conversion was done manually,
as most bank branches were not yet computerised. February had been chosen for Decimal Day because
it was the quietest time of the year for the banks, shops, and transport organisations. Many items were priced in both currencies
for some time before and after. Prior to Decimal Day the double pricing was
displayed as the old price first then the new price. From Decimal Day the order was switched to
the new price first then the old price. Exceptions to the 15 February introduction
were British Rail and London Transport, which went decimal one day early, the former urging
customers, if they chose to use pennies or threepenny pieces, to pay them in multiples
of 6d. Bus companies were another exception, going
decimal on Sunday 21 February. Decimal Day itself went smoothly. Criticisms included the small size of the
new halfpenny coin and the fact that some traders had taken advantage of the transition
to raise prices. Some used new pennies as sixpences in vending
machines. After 15 February, shops continued to accept
payment in old coins, but always issued change in new coins. The old coins were returned to the banks and
in this way the bulk of them were quickly taken out of circulation. The new halfpenny, penny, and twopence coins
were introduced on 15 February 1971. Within two weeks of Decimal Day, the old penny
(1d) and old threepenny (3d) coins had left circulation, and old sixpences were becoming
rare. On 31 August 1971, the 1d and 3d were officially
withdrawn from circulation, ending the transition period. The government intended that in speech the
new units would be called “new pence”, but the public decided that it was clearer and
quicker to pronounce the new coins as “pee”. Shortenings such as “tuppence” are now rarely
heard, and terms such as “tanner” (the silver sixpence), which previously designated amounts
of money, are no longer used. However, some slang terms, such as “quid”
and “bob”, survived from pre-decimal times. Amounts denominated in guineas (21s or £1.05)
are reserved for specialist transactions, such as the sale of horses and some auctions. The public information campaign over the preceding
two years helped, and the willingness of a young population to embrace the change also
helped. In general, elderly people had much more difficulty
adapting and the phrase “How much is that in old money?” or even “How much is that in
real money?” became associated with those who struggled with the change. (This phrase is now often used to ask for
conversion between metric and imperial weights and measures.)