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Imperial Britain Versus Metric Measurements: Sure, The Music Was Good But You Could Still Catch Typhoid

Foot and mouth disease anyone?

30/08/2016 17:06 | Updated 30 August 2016
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The post-EU referendum landscape has given rise to a number of rose-tinted campaigns to hark back to the supposed glory days of pre-union Britain.

The Sun is campaigning to bring back blue passports and now the Telegraph, backed by a number of Eurosceptic MPs, wants to scrap rules preventing traders using imperial measurements.

An editorial claims not allowing shopkeepers to sell goods in pounds and ounces is “a classic example of bureaucracy run amok”.

It adds: “Theoretically the EU’s single market requires all sellers to use the same unit so that consumers can compare products equally across the union.

“Rules inhibiting imperial measures should be scrapped as soon as possible.

“We have voted to leave. Now we can take control.”

Unsurprisingly, people have taken issue with the matter.

Although the teaching of the metric system wasn’t widespread in British schools until the early 1970s, the Department for Education green-lighted the change from imperial measurements in 1967.

So what if we did go all the way and didn’t stop at units of measurement but wound the clock back so the whole country was imperial-era?

Here’s the good, the bad and the ugly of pre-metric Britain...

The Good 

We were bloody great at football.

PA/PA Wire
England captain Bobby Moore displays the World Cup trophy whilst being carried by his England colleagues after their 4-2 win against West Germany.

So great in fact we were World Champions. Iceland didn’t even make the 1966 finals and manager Alf Ramsey was knighted the following year.

The Bad

The Cold War was at its peak meaning he UK had to sign such things as the Outer Space Treaty which prohibited placing weapons of mass destruction on the Moon.

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Space lasers weren't allowed to be a thing on the moon.

Certainly puts today’s threat from terrorism in perspective.

The Ugly

The British National Front was founded.

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A National Front march in 1980, South London.

The neo-Nazi facist forefathers of the BNP and Britain First began touting their white supremacist agenda opposing immigration and supporting capital punishment.

Since 1974 it has also fought for the compulsory repatriation of all non-white immigrants.

The group’s success peaked in the 1970s when they to run in a by-election and not lose their deposit but they’ve been in decline ever since as members turned to the only-slightly more successful BNP.

The Good

The music.

Mark and Colleen Hayward via Getty Images
The Beatles were in full swing.

Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Band was number 1.

As well as The Beatles we had Cream, `The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, The Kinks, The Shadows, Fleetwood Mac and The Who. The list goes on.

We had proper rock and roll - this was the year Jimi Hendrix sat fire to his guitar on stage at the London Astoria.

Today we have a handful of decent bands but a chart dominated by American R&B and Justin Bieber.

Sure, you can still see some of those legends on a heritage tour but it’s not the same as being there during the actual Summer of Love.

The Bad

Homosexuality was a crime.

PhotoAlto/Odilon Dimier via Getty Images
Up until July 4, 1967, male homosexuality was illegal in the UK.

Up until July 4th, male homosexuality was illegal in the UK. Thankfully though, 1967 saw the beginning of the sea change in attitudes when it was decriminalised with the Sexual Offences Act.

The Ugly

Charles De Gaulle says ‘non’ to Britain - again. 

Michel Lipchitz/AP
Charles de Gaulle vetoed British membership of the European Economic Community (EEC).

Anglo-Franco relations continued to deteriorate as the French President, Charles de Gaulle, once again vetoed British membership of the European Economic Community (EEC), the forerunner of the European Union.

As the BBC reported at the time:

At a news conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris, attended by more than 1,000 diplomats, civil servants and ministers as well as journalists, General de Gaulle accused Britain of a “deep-seated hostility” towards European construction.

He said London showed a “lack of interest” in the Common Market and would require a “radical transformation” before joining the EEC.

“The present Common Market is incompatible with the economy, as it now stands, of Britain,” he said.

He went on to list a number of aspects of Britain’s economy, from working practices to agriculture, which he said made Britain incompatible with Europe.

 The Good

Things were cheap.

OLI SCARFF via Getty Images
You could buy a house for just £4,000 in the 1960s.

You could buy an ENTIRE HOUSE for just £4,050.

Even in today’s money that’s £66,308.18, well below the current average of £229,000.

The Bad

Health. 

Photo Researchers via Getty Images
Typhoid was still a major threat in the 1960s.

Typhoid was still a major threat in the 1960s. An outbreak in Aberdeen hospitalised over 400 people although thankfully none of the cases were fatal.

Women in 1967 faced another body obstacle as abortion wasn’t legalised until the following year.

There was also a massive foot and mouth outbreak but modern Britain is still prone to the odd outbreak.

The Ugly

Racism and colonialism. 

Anthony Baggett via Getty Images
The British Empire was still a thing in the late 1960s

The British Empire may not have been going strong in 1967 but it was still going.

A large number of countries had declared independence but Rhodesia (to become Zimbabwe), Fiji, British Honduras (to become Belize), Brunei and a handful of other nations were still under the aegis of Colonialism.

Remarkably, 1967 saw the first black police officer serve in the Metropolitan Police despite the organisation being founded in 1829. 

While certainly a positive step, it demonstrates the gulf between attitudes prevalent then and now.

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