1971: The year that changed the fabric of Britain for ever

On Valentine’s Day 50 years ago, Britain kissed goodbye to hundreds of years of history when it changed over to decimal coinage – but that wasn’t all that changed, writes David Lister

Friday 12 February 2021 21:30
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<p>Christopher Ironside, designer of the reverse side of the decimal 10 pence piece, examines the coin through a magnifying glass at the Royal Mint in 1968</p>

Christopher Ironside, designer of the reverse side of the decimal 10 pence piece, examines the coin through a magnifying glass at the Royal Mint in 1968

Fifty years ago on Valentine’s Day 1971 there was a seismic change in Britain, affecting every man, woman and child in the country. But it was only one of many changes that contributed to making that year a pivotal one in the social and cultural history of the nation.

It was a year in which music changed from pop to rock. The key demographic of record buyers switched from male to female. TV and film became ever more groundbreaking, the conflict between the establishment and the youth generation more marked. But none of those aspects of 1971 can be said with utter confidence to have affected every single member of the population as the first great change of that strange year. On 14 February, Britain kissed goodbye to hundreds of years of history, and changed over to decimal coinage.

A memorable TV news clip of the time showed an elderly lady being interviewed. She pleaded: “If they insist on introducing it, OK. But couldn’t they have waited till us old ones died off?”

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