British Summer Time - one hour less in bed for you and I

Posted on: 26 March 2010 by Gareth Hargreaves

British Summer Time arrives to much fanfare and fiddling with alarm clocks this weekend and rumour has it Gordon Brown is considering extending it all year round!

Summer rarely lives up to our expectations but representatives for the UK tourism industry and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (ROSPA) are campaigning for the introduction of 'Double British Summer Time' - this would entail moving the clocks forward by two hours (GMT +2) during the summer months and one hour forward from the current time (GMT +1) in the winter months.

ROSPA and Age Concern, have long argued that introducing double summer time would lead to fewer road accidents and allow us to spend more of our leisure time in daylight - the idea has plenty of support and, this being an election year, Prime Minister Gordon Brown has promised to give it careful thought.

Origin of British Summer Time

It is more than 100 years since William Willet published The Waste of Daylight, paving the way for the introduction of The Summer Time Act of 1916. The Act was introduced to increase the hours farmers and land workers could devote to their duties in the fields.

Even a century on, we are unconvinced of its worth or how to manage the 'this way, that way, forwards and backwards' seasonal clocks change. So remember to offer thanks to the farmers and Willet for that lost hour on Sunday morning.

Did you know?

Britain and Ireland once had separate time zones. 1916 must have been a big year for time management buffs as in addition to the introduction of the Summer Time Act, Dublin Mean Time (25 minutes behind Greenwich) ticked its last tock.

The Times They Are a-Changing

Although we now think of the changes as a seasonal fixture, the time shift formula has been tinkered with regularly over the past 90-odd years:

The Second World War, provided Britons with a double dose of summer time - 2 hours in advance of GMT, this was introduced and used for the period when, normally dowdy old GMT+1 would have been in force. For winter, throughout the war years, clocks were kept one hour in advance of GMT.

The meddlers were at work again in 1968; when on 18 February, the British Standard Time trial saw clocks advanced one hour ahead of GMT until British (Summer) Standard Time arrived. For the next three years clocks were kept in advance of GMT year round until 31 October 1971.

Advocates of extending British Summer Time point to the three-year British Standard Time trial as justification for adopting the system on the grounds of more daylight hours, reduced accident risk and potential gains for the tourism industry. There are arguments for the extension of BST and equally vocal opponents who cite EU interference and the erosion of British identity. 

So while we weigh the value of BST (or lack thereof) and the lack of any real summer in the UK, you can take solace that we aren't the only ones who cannot make up their minds about what to do between April and October. Spare a thought for cash-strapped Spain; currently trying to up productivity and phase out the siesta culture; she is being encouraged by the National Commission for the Rationalisation of Timetables (an advisory body with a title reminiscent of something from Monty Python's Ministry of Silly Walks) to revert to Greenwich Mean Time – in line with neighbours Portugal and Spain's Canary Islands off Africa, which, incidentally, have lower productivity rates than Spain .

So come Sunday, be prepared for the twice yearly farce of nobody knowing what time it is - but at least you'll know why you don't know what time it is.

Listen to David Rooney talk about the origins of BST

Read Joseph Myers study on the origin of British Summer Time

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