Moving the clocks – have you ever considered how and why we go through this process twice a year? One that, I won’t lie, I detest with the white hot intensity of a thousand burning suns. Yes – I loathe it that much!

NB: if you get confused about which way they go and when, a nifty way to remember it is: SPRING forward and FALL back.

And before you even begin to mutter about ‘Fall’ being a linguistic barbarism from across the pond read ‘You say Autumn – We say Fall’.

Moving the Clocks - a retro clock face

Over a century of clock adjusting

2016 marked one hundred years since we first changed our clocks in this manner. One hundred years of messing about – not only with physical clocks but our body clocks too.

I don’t know about you but I loathe the entire process. Every year, whichever way the clocks are going, I find it takes me ages to adjust. And the older I get the worse it gets.

When did it start and whose bright idea was it?

I long laboured under the belief that all this messing about with the clocks started in WWII to give farmers longer summer days for harvesting. Not quite true it seems. So who’s to blame?

It seems that Benjamin Franklin first came up with the idea back in 1784. He proffered the suggestion that if people got up earlier, when it was lighter, it would save on candles. But it was a while before the idea made its way to the UK.

But as with everything in life, there’s more to the story than that. This article from National Geographic explains:

1. In 1895, George Hudson, an entomologist from New Zealand, came up with the modern concept of daylight saving time. He proposed a two-hour time shift so he’d have more after-work hours of sunshine to go bug hunting in the summer.

2. Then, seven years later, in 1907 the great-great-grandfather of Coldplay’s Chris Martin, one William Willett became one that we can blame/thank for introducing the concept of BST to the nation. 

He hit on the idea while out horseback riding and proposed it to England’s Parliament as a way to prevent the nation from wasting daylight. Both Winston Churchill and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle championed Willet’s idea but faced rejection by the British government. Yet Willett fought the good fight for the concept until his 1915 death.

A fresh air fiend and keen golfer, Willett observed that people remained asleep when the sun was up. It became his mission to stop snoozing Britons wasting valuable hours of daylight. Besides which, Mr Willett was no doubt peeved at having his putting curtailed. So there’s a good reason to dislike golf – if there aren’t enough already!

Willet’s pamphlet ‘The Waste of Daylight’ urged the nation to fling back the bed sheets earlier with his motion to change the clocks. He argued it would improve health and happiness and save the country £2.5 million. I’m sure him getting longer on the golf course was nothing to do with anything.

A sundial, on a permanent Daylight Saving Time (DST) setting, is a fitting commemoration to Willett’s efforts. It’s in Petts Wood, near his home in Bromley, Kent.

Don’t mention the war

Two years into WWI, in 1916, the German government started seeking ways to save energy. They remembered Willet’s idea to move the clock forward to give more daylight during working hours, explains David Prerau, author of Seize the Daylight: The Curious and Contentious Story of Daylight Saving Time.

The British kept talking about it – the Germans got on with it. They seized the day(light) – as it were.

Before long, England and pretty much every other country embroiled in WWI followed suit. And the USA did also. Thus on March 9,1918, Congress enacted its first daylight saving law. The Standard Time Act also defined time zones in the USA.

These were the days when coal power ruled so people really did save energy – and contributed to the war effort – by changing their clocks. Anything able to ease the pressure on the economy and save fuel had to be worth a shot. A bullet free one at that.

World War II

1940, the start of the WWII, saw British clocks staying put at the end of BST. Then, the rest of the war years saw the clocks advanced by one hour in the spring and put back an hour each autumn. This went on until July 1945. This put Britain two hours ahead of GMT and operating on British Double Summer Time (BDST).

BDST happened again in 1947. Severe fuel shortages deemed it necessary to advance the clocks by one hour twice during the spring. And they were put back by one hour on two occasions in the autumn.

But is it necessary now?

On a personal level, I’d love to stop this malarkey. It winds me up! See what I did there? I can’t think it benefits anyone but the electricity companies that we’re having to put lights on at 3pm in the depths of winter. I’m of the opinion it’s the worst of all worlds as we go to work in the dark and come home in the dark.

Back when I were a lass a three-year experiment ran (1968-1971) to keep BST all year round. I remember it well. It didn’t get light until about 9am but the evenings were much longer. The effects were striking. From Brake – the UK road safety charity:

From 1968 to 1971, the UK ran an experiment whereby we stayed on British Summer Time (GMT+1) all year round. The clocks went forward as usual in March 1968 and not put back until October 1971.

Analysis of crash data during this period showed that keeping BST during the winter months resulted in an 11% reduction in casualties in England and Wales during the hours affected by the time change. In Scotland, there was a 17% reduction in casualties. Although casualties in the morning increased slightly, the decrease in casualties in the evening more than outweighed this.

Overall, about 2,500 fewer people were killed or seriously injured during the first two winters of the experiment. The experiment coincided with the introduction of roadside breath tests and the 70mph speed limit. That might also had an impact on the casualty reduction figures.

Despite the reduction in casualties, the House of Commons blocked a continuation of BST past the trial period.

n 1989, researchers analysed casualty data from winter 1969/70, in the middle of the experimental period, and concluded that BST had resulted in 232 fewer deaths and serious injuries and 2,342 fewer overall casualties during that one winter. All that taking into account wider trends and other road safety factors like roadside breath testing.

The study concluded that BST was effective in reducing casualties, particularly among children, pedestrians, and people in central England and southern Scotland.

So why are we still doing it?

Good question. One that it’s possible to answer in one word: Scotland. Alex Salmond referred to campaigns to ditch DST as an attempt to ‘plunge Scotland into morning darkness.’ Might a separate time zone for Scotland be a compromise?  SST – Scottish Summer Time anyone? #justsaying

Since all this began, we’ve had double summer time (GMT + 2 hours) during WWII to permanent British Summer Time (GMT + 1 hour) during the late 1960s. The current system of changing the clocks at the end of March and October has been in place since 1972.

Time for a change then?

Something fore the golfing fraternity

Here’s something to thrill the golfing fraternity. In the 1980s, the golf industry suggested that up to $400 million (£246.6 million) in sales and fees could generate in one month of daylight saving.

And Willett would approve of that for sure.