It is with sadness we report that Anne Attlee, leader of the Metric Sense Campaign for almost forty years, passed away peacefully at the age of 87 on 31 May 2018.
Anne’s involvement in Britain’s metric conversion began almost by chance. It was in 1964, when she was 33, that her husband’s business took him to Brussels, and the family quickly followed. During the two years she was there, Anne realised that Britain too would benefit from having a single, simple and logical measurement system, and this passion stayed with her for the rest of her life.
During the 1970s, as the UK’s metric changeover was gathering pace, Anne concluded that a focus on multiples of 1000 that had served so well, for example, the construction industry perhaps might not be to everyone’s taste, and ‘Metric Sense’ was born.
Her campaign quickly made its mark, as this extract from Hansard of a speech by Joyce Quinn, a pro-metric MP, on the 11 April 1989 shows:
“I refer the Minister to the interesting work carried out by Lady Attlee and the metric sense campaign. Lady Attlee feels that the way in which metrication is used in Britain at present and the way in which we have introduced systeme internationale measurements has increased the confusion and made metrication less user-friendly or consumer-friendly than it ought to be. She made the point that very often millimetres are used to quote a size which would be much easier to understand if it were expressed in metres and centimetres. For example, the standard size of a bath is apparently given as 1,700 millimetres, while it seems to me and to the metric sense campaign that 1 m 70 cm would be a more reasonable way of expressing the size.
I hope that the Government will examine the suggestions from the metric sense campaign in trying to present the metrication that we already have in a way that is helpful and not confusing to consumers. That would make necessary changes easier to achieve.”
(Incidentally, the record of this debate illustrates the problems of ignorance and prejudice then faced by Anne, some of which are with us still.)
Anne was also an adviser to the National Federation of Consumer Groups, and succeeded in making her voice heard there, as shown by this extract from a summary of the changeover situation prepared by the Department of Trade and Industry in 1995:
“7.3 The National Federation of Consumer Groups and the Metric Sense Campaign consider that the UK fails to use metric in everyday life because practices in the UK are not as user-friendly as those in other European countries.”
By 2002, the gloves had come off in the battle of the measurement systems. Anne joined the UK Metric Association and frequently attended its AGM and Annual Conference while continuing to promote Metric Sense.
A recent article on Metric Views, posted less than three weeks before her death, shows that the issue that was the focus of the Metric Sense Campaign is with us still:
But today, now that over 60% of the UK population of school age and above has been educated using metric measures, we can be more relaxed about the matter. Whilst many of us may not be as familiar with metric measures as we should be, we are no longer intimidated by them. Perhaps metric sense is prevailing.
And if not, we may wish to emulate Anne, of whom it was said, “She did not hesitate from asking questions in areas where many feared to tread.”