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Ten timely facts about the changing clocks

Tick tock, it’s time to change the clocks! The clocks go back to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) on the last Sunday in October, meaning we all get the hour back that we lost on the last Sunday in March.

But why do the clocks change twice a year? Whose idea was British Summer Time (BST)? And do other countries do it too?

Every year the clocks go back by one hour on the last Sunday of October at 2am.

1. We change our clocks for the summer to make better use of daylight

The clue is in the name. The purpose of Daylight Saving Time (or British Summer Time to the Brits) is to make better use of our daylight hours. During the northern hemisphere summer, when the sun shows its face for longer, we change the clocks so as to move an hour of light from the morning to the evening – when more of us are likely to be up, out and about. There’s little point in it being sunny when we’re all asleep! Of course, early risers like bakers, baristas and babies may disagree.

2. Daylight saving was first proposed by Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin, the founding father and inventor, first proposed daylight saving in 1784 in a not-too-catchily-titled essay called ‘An Economical Project for Diminishing the Cost of Light.’ It was seen as a cunning way to save on candles. In Britain, it was William Willett who first ran with the idea in his 1907 pamphlet called ‘The Waste of Daylight’. (Now, that’s a better title.) It is said that the concept dawned on him when he was out riding his horse early one summer morning and noticed how many curtains were closed. Sadly, he never saw his idea come to fruition.

3. Germany was the first country to adopt daylight saving

Germany adopted Daylight Saving Time in 1916 with the UK following suit within a few weeks. Both countries were knee-deep in the First World War, and needed to make as much use of daylight as possible in order to conserve coal. Parliament formalised this with The Summer Time Act of 1916, which stated that from Spring through to Autumn the legal time should be one hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time.

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4. During WWII we put the clocks forward by two hours

During the Second World War, British Double Summer Time was introduced. In the summer we put our clocks forward by a whole two hours as a means of maximising productivity; and in the winter the clocks remained one hour in advance of GMT for the same reason.

5. For three years from 1968 we got rid of BST completely

We turned our backs on British Summer Time in 1968 – although not the acronym – and adopted British Standard Time. In 1971, however, we reverted back to BST. Sorry, we mean British Summer Time. Confused?

6. BST always begins on the last Sunday in March and ends on the last Sunday in October

It’s always 1am on the last Sunday in March that clocks skip forward by an hour (which means the date always changes). And we’re not the only ones that go full stead ahead with summer time on this Sunday. The EU states that all member countries should adjust their clocks on the same day. With one exception - Iceland. The clocks then go back an hour on the last Sunday in October at 2am.

7. Only three European countries keep their clocks constant all year

Iceland is exempt from the EU’s DST directive. It’s so far north that it has much more extreme variations in daylight and darkness throughout the year than us, and the impact of changing the clock by an hour would be negligible. Belarus and Russia also choose to remain on the same time all year round.

8. Around 70 countries worldwide adopt daylight saving

Most countries that deploy daylight saving measures are in Europe and North America. For countries on the equator, where daylight hours stay roughly the same throughout the year, daylight saving offers no real benefit.

9. Two American states opt out of Daylight Saving Time

In the U.S., daylight saving is used everywhere apart from Arizona and Hawaii – who get plenty of daylight and sunshine all year round. Rebels!

10. One monarch had his own time zone

Talking of rebels… In 1901, King Edward VII decided to invent his own time zone at the royal estate of Sandringham in Norfolk. The King, an avid fan of hunting, ordered all clocks on the estate to be set to ‘Sandringham Time’ – half an hour ahead of GMT – in order to squeeze in an extra 30 minutes of his favourite pastime each day.