The BBC, as they did ten years ago, are offering reviews of the past decade, believing 1 January 2020 is the start of a new decade. The new decade starts on 1 January 2021, just as the new millennium started on 1 January 2001.
Not one to lose an opportunity, I may as well repeat what I wrote on Lords of the Blog ten years ago, which no one at the BBC read or, if they did, they decided to ignore it.
The Victorians celebrated the start of the twentieth century on 1 January 1901. On 31 December 1900, The Daily Telegraph published an article by Sir Edwin Arnold on ‘The Departing Century’. Christmas 1900 was referred to ‘as the last of the century’.
Given this, I tabled a question in 1999 asking why, for official purposes, the start of the twenty-first century was being celebrated ninety-nine years after the start of the twentieth century was celebrated. The Government Deputy Chief Whip, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, replied and conceded that the Government accepted that the new millennium started on 1 January 2001. However, he said, ‘many people wish to celebrate during the year 2000’. Consequently, it was decided in 1994 that the Millennium Commission would fund projects throughout 2000 ‘and into the new Millennium’. An additional bank holiday was allocated for 31 December 1999 ‘in recognition of the celebratory nature of the Millennium’.
My question was picked up by The Daily Telegraph, which did a story on it and provided some historical context. As it recorded, ‘The problem over dating the Millennium arose because early monks who established the system of Anno Domini did not include a year 0. However, the historical date of Christ’s birth is put by most scholars as 4 BC, which means the real Millennium probably fell in 1996.’
The article also went on to point out that the brass ‘prime meridian’ line at Greenwich, which was to feature in the celebrations, was actually 100 metres away from zero longitude as measured by global satellites, as a result of which the start of the new year could be out by one-third of a second. It was thus able to conclude that ‘It could be argued that the Third Millennium is to be celebrated at Greenwich on the wrong meridian at the wrong time and in the wrong year.’
Anyway, back to when the new decade starts. A decade is ten years and one can take any year to reflect on the past decade. But short of doing this every year, one might have expected the BBC to take its cue from the official recognition of when the new millennium started. If Lord Reith, the BBC’s first Director-General, was still alive, it would, for one thing, be a miracle (he would be 120), but one suspects he would have been firm on the matter.