By Steve Kovacs (Introduction by Chuck Gibson)

LOVELAND, OH (February 5, 2024) – Today’s edition of Fun with Maps is about the sound of time in London and beyond.

BBC and the Pips

One hundred years ago today, the BBC first used the “six-pips” signal, familiar to every Brit, as the start of the hour according to Greenwich Mean Time (also known as Zulu).

The sounds are actually 5 short pips and a longer beep.  The 5 pips take place on the 5 seconds leading up to the hour and the hour commences at the beginning of the beep, also known as the “on-time marker.” 

When a leap second needs to be added in, which occurs about every 19 months, an extra pip is added just before midnight on the designated day.

For those who listen to BBC Radio or watch BBC television programming, the pips can be heard before news programming.  Originally sounded for naval chronometers to be precisely set, the pips are more a part of culture today, just as is the ceremonial chiming of Big Ben. 

Digital devices have replaced the mechanical clocks in the Royal Observatory that signaled the sounding of the pips, but not before many other countries around the world began their own hourly signal based on the six pips.

This pictorial map of London by MacDonald Gill was issued 100 years ago, but unclear if before or after the pips in 1924.

Fun Map of London – 1924 (Credit Steve Kovacs)

Steve Kovacs and his wife Theresa reside in Loveland, Ohio where they raised their two children. He is a passionate collector of antique maps.

Visit his antique map boutique world-on-paper online. Watch for his daily feature Steve Kovacs: Fun with Maps here on Loveland Beacon.