THE Swindon Advertiser has always prided itself on asking vital questions.

One day in February of 1995, we took to the streets of Swindon to pose one of the knottiest philosophical questions of all: How long is a piece of string?

The piece in question had been measured beforehand, and was precisely 30cm or 11.81 inches, give or take a fraction.

Our story came after Whitehall announced the latest round in what would ultimately prove a fruitless campaign to banish imperial measurements from the public consciousness.

We said: “Government efforts to persuade the British public to adopt metric measurements and give the foot the boot are to be redoubled this year.

“New regulations mean that imperial units can no longer be used for economic, public health, public safety and administration purposes.

“Although there are some exceptions, which will save much-loved measurements such as the mile and the pint, this is clearly the beginning of the end for the imperial system.

“But whatever the intentions of the powers that be, it seems that someone forgot to tell the people of Swindon about it.

“Following a survey by the Adver it can be revealed that when it comes to talking metric, Swindonians miss by a mile.”

That assessment was a little uncharitable in one case.

Nine-year-old Leah Maynard from Toothill guessed that the string was 35cm long because it was roughly the same length as her 30cm school ruler. She also managed a near-perfect conversion of that length into inches.

At the other end of the age range, 82-year-old Frederick Jefferies from Moredon was spot on when he said the string was nearly a foot long but struggled for the metric equivalent.

“I can’t remember how many centimetres there are to a foot,” he said.

“The new system was just coming in when I retired and that was 17 years ago.”

Sonia Jackson from Toothill guessed that the string was nine inches long but struggled to make the conversion and guessed 100cm.

As things turned out, those left all at sea by metric measures that day need not have worried.

More than two decades on, everything from rulers to road signs, not to mention beer, still come in imperial measures.

Weights and measures in shops tend to be metric, but converting them is as easy as a few taps on a smartphone screen.