Essay Topics British Culture Facts
The culture of the United Kingdom is influenced by the UK's history as a developedisland country, a liberal democracy and a major power; its predominantly Christianreligious life; and its composition of four countries—England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland—each of which has distinct customs, cultures and symbolism. The wider culture of Europe has also influenced British culture, and Humanism, Protestantism and representative democracy developed from broader Western culture.
British literature, music, cinema, art, theatre, comedy, media, television, philosophy, architecture and education are important aspects of British culture. The United Kingdom is also prominent in science and technology, producing world-leading scientists (e.g. Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin) and inventions. Sport is an important part of British culture; numerous sports originated in the country, including football. The UK has been described as a "cultural superpower", and London has been described as a world cultural capital. A global opinion poll for the BBC saw the UK ranked the third most positively viewed nation in the world (behind Germany and Canada) in 2013 and 2014.
The Industrial Revolution, which started in the UK, had a profound effect on the family socio-economic and cultural conditions of the world. As a result of the British Empire, significant British influence can be observed in the language, law, culture and institutions of a geographically wide assortment of countries, including Australia, Canada, India, the Republic of Ireland, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka, the United States and English speaking Caribbean nations. These states are sometimes collectively known as the Anglosphere, and are among Britain's closest allies. In turn the empire also influenced British culture, particularly British cuisine.
The cultures of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are diverse and have varying degrees of overlap and distinctiveness.
Main article: Languages of the United Kingdom
First spoken in early medieval England, the English language is the de factoofficial language of the UK, and is spoken monolingually by an estimated 95% of the British population.[note 1]
Individual countries within the UK have frameworks for the promotion of their indigenous languages. In Wales, all pupils at state schools must either be taught through the medium of Welsh or study it as an additional language until age 16, and the Welsh Language Act 1993 and the Government of Wales Act 1998 provide that the Welsh and English languages should be treated equally in the public sector, so far as is reasonable and practicable. Irish and Ulster Scots enjoy limited use alongside English in Northern Ireland, mainly in publicly commissioned translations. The Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act, passed by the Scottish Parliament in 2005, recognised Gaelic as an official language of Scotland, commanding equal respect with English, and required the creation of a national plan for Gaelic to provide strategic direction for the development of the Gaelic language.[note 2] There is also a campaign underway to recognize Scots as a language in Scotland, though this remains controversial. The Cornish language enjoys neither official recognition nor promotion by the state in Cornwall.
Under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, the UK Government has committed to the promotion of certain linguistic traditions. The United Kingdom has ratified the charter for: Welsh (in Wales), Scottish Gaelic and Scots (in Scotland), Cornish (in Cornwall), and Irish and Ulster Scots (in Northern Ireland). British Sign Language is also a recognized language.
Owing to its long history, dialects and regional accents vary amongst the four countries of the United Kingdom, as well as within the countries themselves. Some nearby cities have different dialects and accents, such as Scousers from Liverpool and Mancunians from Manchester, which are separated by just 35 miles. Notable Scouse speakers include John Lennon and Paul McCartney of The Beatles, while Mancunians include Liam and Noel Gallagher from Oasis.
The Cockney accent is traditionally spoken by working-class Londoners. Michael Caine is a notable exponent, as is the Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady whose dialect includes words that are common among working-class Londoners, such as ain't: "I ain't done nothing wrong", said Doolittle.Received Pronunciation is the accent of standard English in the UK, with speakers including the British Royal Family. Brummie is the dialect of natives of Birmingham in the West Midlands of England, notable Brummies include rock musicians Ozzy Osbourne (and all of Black Sabbath), Jeff Lynne (ELO), and Rob Halford (Judas Priest).Geordie is the dialect of people from Tyneside in northeast England: musicians Brian Johnson (AC/DC), Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits) and Sting are Geordies (though Sting has lost much of his Geordie accent and speaks in a standard English accent).
Notable exponents of Scottish accents include Sean Connery, comedian Billy Connolly, and The Proclaimers (their song "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" showcases their strong Scottish accent). The West Country accent from southwest England is identified in film as "pirate speech" – cartoon-like "Ooh arr, me 'earties! Sploice the mainbrace!" talk is very similar, while famous pirates hailed from this region, including Blackbeard; West Country native Robert Newton's performance as Long John Silver in films standardised the pirate voice. The Northern Irish accent includes golfer Rory McIlroy and actor Liam Neeson, also the actor Daniel Day-Lewis adopts a strong Northern Irish accent in In the Name of the Father. The actor Russell Brand has a strong Essex accent, actor Sean Bean is known for his distinctive Yorkshire accent, the comedian Eric Morecambe possessed a Lancashire accent, while English speakers in a Welsh accent include Michael Sheen, Tom Jones and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
Main article: Literature of the United Kingdom
At its formation, the United Kingdom inherited the literary traditions of England, Scotland and Wales, including the earliest existing native literature written in the Celtic languages, Old English literature and more recent English literature including the works of Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare and John Milton.
The early 18th century is known as the Augustan Age of English literature. The poetry of the time was highly formal, as exemplified by the works of Alexander Pope, and the English novel became popular, with Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe (1721), Samuel Richardson's Pamela (1740) and Henry Fielding's Tom Jones (1749).
Completed after nine years work, Samuel Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language was published in 1755, and was viewed as the pre-eminent British dictionary until the completion of the Oxford English Dictionary 150 years later.
From the late 18th century, the Romantic period showed a flowering of poetry comparable with the Renaissance 200 years earlier, and a revival of interest in vernacular literature. In Scotland the poetry of Robert Burns revived interest in Scots literature, and the Weaver Poets of Ulster were influenced by literature from Scotland. In Wales the late 18th century saw the revival of the eisteddfod tradition, inspired by Iolo Morganwg. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), by Mary Wollstonecraft, is one of the earliest works of feminist philosophy.
Major poets in 19th-century English literature included William Blake, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Alfred Lord Tennyson, John Keats, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Edward Lear (the limerick), Percy Shelley and Lord Byron. The Victorian era was the golden age of the realistic English novel, with Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters (Charlotte, Emily and Anne), Charles Dickens, William Thackeray, George Eliot and Thomas Hardy.
World War I gave rise to British war poets and writers such as Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves and Rupert Brooke who wrote (often paradoxically) of their expectations of war, and/or their experiences in the trenches.
The most widely popular writer of the early years of the 20th century was arguably Rudyard Kipling, the youngest ever recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature. His novels include The Jungle Book and The Man Who Would Be King. His poem If— is a national favourite. Like William Ernest Henley's poem Invictus, it is a memorable evocation of Victorianstoicism and a "stiff upper lip".
Notable Irish writers include Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, Bram Stoker, Jonathan Swift, George Bernard Shaw and W. B. Yeats. The Celtic Revival stimulated a new appreciation of traditional Irish literature. The Scottish Renaissance of the early 20th century brought modernism to Scottish literature as well as an interest in new forms in the literatures of Scottish Gaelic and Scots. The English novel developed in the 20th century into much greater variety and it remains today the dominant English literary form.
Other prominent novelists from the UK include George Orwell, C. S. Lewis, H. G. Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, D. H. Lawrence, Mary Shelley, Lewis Carroll, J. R. R. Tolkien, Virginia Woolf, Ian Fleming, Walter Scott, Agatha Christie, J. M. Barrie, Joseph Conrad, Graham Greene, E. M. Forster, Aldous Huxley, Roald Dahl, Arthur C. Clarke, Daphne du Maurier, Alan Moore, Ian McEwan, Anthony Burgess, Evelyn Waugh, William Golding, Salman Rushdie, Douglas Adams, P. G. Wodehouse, Martin Amis, J. G. Ballard, Beatrix Potter, A. A. Milne, Philip Pullman, Terry Pratchett, H. Rider Haggard, Enid Blyton, Neil Gaiman, Kazuo Ishiguro, and J. K. Rowling. Important British poets of the 20th century include Rudyard Kipling, W. H. Auden, Ted Hughes, Philip Larkin, T. S. Eliot, John Betjeman and Dylan Thomas.
Created in 1969, the Man Booker Prize is the highest profile British literary award. It is awarded each year in early October for the best original novel, written in English and published in the UK. Devised in 1988, the Hay Festival is an annual literature festival held in Hay-on-Wye in Wales for ten days from May to June. In 2003 the BBC carried out a UK survey entitled The Big Read in order to find the "nation's best-loved novel" of all time, with works by English novelists J. R. R. Tolkien, Jane Austen, Philip Pullman, Douglas Adams and J. K. Rowling making up the top five on the list. Known for his macabre, darkly comic, fantasy children's books, Roald Dahl is frequently ranked the best children's author in UK polls. British children's literature was celebrated in the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games during the sequence called "Second to the right and straight on till morning" which saw thirty Mary Poppins descend on flying umbrellas to fight and defeat the villains Queen of Hearts, Captain Hook, Cruella de Vil and Lord Voldemort who were haunting children's dreams.
Main article: Theatre of the United Kingdom
From its formation in 1707, the United Kingdom has had a vibrant tradition of theatre, much of it inherited from England and Scotland. The West End is the main theatre district in the UK. The West End's Theatre Royal in Covent Garden in the City of Westminster dates back to the mid-17th century, making it the oldest London theatre. Opened in 1768, the Theatre Royal at the Bristol Old Vic is the oldest continually-operating theatre in the English speaking world.
In the 18th century, the highbrow and provocative Restoration comedy lost favour, to be replaced by sentimental comedy, domestic tragedy such as George Lillo's The London Merchant (1731), and by an overwhelming interest in Italian opera. Popular entertainment became more important in this period than ever before, with fair-booth burlesque and mixed forms that are the ancestors of the English music hall. These forms flourished at the expense of other forms of English drama, which went into a long period of decline. By the early 19th century it was no longer represented by stage plays at all, but by the closet drama, plays written to be privately read in a "closet" (a small domestic room).
In 1847, a critic using the pseudonym "Dramaticus" published a pamphlet describing the parlous state of British theatre. Production of serious plays was restricted to the patent theatres, and new plays were subject to censorship by the Lord Chamberlain's Office. At the same time, there was a burgeoning theatre sector featuring a diet of low melodrama and musical burlesque; but critics described British theatre as driven by commercialism and a "star" system. A change came in the late 19th century with the plays on the London stage by the Irishmen George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde, who influenced domestic English drama and revitalised it. The Shakespeare Memorial Theatre was opened in Shakespeare's birthplace Stratford upon Avon in 1879; and Herbert Beerbohm Tree founded an Academy of Dramatic Art at Her Majesty's Theatre in 1904.
Producer Richard D'Oyly Carte brought together librettist W. S. Gilbert and composer Arthur Sullivan, nurtured their collaboration, and had their first success with Trial by Jury. Among Gilbert and Sullivan's best known comic operas are H.M.S. Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado. Carte built the West End's Savoy Theatre in 1881 to present their joint works, and through the inventor of electric light Sir Joseph Swan, the Savoy was the first theatre, and the first public building in the world, to be lit entirely by electricity. In 1895, Lyceum Theatre stage actor Henry Irving became the first actor to be awarded a knighthood. The performing arts theatre Sadler's Wells, under Lilian Baylis, nurtured talent that led to the development of an opera company, which became the English National Opera (ENO); a theatre company, which evolved into the National Theatre; and a ballet company, which eventually became the English Royal Ballet.
Making his professional West End debut at the Garrick Theatre in 1911, flamboyant playwright, composer and actor Noël Coward had a career spanning over 50 years, in which he wrote many comic plays, and over a dozen musical theatre works. Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson and John Gielgud dominated British theatre of the mid-20th century. The National Theatre's largest auditorium is named after Olivier, and he is commemorated in the Laurence Olivier Awards, given annually by the Society of London Theatre. Lionel Bart's 1960 musical Oliver! (based on Charles Dickens novel) contains the songs "Food, Glorious Food", "Consider Yourself" and "You've Got to Pick a Pocket or Two". Oliver! has received thousands of performances in British schools since. In July 1962, a board was set up to supervise construction of a National Theatre in London, and a separate board was constituted to run a National Theatre Company and lease the Old Vic theatre. The Company remained at the Old Vic until 1976, when the new South Bank building was opened. A National Theatre of Scotland was set up in 2006. Today the West End of London has many theatres, particularly centred on Shaftesbury Avenue.
A prolific composer of musical theatre in the 20th century, Andrew Lloyd Webber has been referred to as "the most commercially successful composer in history". His musicals, which include The Phantom of the Opera, Cats, Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita, have dominated the West End for a number of years and have travelled around the world as well as being turned into films. Lloyd Webber has worked with producer Cameron Mackintosh, lyricist Tim Rice, actor Michael Crawford (originated the title role in The Phantom of the Opera), actress and singer Sarah Brightman, while his musicals originally starred Elaine Paige (originated the role of Grizabella in Cats and had a chart hit with "Memory"), who with continued success has become known as the First Lady of British Musical Theatre.
Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap has seen more than 25,000 performances in the West End, and is the longest-running West End show.The Woman in Black is the second longest running stage play. Written by Catherine Johnson, Mamma Mia! is the West End's longest running jukebox musical. Richard O'Brien's 1973 West End musical The Rocky Horror Show has been ranked among the "Nation's Number One Essential Musicals".Peter Shaffer's 1979 play Amadeus premiered at the National Theatre. Elton John composed the music for The Lion King (lyrics by Rice) and Billy Elliot the Musical, with both running for over a decade on the West End. Eric Idle's Monty Python's Spamalot made its West End debut in 2006. Matilda the Musical (an adaptation of Roald Dahl's children's book) won seven 2012 Olivier Awards. In 2017, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child won a record-breaking nine Olivier Awards.
The Royal Shakespeare Company operates out of Stratford-upon-Avon, producing mainly but not exclusively Shakespeare's plays. Important modern playwrights include Nobel laureate Harold Pinter, Tom Stoppard, Alan Ayckbourn, John Osborne, Michael Frayn and Arnold Wesker.
Main article: Music of the United Kingdom
See also: British pop music, British rock, British blues, New wave of British heavy metal, Britpop, British soul, British Invasion, and Second British Invasion
While the British national anthem "God Save the Queen" and other patriotic songs such as "Rule, Britannia!" represent the United Kingdom, each of the four individual countries of the UK also has their own patriotic hymns. Edward Elgar's "Land of Hope and Glory", and William Blake's poem And did those feet in ancient time set to Hubert Parry's "Jerusalem", are among England's most patriotic hymns. Scottish patriotic songs include "Flower of Scotland", "Scotland the Brave", "Scots Wha Hae" and "Highland Cathedral"; patriotic Welsh hymns include "Guide me, O Thou Great Redeemer" by William Williams Pantycelyn, and "Land of My Fathers"; the latter is the national anthem of Wales. The patriotic Northern Irish ballad Danny Boy is set to the tune "Londonderry Air".
The traditional marching song "The British Grenadiers" is often performed by British Army bands, and is played at the Trooping the Colour. Written by British Army bandmaster F. J. Ricketts, the "Colonel Bogey March" is often whistled, becoming part of British way of life during World War II. George Frideric Handel composed Zadok the Priest in 1727 for the coronation of George II: it has been performed during the Sovereign's anointing at every subsequent British coronation. Jeremiah Clarke's "Trumpet Voluntary" is popular for wedding music, and has featured in royal weddings.
Other notable British composers, including Henry Purcell, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Benjamin Britten, Gustav Holst, William Byrd, Thomas Tallis, Henry Wood, John Taverner, Arthur Sullivan, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, William Walton, Richard Rodney Bennett, Peter Maxwell Davies, Ivor Novello, Malcolm Arnold, Michael Tippett, Sir George Martin and John Barry, have made major contributions to British music. Living composers include John Rutter, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Oliver Knussen, Mike Oldfield, James MacMillan, Thomas Ades, Harrison Birtwistle, Joby Talbot, John Powell, David Arnold, Anne Dudley, John Murphy, Henry Jackman, Leslie Bricusse, Brian Eno (pioneer of "ambient music" which emerged in the early 1970s in the UK), Clint Mansell, Karl Jenkins, Harry Gregson Williams, Craig Armstrong and Michael Nyman.
The traditional folk music of England has contributed to several genres, such as sea shanties, jigs, hornpipes and dance music. It has its own distinct variations and regional peculiarities. Wynkyn de Worde's printed ballads of Robin Hood from the 16th century are an important artefact, as are John Playford's The Dancing Master and Robert Harley'sRoxburghe Ballads collections. Some of the best known songs are "Greensleeves", "Scarborough Fair" and "Over the Hills and Far Away". Accompanied with music, Morris dancing is an English folk dance that first appeared in the 1440s.
The bagpipes have long been a national symbol of Scotland, and the Great Highland Bagpipe is widely recognised. Scottish folk songs include "The Bonnie Banks o' Loch Lomond", "Will Ye Go, Lassie, Go?" while "Auld Lang Syne" is sung throughout the English-speaking world to celebrate the start of the New Year, especially at Hogmanay in Scotland. The Child Ballads, a collection of English and Scottish Popular Ballads, are ballads of the British Isles from the later medieval period until the 19th century. Both Northern English and Southern Scots shared in the identified tradition of Border ballads, such as the cross-border narrative in "The Ballad of Chevy Chase", first recorded in 1540. Many ballads were written and sold as single sheet broadsides. British folk groups, such as Fairport Convention, have drawn heavily from these ballads.
In the mid-16th century nursery rhymes begin to be recorded in English plays, and the most popular date from the 17th and 18th centuries. The first English collections, Tommy Thumb's Song Book and a sequel, Tommy Thumb's Pretty Song Book, were published before 1744.
The first Britons (people who live in the United Kingdom) were the Picts, who arrived about 10,000 years ago. In the eighth century B.C., the Celts arrived from Europe and pushed the Picts north into Scotland. In A.D. 43, the Romans invaded and ruled for nearly 400 years. They built roads, bathhouses, sewers, and large villas.
By the sixth century A.D., German peoples known as Angles, Jutes, and Saxons were moving into Britain. The Angles gave their name to England, and English people became known as Anglo-Saxons. From the 900s to the 1400s, England was ruled by Viking, Danish, and Norman invaders.
In 1485 the Welsh noble Henry Tudor claimed the English crown and became Henry VII, the first of five Tudor monarchs. Several important lines of kings and queens followed.
By the 1800s, Britain was one of the most powerful nations in the world. Trade generated immense wealth, and the country built a huge overseas empire. But the early 20th century was a time of setbacks for Britain. Drained by World War I and II, Britain could no longer afford its empire, and most of its colonies became independent.