Main article: Literature of the United Kingdom
The United Kingdom inherited the literary traditions of England, Scotland and Wales. These include Arthurian literature and its Welsh origins, Norse-influenced Old English literature, the works of English authors Geoffrey Chaucer and William Shakespeare, and Scots works such as John Barbour‘s The Brus.Robert Burns is regarded as the national poet of Scotland.
The early 18th century period of British literature is known as the Augustan Age and included the development of the novel. Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719) and Moll Flanders (1722) are often seen as the first English novels, however the development of the novel took place in a wider literary context that included the rise of prose satires – which reached a high point with Gulliver’s Travels – and earlier foreign works like the Spanish Don Quixote. Also linked to the Augustan period is Samuel Johnson‘s A Dictionary of the English Language. Published in 1755, it was viewed as the pre-eminent British dictionary until the completion of the Oxford English Dictionary 150 years later.
The subsequent 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. The period also saw the publication of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), by Mary Wollstonecraft, is one of the earliest works of feminist philosophy.
The late Georgian and Victorian era saw a renewed focus on the novel. A key theme of these novels was social commentary. Early in the period Jane Austen satirised the lifestyle of the gentry and nobility, while the later novels of Charles Dickens often used humour and keen observations to criticise poverty and social stratification. The three Brontë sisters and George Eliot commented on Northern England and the Midlands respectively, though all four women wrote under male pen names during their lifetimes, partly to deflect anti-feminist criticism. Nevertheless, openly female authors achieved considerable success in the period, such as the predominantly religious poems of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Christina Rossetti.
Rudyard Kipling exemplifies the British Empire’s influence on British literature. His novels The Jungle Book and The Man Who Would Be King are both set in British India, the poem If— evokes the concept of the “stiff upper lip“, while The White Man’s Burden demonstrates a white supremacist Imperialist outlook.Welsh native Roald Dahl is frequently ranked the best children’s author in UK polls.
World War I gave rise to British war poets and writers such as Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, and Rupert Brooke, who wrote (often paradoxically) of their expectations of war, and their experiences in the trenches. Initially idealistic and patriotic in tone, as the war progressed the tone of the movement became increasingly sombre and pacifistic. The beginning of the twentieth century also saw the Celtic Revival stimulate a new appreciation of traditional Irish literature, while the Scottish Renaissance 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.
The contemporary British literary scene is marked by awards such as the Man Booker Prize, created in 1969, and festivals including the Welsh Hay Festival, held since 1988. The prominent status of children’s literature in the UK was demonstrated in the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games, which contained sequence dedicated to prominent children’s literary characters. In 2003 the BBC carried out a UK survey entitled The Big Read in order to find the “nation’s best-loved novel”, 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. More than 75% of the British public read at least one book annually. The UK is also among the largest publishers of books. As of 2017, six firms in the United Kingdom rank among the world’s biggest publishers of books in terms of revenue: Bloomsbury, Cambridge University Press, Informa, Oxford University Press, Pearson, and RELX Group.
From its formation in 1707 the United Kingdom has had a vibrant tradition of theatre, much of it inherited from England, Scotland and Wales. The Union of the Crowns coincided with the decline of highbrow and provocative Restoration comedy in favour of 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. In Scotland the opposite occurred, with the emergence of specifically Scottish plays including John Home’s Douglas and the works of Walter Scott, which included original plays as well as adaptations of his Waverley novels. The late 19th century saw revival of English theatre with arrival of Irishmen George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde, who influenced domestic English drama and revitalised it. Their contemporaries Gilbert and Sullivan had a similar impact on musical theatre with their comic operas. 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.
The early twentieth century was dominated by drawing-room plays produced by the likes of Noël Coward, which were then challenged by the kitchen sink realism and absurdist drama influenced by Irishman Samuel Beckett in the 1950s and 60s. Conversely 1952 saw the first performance of Agatha Christie‘s The Mousetrap, a drawing-room murder mystery that has seen over 25,000 performances and is the longest-running West End show. At the same time 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. Elsewhere the Royal Shakespeare Company was founded in 1959 at Stratford-upon-Avon, and continues to mainly stage Shakespeare’s plays.
Contemporary British theatre is focused on the West End, London’s major theatre district. The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in the City of Westminster dates back to 1663, making it the oldest London theatre, however the Theatre Royal at the Bristol Old Vic is the oldest continually-operating theatre in the English speaking world, opening in 1768. The musicals of Andrew Lloyd Webber have dominated the West End since the late 20th century, leading him to be dubbed “the most commercially successful composer in history”. A National Theatre of Scotland was set up in 2006.
Main article: Music of the United KingdomSee also: British pop music, British rock, British blues, New wave of British heavy metal, Britpop, British soul, British Invasion, and Second British Invasion
British Baroque music was heavily influenced by continental fashions. This is exemplified by George Frideric Handel, a German-born naturalised British citizen whose choral music set British taste for the next two centuries. His operas also helped Britain challenge Italy as a centre of operatic production. The establishment of the London Philharmonic Society in 1813, Royal Academy of Music in 1822, and Irish Academy of Music in 1848 aided the professionalisation of British classical music and patronage of composers. The Philharmonic Society was a strong supporter of the German Felix Mendelssohn, an early Romantic composer who also strongly influenced British music. In Ireland, John Field invented the nocturne and may have been an influence on Chopin and Liszt. A notable development of the mid- to late-nineteenth century was the resurgence of English-language opera and the establishment of several prominent orchestras, including the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic in 1840, Manchester-based Hallé in 1858, and the Scottish Orchestra in 1891. The most notable trend in classical music at the turn of the century was the nationalistic trend that developed. This was initially seen in works like The Masque at Kenilworth, which reconstructed an Elizabethan masque, but later took a pastoral turn under the influence of the British folk revival. Examplars of this period are Ralph Vaughan Williams‘ English Folk Song Suite, and Sir Alexander Mackenzie‘s Scottish Rhapsodies.
Modern and contemporary classical music takes a variety of forms. Composers such as Benjamin Britten developed idiosyncratic and avant-garde styles, while the likes of William Walton produced more conventional ceremonial and patriotic music. The UK now has several major orchestras, including the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and the Philharmonia, while the establishment of the Opera North in 1977 sought to redress the balance of operatic institutions away from London. There are several classical festivals, such as Aldeburgh and Glydebourne, while the BBC Proms are an important annual fixture in the classical calendar.
Popular commercial music in Britain can be traced back at least as far as the seventeenth-century broadside ballad, and also encompasses brass band music and music hall. Popular music in the modern sense began to emerge in the 1950s, as the American styles of jazz and rock and roll became popular. The skiffle revival was an early attempt to create a British form of American music, but it was the emergence of British rock and roll by the early 1960s that established a viable UK popular music industry. Genres such as beat and British blues were re-exported to America by bands such as the Beatles and Rolling Stones, in a move that came to be called the British Invasion. The development of blues rock helped differentiate rock and pop music, leading to the emergence of several sub-genres of rock in the 1970s. Glam rock was a particularly British genre that emphasised outrageous costumes, while the end of the decade saw the rise of punk, new wave, and post-punk bands. The influence of immigration could also be seen in the increased prominence of World music, particularly Jamaican music. The 1980s were a successful decade in British pop, as a second British Invasion was witnessed and new technology enabled genres such as synthpop to form. Jazz saw a resurgence as black British musicians created new fusions such as Acid Jazz. Indie rock was a reaction to the perceived saturation of the music industry by pop, exemplified by Stock Aitken Waterman‘s domination of the charts. This continued in the 1990s, as boy bands and girl groups dominated the singles chart, while the Madchester scene helped drive alternative rock and Britpop to the mainstream. British soul saw a rise that continued into the 2000s, including the global success of Adele. Dance music also saw innovation, with genres such as dubstep and new rave emerging.
Folk and sub-national music
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In contrast to the comparatively homogenous classical and pop genres, each nation of the UK has retained a distinct tradition of folk music. 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, while musical Morris dancing is an English folk dance known to have existed at least as early as the mid-15th century.
The bagpipes have long been a national symbol of Scotland, and the Great Highland Bagpipe is widely recognised. The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, are ballads of the British Isles from the later medieval period until the 19th century, demonstrating freat regional variety, particularly local traditions such as the Border ballads, which include the particularly influential Ballad of Chevy Chase.British folk groups, such as Fairport Convention, have drawn heavily from these ballads.
Similarly, while the 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 has its own patriotic hymns. For example, Jerusalem, Scotland the Brave, Land of My Fathers, and Danny Boy pertain exclusively to England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland respectively. These songs are often used at sporting events where each nation competes individually.
Britain has had a significant film industry for over a century. While many films focus on British culture, UK cinema is also marked by its interaction and competition with American and continental European cinema.
The UK was the location of the oldest surviving moving picture, Roundhay Garden Scene (1888), which was shot in Roundhay, Leeds by French inventor Louis Le Prince, while the first British film, Incident at Clovelly Cottage was shot in 1895. The world’s first colour motion picture was shot by Edward Raymond Turner in 1902. British film production suffered in the 1920s in face of competition from American imports and a legal requirement for cinemas to show a set quota of British films, which encouraged poor-quality, low-cost productions to meet this demand. This had changed by the 1940s, when the governemt encouraged fewer, higher-quality films to be made. This era also saw the rise of Alfred Hitchcock, who soon moved to the US and become one of the twentieth century’s most influential directors. During World War II the Crown Film Unit established a reputation for documentaries, while Powell and Pressburger began their influential and innovative collaboration.
The post-war period was a particular high point for British filmmaking, producing The Third Man and Brief Encounter, which the British Film Institute consider the best and second-best British films respectively. Laurence Olivier‘s 1948 Hamlet was the first British film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. The 1950s saw a focus on popular domestic topics such as comedies, including the enduring Carry On series, and World War II epics such as The Dam Busters. At the end of the decade Hammer Films took advantage of relaxed censorship laws to begin their series of successful horror films. The beginning of the 1960s saw the British New Wave style develop, influenced by its French counterpart, that sought to depict a wider strata of society in a realistic manner. The 1960s also saw renewed American financial interest in British film, which particularly manifested itself in the development of historical epics, such as Best Picture winners Lawrence of Arabia and A Man for All Seasons; spy thrillers, including the first films in the James Bond franchise; and films based on ‘swinging London‘ scene.
The 1970s saw a withdrawal of American support and a retrenchment in British cinema, though the decade did see culturally important productions such as the horror The Wicker Man and Monty Python‘s comedic films. The decade also saw the Commonwealth influence British film, as Pressure and A Private Enterprise are considered the first Black British and British Asian films respectively. 1981’s Chariots of Fire and 1982’s Gandhi both won the Best Picture Oscar, the latter winning eight awards, prompting a resurgence in period films. 1982 also saw the creation of Channel 4, which had a remit to promote films for minority audiences. Films with racial and LGBT themes were produced, while Channel 4’s involvement saw television stars move into feature films.
American investment again increased in the 1990s, and the success of Four Weddings and a Funeral saw romantic comedies rise in popularity. Merchant Ivory Productions, boosted by the Oscars success of the previous decade’s period pieces, continued to produce films in the same vein. American studios also began to base the production of Hollywood films in the UK, encouraged by tax incentives. 1996’s Trainspotting led to increased interest in regional, particularly Scottish, cinema. While American-funded films continued their influence in the 2010s, domestic European co-productions also received acclaim. The Queen was British-French production for which Helen Mirren won Best Actress, while the UK Film Council funded The King’s Speech, which won Best Picture in 2011. Asian British cinema has risen in prominence since 1999, when East is East was a mainstream success on a low budget.
The UK has been at the forefront of developments in film, radio and television. Broadcasting in the UK has historically been dominated by the taxpayer-funded but independently run British Broadcasting Corporation (commonly known as the BBC), although other independent radio and television (ITV, Channel 4, Five) and satellite broadcasters (especially BSkyB which has over 10 million subscribers) have become more important in recent years. BBC television, and the other three main television channels are public service broadcasters who, as part of their licence allowing them to operate, broadcast a variety of minority interest programming. The BBC and Channel 4 are state-owned, though they operate independently.Broadcaster and naturalist David Attenborough is the only person to have won BAFTAs for programmes in each of black and white, colour, HD, and 3D.
Launched in 1955, ITV is the oldest commercial television network in the UK. Director Ridley Scott‘s evocative 1973 Hovis bread television commercial captured the public imagination. Filmed on Gold Hill, Shaftesbury in Dorset, Scott’s advert was voted the UK’s favourite television advertisement of all time in 2006. Other notable British commercials include the 1989 British Airways face advertisement, the 2005 noitulovE advert for Guinness, the 2007 Gorilla advertisement by Cadbury chocolate featuring a gorilla playing drums with Phil Collins’ track “In the Air Tonight” playing in the background, and a 2013 advert for Galaxy chocolate bar featuring a computer-generated image of Audrey Hepburn. Christmas commercials are screened from early November in the UK, with campaigns including the John Lewis Christmas advert for the department store chain.
International football tournaments, such as the World Cup, are historically the most viewed sports events among the public, while Match of the Day is the most popular weekly football show. The 1966 FIFA World Cup Final and the Funeral of Princess Diana are the two most watched television events ever in the UK. Satire has been a prominent feature in British comedy for centuries. The British satire boom of the 1960s, which consisted of writers and performers such as Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Alan Bennett, David Frost and Jonathan Miller, has heavily influenced British television, including the sketch comedy series Monty Python’s Flying Circus created in 1969 by Monty Python. Regarded as the leading figure of the satire boom, Peter Cook was ranked number one in the Comedians’ Comedian poll. The puppet show Spitting Image was a satire of the royal family, politics, entertainment, sport and UK culture of the 1980s up to the mid-1990s.Animator Nick Park with his Wallace and Gromit characters
Have I Got News for You and Mock the Week are the two longest running satirical panel shows. Satire also features heavily in the Grand Theft Auto video game series which has been ranked among Britain’s most successful exports. The slapstick and double entendre of Benny Hill also achieved very high ratings on UK television, as did the physical humour of Mr. Bean. Popular comedy duos in television include The Two Ronnies and Morecambe and Wise, with both shows featuring memorable sketches. Jeeves and Wooster starred Hugh Laurie as Bertie Wooster, an airy, nonchalant, gormless, idle young gentleman and Stephen Fry as Jeeves, his calm, well-informed, and talented valet. Created by and starring Rik Mayall as Richie and Adrian Edmondson as Eddie, Bottom features two crude, perverted flatmates with no jobs and little money, which is noted for its chaotic, nihilistic humour and violent comedy slapstick. Steve Coogan created the character Alan Partridge, a tactless and inept television presenter who often insults his guests and whose inflated sense of celebrity drives him to shameless self-promotion. Da Ali G Show starred Sacha Baron Cohen as a faux-streetwise poseur Ali G from west London, who would conduct real interviews with unsuspecting people, many of whom are celebrities, during which they are asked absurd and ridiculous questions.
Animator Nick Park created the Wallace and Gromit characters at Aardman Animations studio in Bristol. They feature in A Grand Day Out (1989), The Wrong Trousers (1993) and A Close Shave (1995), which all have 100% positive ratings on the aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes, while A Matter of Loaf and Death was the most watched television programme in the UK in 2008. Aardman also produce the kid’s show Shaun the Sheep. Popular pre-school shows include Teletubbies, Thomas the Tank Engine and Bob the Builder.
First airing in 1958, Blue Peter is famous for its arts and crafts “makes”. The show has been a staple for generations of British children. Popular live action TV shows include The Borrowers (based on Mary Norton books on little people), The Adventures of Black Beauty, The Famous Five (based on Enid Blyton books), The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (based on the C. S. Lewis novel), and Pride and Prejudice (starring Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy). The actor David Jason has voiced a number of popular characters in children’s animation, including The Wind in the Willows (based on the children’s book by Kenneth Grahame), Danger Mouse and Count Duckula. Other children’s shows include Where’s Wally? (a series based on books by author Martin Handford where readers are challenged to find Wally who is hidden in the group), Dennis the Menace and Gnasher, while Thunderbirds and Terrahawks by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson have been praised for creating Supermarionation.
Debuting in 1982, The Snowman (featuring the festive song “Walking in the Air“) is annually screened at Christmas. Shown on the BBC, the UK holds two high-profile charity telethon events, Children in Need, held annually in November, and Comic Relief, which alternates with Sports Relief, every March. The 2011 edition of Comic Relief saw the first appearance of James Corden‘s Carpool Karaoke sketch when he drove around London singing songs with George Michael. British programmes dominate the list of TV’s most watched shows in the UK, with the kitchen sink dramas, ITV’s Coronation Street and BBC’s EastEnders, both often ranking high on the ratings list compiled by BARB. The major soap operas each feature a pub, and these pubs have become household names throughout the UK. The Rovers Return is the pub in Coronation Street, the Queen Vic (short for the Queen Victoria) is the pub in EastEnders, and the Woolpack in ITV’s Emmerdale. The pub being a prominent setting in the three major television soap operas reflects the role pubs have as the focal point of the community in many towns and villages across the UK. Espionage and detective shows have long been a staple of British television, such as the 1960s series The Avengers featuring lady spy adventurer and cultural (and feminist) icon Emma Peel.
The United Kingdom has a large number of national and local radio stations which cover a great variety of programming. The most listened to stations are the five main national BBC radio stations. BBC Radio 1, a new music station aimed at the 16–24 age group. BBC Radio 2, a varied popular music and chat station aimed at adults is consistently highest in the ratings. BBC Radio 4, a varied talk station, is noted for its news, current affairs, drama and comedy output as well as The Archers, its long running soap opera, and other unique programmes, including Desert Island Discs (1942–present), an interview programme in which a famous guest (called a “castaway“) chooses eight pieces of music, a book and a luxury item that they would take with them to a desert island. Currently presented by Lauren Laverne, it is the longest running music radio programme in British history.
The idea for a Christmas message was conceived by one of the founders of the BBC. Delivered annually by the monarch, it was first broadcast on BBC Radio in 1932. An alternative Christmas message was first broadcast on Channel 4 in 1993. Broadcast from 1951 to 1960, radio comedy The Goon Show, starring Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe, mixed ludicrous plots with surreal humour, puns, catchphrases and an array of bizarre sound effects. The show has exerted considerable influence on British comedy and culture. As a film star Sellers in particular became influential to film actors by using different accents and guises and assuming multiple roles in the same film. Comedian Marty Feldman co-created the acclaimed BBC Radio comedy programme Round the Horne in 1965. The long running radio comedy Just a Minute first aired on BBC Radio 4 in 1967. Panellists must talk for sixty seconds on a given subject, “without hesitation, repetition or deviation”. Guests over the years have included Stephen Fry, Eddie Izzard and Sue Perkins. First broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 1978, the science fiction comedy radio series The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was innovative in its use of music and sound effects. The BBC, as a public service broadcaster, also runs minority stations such as BBC Asian Network, BBC Radio 1Xtra and BBC Radio 6 Music, and local stations throughout the country. Rock music station Absolute Radio, and sports station Talksport, are among the biggest commercial radio stations in the UK.
Freedom of the press was established in Great Britain in 1695. Popular British daily national newspapers include The Times, The Sun, Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph, Daily Mirror, Daily Express and The Guardian. Founded by publisher John Walter in 1785, The Times is the first newspaper to have borne that name, lending it to numerous other papers around the world, and is the originator of the widely used Times Roman typeface, created by Victor Lardent and commissioned by Stanley Morison in 1931. Newspaper and publishing magnate Alfred Harmsworth played a major role in “shaping the modern press” – Harmsworth introduced or harnessed “broad contents, exploitation of advertising revenue to subsidize prices, aggressive marketing, subordinate regional markets, independence from party control” – and was called “the greatest figure who ever strode down Fleet Street.” The Economist was founded by James Wilson in 1843, and the daily Financial Times was founded in 1888. Founding The Gentleman’s Magazine in 1731, Edward Cave coined the term “magazine” for a periodical, and was the first publisher to successfully fashion a wide-ranging publication. Founded by Thomas Gibson Bowles, Vanity Fair featured caricatures of famous people for which it is best known today.
A pioneer of children’s publishing, John Newbery made children’s literature a sustainable and profitable part of the literary market. The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes was published by Newbery in 1765. Founded by Sir Allen Lane in 1935, Penguin Books revolutionised publishing in the 1930s through its inexpensive paperbacks, bringing high-quality paperback fiction and non-fiction to the mass market. Formed in 1940, Puffin Books is the children’s imprint of Penguin Books. Barbara Euphan Todd‘s scarecrow story, Worzel Gummidge, was the first Puffin story book in 1941.
The Guinness Book of Records was the brainchild of Sir Hugh Beaver. On 10 November 1951 he became involved in an argument over which was the fastest game bird in Europe, and realised that it was impossible to confirm in reference books. Beaver knew that there must be numerous other questions debated throughout the world, but there was no book with which to settle arguments about records. He realised that a book supplying the answers to this sort of question might prove successful. His idea became reality when an acquaintance of his recommended University friends Norris and Ross McWhirter who were then commissioned to compile what became The Guinness Book of Records in August 1954. E. L. James‘ erotic romance trilogy Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker, and Fifty Shades Freed, have sold over 125 million copies globally, and set the record in the United Kingdom as the fastest selling paperback.
Copyright laws originated in Britain with the Statute of Anne (also known as the Copyright Act 1709), which outlined the individual rights of the artist. A right to benefit financially from the work is articulated, and court rulings and legislation have recognised a right to control the work, such as ensuring that the integrity of it is preserved. The Statute of Anne gave the publishers rights for a fixed period, after which the copyright expired.
Main article: Art of the United KingdomThe Battle of Trafalgar is an oil painting executed in 1822 by J. M. W. Turner (c.1775–1851). The experience of military, political and economic power from the rise of the British Empire led to a very specific drive in artistic technique, taste and sensibility in the United Kingdom.
From the creation of the United Kingdom, the English school of painting is mainly notable for portraits and landscapes, and indeed portraits in landscapes. Among the artists of this period are Joshua Reynolds (1723–1792), George Stubbs (1724–1806), and Thomas Gainsborough (1727–1788).
Pictorial satirist William Hogarth pioneered Western sequential art, and political illustrations in this style are often referred to as “Hogarthian”. Following the work of Hogarth, political cartoons developed in England in the latter part of the 18th century under the direction of James Gillray. Regarded as being one of the two most influential cartoonists (the other being Hogarth), Gillray has been referred to as the father of the political cartoon, with his satirical work calling the king (George III), prime ministers and generals to account.
The late 18th century and the early 19th century was perhaps the most radical period in British art, producing William Blake (1757–1827), John Constable (1776–1837) and J. M. W. Turner (1775–1851), three of the most influential British artists, each of whom have dedicated spaces allocated for their work at the Tate Britain. Named after Turner, the Turner Prize (created in 1984) is an annual award presented to a British visual artist under the age of 50.
The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB) achieved considerable influence after its foundation in 1848 with paintings that concentrated on religious, literary, and genre subjects executed in a colourful and minutely detailed style. PRB artists included John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and subsequently Edward Burne-Jones. Also associated with it was the designer William Morris, whose efforts to make beautiful objects affordable (or even free) for everyone led to his wallpaper and tile designs to some extent defining the Victorian aesthetic and instigating the Arts and Crafts movement.
Visual artists from the UK in the 20th century include Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, David Hockney, Bridget Riley, and the pop artists Richard Hamilton and Peter Blake. Also prominent amongst 20th-century artists was Henry Moore, regarded as the voice of British sculpture, and of British modernism in general. Sir Jacob Epstein was a pioneer of modern sculpture. In 1958 artist Gerald Holtom designed the protest logo for the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), the peace movement in the UK, which became a universal peace symbol. As a reaction to abstract expressionism, pop art emerged in England at the end of the 1950s. The 1990s saw the Young British Artists, Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin.The first colour photograph in 1861. Produced by the three-colour method suggested by James Clerk Maxwell in 1855, it is the foundation of all colour photographic processes.
The auction was revived in 17th- and 18th-century England when auctions by candle began to be used for the sale of goods and leaseholds, some of which were recorded in Samuel Pepys‘s diary in 1660. Headquartered in King Street, London, Christie’s, the world’s largest auction house, was founded in 1766 by auctioneer James Christie in London. Known for his thickly impasted portrait and figure paintings, Lucian Freud was widely considered the pre-eminent British artist of his time. Freud was depicted in Francis Bacon’s 1969 oil painting, Three Studies of Lucian Freud, which was sold for $142.4 million in November 2013, the highest price attained at auction to that point.Banksy‘s Grin Reaper
Randolph Caldecott, Walter Crane, Kate Greenaway, John Tenniel, Aubrey Beardsley, Roger Hargreaves, Arthur Rackham, John Leech, George Cruikshank and Beatrix Potter were notable book illustrators. Posters have played a significant role in British culture. Designed by Alfred Leete in 1914 as a recruitment poster for the British Army, “Lord Kitchener Wants You” is the most famous British recruitment poster ever produced and an iconic and enduring image of World War I. Produced by the British government in 1939 for World War II, the Keep Calm and Carry On motivational poster is now seen as “not only as a distillation of a crucial moment in Britishness, but also as an inspiring message from the past to the present in a time of crisis”.
In the late 1960s, British graphic designer Storm Thorgerson co-founded the graphic art group Hipgnosis, who have designed many iconic single and album covers for rock bands. His works were notable for their surreal elements, with perhaps the most famous being the cover for Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon. Designed by David Bowie, the Aladdin Sane album cover features a lightning bolt across his face which is regarded as one of the most iconic images of Bowie. The subversive political artwork of Banksy (pseudonym of English graffiti artist whose identity is concealed) can be found on streets, walls and buildings in the UK and the rest of the world. Arts institutions include the Royal College of Art, Royal Society of Arts, New English Art Club, Slade School of Art, Royal Academy, and the Tate Gallery (founded as the National Gallery of British Art).DesignConcorde (and the Red Arrows with their trail of red, white and blue smoke) mark the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. With its slender delta wings Concorde won the public vote for best British design.
In 2006, 37 years after its first test flight, Concorde was named the winner of the Great British Design Quest organised by the BBC and the Design Museum. A total of 212,000 votes were cast with Concorde beating other British design icons such as the Mini, mini skirt, Jaguar E-Type, Tube map and the Supermarine Spitfire. The Spitfire featured in Christopher Nolan‘s 2017 action-thriller film Dunkirk.
Sir Morien Morgan led research into supersonic transport in 1948 that culminated in the Concorde passenger aircraft. In November 1956 he became Chairman of the newly formed Supersonic Transport Aircraft Committee which funded research into supersonic transport at several UK aviation firms though the 1950s. By the late 1950s the Committee had started the process of selecting specific designs for development, and after the forced merger of most UK aviation firms in 1960, selected the Bristol Type 223, designed by Archibald Russell, as the basis for a transatlantic design.
The Brit Awards statuette for the BPI‘s annual music awards, which depicts Britannia, the female personification of Britain, is regularly redesigned by some of the best known British designers, stylists and artists, including Dame Vivienne Westwood, Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, Sir Peter Blake, Zaha Hadid and Sir Anish Kapoor.
Performing arts, carnivals, parades
Large outdoor music festivals in the summer and autumn are popular, such as Glastonbury (the largest greenfield festival in the world), V Festival, Reading and Leeds Festivals. The UK was at the forefront of the illegal, free rave movement from the late 1980s, which led to pan-European culture of teknivals mirrored on the UK free festival movement and associated travelling lifestyle. The most prominent opera house in England is the Royal Opera House at Covent Gardens. The Proms, a season of orchestral classical music concerts held at the Royal Albert Hall, is a major cultural event held annually. The Royal Ballet is one of the world’s foremost classical ballet companies, its reputation built on two prominent figures of 20th-century dance, prima ballerina Margot Fonteyn and choreographer Frederick Ashton. Irish dancing is popular in Northern Ireland and among the Irish diaspora throughout the UK; its costumes feature patterns taken from the medieval Book of Kells.
A staple of British seaside culture, the quarrelsome couple Punch and Judy made their first recorded appearance in Covent Garden, London in 1662. The various episodes of Punch and Judy are performed in the spirit of outrageous comedy – often provoking shocked laughter – and are dominated by the anarchic clowning of Mr. Punch. Regarded as British cultural icons, they appeared at a significant period in British history, with Glyn Edwards stating: “[Pulcinella] went down particularly well with Restoration British audiences, fun-starved after years of Puritanism. We soon changed Punch’s name, transformed him from a marionette to a hand puppet, and he became, really, a spirit of Britain – a subversive maverick who defies authority, a kind of puppet equivalent to our political cartoons.”
The circus is a traditional form of entertainment in the UK. Chipperfield’s Circus dates back more than 300 years in Britain, making it one of the oldest family circus dynasties. Philip Astley is regarded as the father of the modern circus. Following his invention of the circus ring in 1768, Astley’s Amphitheatre opened in London in 1773. As an equestrian master Astley had a skill for trick horse-riding, and when he added tumblers, tightrope-walkers, jugglers, performing dogs, and a clown to fill time between his own demonstrations – the modern circus was born. The Hughes Royal Circus was popular in London in the 1780s. Pablo Fanque‘s Circus Royal, among the most popular circuses of Victorian England, showcased William Kite, which inspired John Lennon to write “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” on The Beatles‘ album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Joseph Grimaldi, originator of whiteface clown make-up, is considered the father of modern clowning.The Notting Hill Carnival is Britain’s biggest street festival. Led by members of the British African-Caribbean community, the annual carnival takes place in August and lasts three days.
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the world’s largest arts festival. Established in 1947, it takes place in Scotland’s capital during three weeks every August alongside several other arts and cultural festivals. The Fringe mostly attracts events from the performing arts, particularly theatre and comedy, although dance and music also feature. The Notting Hill Carnival is an annual event that has taken place on the streets of Notting Hill, London since 1966. Led by the British African-Caribbean community, the carnival has attracted around one million people, making it Britain’s biggest street festival and one of the largest in the world.The Christmas Pantomime 1890, UK. Pantomime plays a prominent role in British culture during the Christmas and New Year season.
Pantomime (often referred to as “panto”) is a British musical comedy stage production, designed for family entertainment. It is performed in theatres throughout the UK during the Christmas and New Year season. The art originated in the 18th century with John Weaver, a dance master and choreographer at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in London. In 19th-century England it acquired its present form, which includes songs, slapstick comedy and dancing, employing gender-crossing actors, combining topical humour with a story loosely based on a well-known fairy tale. It is a participatory form of theatre, in which the audience sing along with parts of the music and shout out phrases to the performers, such as “It’s behind you”.
Pantomime story lines and scripts are almost always based on traditional children’s stories: some of the popular British stories featured include Jack and the Beanstalk, Peter Pan, Babes in the Wood, Goldilocks and the Three Bears and Dick Whittington and His Cat. Plot lines are almost always adapted for comic or satirical effect, and characters and situations from other stories are often interpolated into the plot. For example, Jack and the Beanstalk might include references to English nursery rhymes involving characters called “Jack”, such as Jack and Jill. Famous people regularly appear in Pantos, such as Ian McKellen. McKellen has also appeared at gay pride marches, with Manchester Pride one of 15 annual gay pride parades in the UK; the largest in Brighton attracts over 300,000.Music hall evolved into variety shows. First performed in 1912, the Royal Variety Performance was first held at the London Palladium (pictured) in 1941. Performed in front of members of the Royal Family, it is held annually in December and broadcast on television
Music hall is a British theatrical entertainment popular from the early Victorian era to the mid-20th century. The precursor to variety shows of today, music hall involved a mixture of popular songs, comedy, speciality acts and variety entertainment. Music hall songs include “I’m Henery the Eighth, I Am“, “Hokey cokey“, “I Do Like To be Beside the Seaside” and “The Laughing Policeman“. British performers who honed their skills at pantomime and music hall sketches include Charlie Chaplin, Stan Laurel, George Formby, Gracie Fields, Dan Leno, Gertrude Lawrence, Marie Lloyd and Harry Champion. British music hall comedian and theatre impresario Fred Karno developed a form of sketch comedy without dialogue in the 1890s, and Chaplin and Laurel were notable music hall comedians who worked for him. Laurel stated, “Fred Karno didn’t teach Charlie [Chaplin] and me all we know about comedy. He just taught us most of it”. Film producer Hal Roach stated; “Fred Karno is not only a genius, he is the man who originated slapstick comedy. We in Hollywood owe much to him.” Examples of variety shows that evolved from the music hall include the Royal Variety Performance (first performed in 1912), which was broadcast on BBC radio from the 1920s, and then on television since the 1950s. Annually held in December (often at the London Palladium) and performed in front of members of the British Royal Family, many famous acts have performed at the Royal Variety show over the century, and since 2007 one act of the show has been selected by the British public through the ITV television talent show Britain’s Got Talent.
The architecture of the United Kingdom includes many features that precede the creation of the United Kingdom in 1707, from as early as Skara Brae and Stonehenge to the Giant’s Ring, Avebury and Roman ruins. In most towns and villages the parish church is an indication of the age of the settlement. Many castles remain from the medieval period, such as Windsor Castle (longest-occupied castle in Europe), Stirling Castle (one of the largest and most important in Scotland), Bodiam Castle (a moated castle), and Warwick Castle. Over the two centuries following the Norman conquest of England of 1066, and the building of the Tower of London, castles such as Caernarfon Castle in Wales and Carrickfergus Castle in Ireland were built.Westminster Abbey is an example of English Gothic architecture. Since 1066, when William the Conqueror was crowned, the coronations of British monarchs have been held here.
English Gothic architecture flourished from the 12th to the early 16th century, and famous examples include Westminster Abbey, the traditional place of coronation for the British monarch, which also has a long tradition as a venue for royal weddings; and was the location of the funeral of Princess Diana, Canterbury Cathedral, one of the oldest and most famous Christian structures in England; Salisbury Cathedral, which has the tallest church spire in the UK; and Winchester Cathedral, which has the longest nave and greatest overall length of any Gothic cathedral in Europe. Tudor architecture is the final development of Medieval architecture in England, during the Tudor period (1485–1603). In the United Kingdom, a listed building is a building or other structure officially designated as being of special architectural, historical or cultural significance. About half a million buildings in the UK have “listed” status.
In the 1680s, Downing Street was built by Sir George Downing, and its most famous address 10 Downing Street, became the residence of the Prime Minister in 1730. One of the best-known English architects working at the time of the foundation of the United Kingdom was Sir Christopher Wren. He was employed to design and rebuild many of the ruined ancient churches of London following the Great Fire of London. His masterpiece, St Paul’s Cathedral, was completed in the early years of the United Kingdom. Buckingham Palace, the London residence of the British monarch, was built in 1705. Both St Paul’s Cathedral and Buckingham Palace use Portland stone, a limestone from the Jurassic period quarried in the Jurassic Coast in Portland, Dorset, which is famous for its use in British and world architecture.
In the early 18th century Baroque architecture – popular in Europe – was introduced, and Blenheim Palace was built in this era. However, Baroque was quickly replaced by a return of the Palladian form. The Georgian architecture of the 18th century was an evolved form of Palladianism. Many existing buildings such as Woburn Abbey and Kedleston Hall are in this style. Among the many architects of this form of architecture and its successors, neoclassical and romantic, were Robert Adam, Sir William Chambers, and James Wyatt.One of the UK’s many stately homes, Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, surrounded by an English garden. The house is one of the settings of Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice.
The aristocratic stately home continued the tradition of the first large gracious unfortified mansions such as the Elizabethan Montacute House and Hatfield House. Many of these houses are the setting for British period dramas, such as Downton Abbey. During the 18th and 19th centuries in the highest echelons of British society, the English country house was a place for relaxing, hunting in the countryside. Many stately homes have become open to the public: Knebworth House, now a major venue for open air rock and pop concerts – Freddie Mercury‘s final live performance with Queen took place at Knebworth on 9 August 1986, Alton Towers, the most popular theme park in the UK, and Longleat, the world’s first safari park outside Africa.The Forth Railway Bridge is a cantilever bridge over the Firth of Forth in the east of Scotland. It was opened in 1890, and is designated as a Category A listed building.
In the early 19th century the romantic Gothic revival began in England as a reaction to the symmetry of Palladianism. Notable examples of Gothic revival architecture are the Houses of Parliament and Fonthill Abbey. By the middle of the 19th century, as a result of new technology, one could incorporate steel as a building component: one of the greatest exponents of this was Joseph Paxton, architect of the Crystal Palace. Paxton also built such houses as Mentmore Towers, in the still popular retrospective Renaissance styles. In this era of prosperity and development British architecture embraced many new methods of construction, but such architects as August Pugin ensured that traditional styles were retained.
Following the building of the world’s first seaside pier in July 1814 in Ryde, Isle of Wight off the south coast of England, the pier became fashionable at seaside resorts in the UK during the Victorian era, peaking in the 1860s with 22 being built. Providing a walkway out to sea, the seaside pier is regarded as among the finest Victorian architecture, and is an iconic symbol of the British seaside holiday. By 1914, there were over 100 piers around the UK coast. Today there are 55 seaside piers in the UK. Tower Bridge (half a mile from London Bridge) opened in 1895.
At the beginning of the 20th century a new form of design, arts and crafts, became popular; the architectural form of this style, which had evolved from the 19th-century designs of such architects as George Devey, was championed by Edwin Lutyens. Arts and crafts in architecture is characterised by an informal, non-symmetrical form, often with mullioned or lattice windows, multiple gables and tall chimneys. This style continued to evolve until World War II. After that war, reconstruction went through a variety of phases, but was heavily influenced by Modernism, especially from the late 1950s to the early 1970s. Many bleak town centre redevelopments—criticised for featuring hostile, concrete-lined “windswept plazas”—were the fruit of this interest, as were many equally bleak public buildings, such as the Hayward Gallery.Statue of a tripod from The War of the Worlds in Woking, England, the hometown of author H. G. Wells. The book is a seminal depiction of a conflict between mankind and an extraterrestrial race.
Many Modernist-inspired town centres are today being redeveloped: Bracknell town centre is an example. However, in the immediate post-War years many thousands (perhaps hundreds of thousands) of council houses in vernacular style were built, giving working-class people their first experience of private gardens and indoor sanitation. Many towns also feature statues or sculptures dedicated to famous natives. Modernism remains a significant force in UK architecture, although its influence is felt predominantly in commercial buildings. The two most prominent proponents are Lord Rogers of Riverside and Norman Foster. Rogers’ best known London buildings are probably Lloyd’s Building and the Millennium Dome, while Foster created the ‘Gherkin‘ and the City Hall. The Turner Prize winning artist Sir Anish Kapoor is an acclaimed contemporary British sculptors. A notable design is his ArcelorMittal Orbit sculpture at the Olympic Park in London.
Described by The Guardian as the ‘Queen of the curve’, Zaha Hadid liberated architectural geometry with the creation of highly expressive, sweeping fluid forms of multiple perspective points and fragmented geometry that evoke the chaos and flux of modern life. A pioneer of parametricism, and an icon of neo-futurism, with a formidable personality, her acclaimed work and ground-breaking forms include the aquatic centre for the London 2012 Olympics. In 2010 and 2011 she received the Stirling Prize, the UK’s most prestigious architectural award, and in 2015 she became the first woman to be awarded the Royal Gold Medal from the Royal Institute of British Architects. Completed in 2012, the Shard London Bridge is the tallest building in the UK. Other major skyscrapers under construction in London include 22 Bishopsgate, and Heron Tower. Modernist architect Nicholas Grimshaw designed the Eden Project in Cornwall, which is the world’s largest greenhouse.
Main article: British comicsStatue of Minnie the Minx, a character from The Beano, in Dundee, Scotland. Launched in 1938, The Beano is known for its anarchic humour, with Dennis the Menace appearing on the cover.
British comics in the early 20th century typically evolved from illustrated penny dreadfuls of the Victorian era (featuring Sweeney Todd, Dick Turpin and Varney the Vampire). A growing consumer culture and an increased capacity for travel throughout the UK via the invention of railway (in 1825) created both a market for cheap popular literature, and the ability for it to be circulated on a large scale. Created in the 1830s, The Guardian described penny dreadfuls as “Britain’s first taste of mass-produced popular culture for the young”. Introducing familiar features in vampire fiction, Varney is the first story to refer to sharpened teeth for a vampire. After adult comics had been published – most notably Ally Sloper’s Half Holiday (1880s) featuring Ally Sloper who has been called the first regular character in comics, – more juvenile British comics emerged, with the two most popular, The Beano and The Dandy, released by DC Thomson (based in Dundee, Scotland) in the 1930s. By 1950 the weekly circulation of both reached two million. Explaining the popularity of comics during this period, Anita O’Brien, director curator at London’s Cartoon Museum, states: “When comics like the Beano and Dandy were invented back in the 1930s – and through really to the 1950s and 1960s – these comics were almost the only entertainment available to children.”
In 1954 Tiger comics introduced Roy of the Rovers, the hugely popular football based strip recounting the life of Roy Race and the team he played for, Melchester Rovers. The stock media phrase “real ‘Roy of the Rovers’ stuff” is often used by football writers, commentators and fans when describing displays of great skill, or surprising results that go against the odds, in reference to the dramatic storylines that were the strip’s trademark. Other comic books and graphic novels such as Eagle, Valiant, Warrior, and 2000 AD also flourished.
Created by Emma Orczy in 1903, the Scarlet Pimpernel is the alter ego of Sir Percy Blakeney, a wealthy English fop who transforms into a formidable swordsman and a quick-thinking escape artist, establishing the “hero with a secret identity” into popular culture. The Scarlet Pimpernel first appeared on stage (1903) and then in novel (1905), and became very popular with the British public. He exhibits characteristics that became standard superhero conventions in comic books, including the penchant for disguise, use of a signature weapon (sword), ability to out-think and outwit his adversaries, and a calling card (he leaves behind a scarlet pimpernel at his interventions). Drawing attention to his alter ego Blakeney he hides behind his public face as a meek, slow thinking foppish playboy (like Bruce Wayne), and he establishes a network of supporters, The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel, that aid his endeavours.
In the 1980s, a resurgence of British writers and artists gained prominence in mainstream comic books, which was dubbed the “British Invasion” in comic book history. These writers and artists brought with them their own mature themes and philosophy such as anarchy, controversy and politics common in British media, but were never before seen in American comics. These elements would pave the way for mature and “darker and edgier” comic books that would jump start the Modern Age of Comics. Writers included Alan Moore, famous for his V for Vendetta, From Hell, Watchmen, Marvelman, and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen; Watchmen was described as “paving the way for a current cultural obsession” in comics; Neil Gaiman and his critically acclaimed and best-selling The Sandman mythos and Books of Magic; Warren Ellis creator of Transmetropolitan and Planetary; and others such as Alan Grant, Grant Morrison, Dave Gibbons, Alan Davis, and Mark Millar who created Wanted, Kick-Ass and Kingsman: The Secret Service.
Prominent comic book artists include Steve Dillon, Simon Bisley, Dave McKean, Glen Fabry, John Ridgway and Sean Phillips. The comic book series Hellblazer, set in Britain and starring the Liverpudlian magician John Constantine, paved the way for British writers such as Jamie Delano, Mike Carey and Denise Mina.