The culture of the United Kingdom is influenced by the UK's history as a developed island country, a liberal democracy and a major power; its predominantly Christian religious life; and its composition of four countriesEngland, 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",[1][2] and London has been described as a world cultural capital.[3][4] 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.[5][6]

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.[7][8] In turn the empire also influenced British culture, particularly British cuisine.[9]

The cultures of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are diverse and have varying degrees of overlap and distinctiveness.


The Anglo Saxon, Old English heroic poem Beowulf is located in the British Library.

First spoken in early medieval England, the English language is the de facto official language of the UK, and is spoken monolingually by an estimated 95% of the British population.[10][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] A 2010 poll among Scots saw a majority view Scots as a dialect of English and not a separate language.[11] 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 recognised language.

Regional accents

Audrey Hepburn as the flower girl Eliza Doolittle on the set of the 1964 movie musical My Fair Lady. Receiving elocution lessons to remove her Cockney accent, she "gets it" when she says "The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain".

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 (56 km). Notable Scouse speakers include John Lennon and Paul McCartney of The Beatles, while Mancunians include Liam and Noel Gallagher from Oasis.[12]

The Cockney accent is traditionally spoken by working-class Londoners. Michael Caine is a notable exponent, as is Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion (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.[13] 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).[14] 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).[15]

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.[16] 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.[17] 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.[18]



William Shakespeare is often called the national poet of England.[19]

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.

Robert Burns is regarded as the national poet of Scotland.[20]

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.[21]

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.

Virginia Woolf was a leading modernist writer of the 20th century.

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.

Welsh native Roald Dahl is frequently ranked the best children's author in UK polls.[22]

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 Victorian stoicism and a "stiff upper lip".[23]

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.

George Orwell (left) and Aldous Huxley (right). Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, Huxley's Brave New World, and A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, are set in dystopian Britain.

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.

J. K. Rowling is the UK’s best selling author of the 21st century

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.[24]

Hay Festival crowds reading between sessions. More than 75% of the British public read at least one book annually.[25]

Known for his macabre, darkly comic, fantasy children's books, Roald Dahl is frequently ranked the best children's author in UK polls.[22] While in the trenches during WWI, Hugh Lofting created Doctor Dolittle, a doctor who talks to animals. 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.[26]

In 1476, William Caxton was the first person to introduce a printing press into England, and he became the first English retailer of printed books. The UK has remained 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.[27]


Interior of the Theatre Royal at the Bristol Old Vic. Opened in 1768, English actor Daniel Day-Lewis called it "the most beautiful theatre in England."[28]

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.[28]

The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, opened in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1932

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).

Gilbert and Sullivan. Their Victorian era comic operas introduced innovations in content and form that directly influenced the development of musical theatre through the 20th century.[29]

In 1847, a critic using the pseudonym "Dramaticus" published a pamphlet[30] 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.[31]

Statue of Laurence Olivier outside the Royal National Theatre in London. The highest accolade in British theatre, the Olivier Awards, are named after him.

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.[32] 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.

Musicals of Andrew Lloyd Webber have dominated London's West End since the late 20th century.[33]

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.

Freddie Mercury statue at the West End's Dominion Theatre where Queen and Ben Elton's musical We Will Rock You was performed from 2002 to 2014

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".[33] 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.[34]

Tim Curry (middle) as Dr. Frank-N-Furter in The Rocky Horror Show

Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap has seen more than 25,000 performances in the West End, and is the longest-running West End show.[35] 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".[36] 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 nine Olivier Awards.

The Royal Shakespeare Company, at Stratford-upon-Avon, produces mainly but not exclusively Shakespeare plays. Important modern playwrights include Nobel laureate Harold Pinter, Tom Stoppard, Alan Ayckbourn, John Osborne, Michael Frayn and Arnold Wesker.[37]


First page of an 1890s edition of the sheet music for “Rule, Britannia!"

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 its 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 ceremony. 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.[38]

The Grenadier Guards band playing “The British Grenadiers” at Trooping the Colour. Formed in 1685 the band performs at British ceremonial events.

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's Roxburghe 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.[39]

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. A depiction of a harp was carved out by the Picts (medieval Celts) on the Dupplin Cross, Scotland, circa 800 AD. 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" from 1540. Many ballads were written and sold as single sheet broadsides.[40] British folk groups, such as Fairport Convention, have drawn heavily from these ballads.

Popular Nursery Tales and Rhymes, Warner & Routledge, London 1859 ca.

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.[41] The first English collections, Tommy Thumb's Song Book and a sequel, Tommy Thumb's Pretty Song Book, were published before 1744.[42] John Newbery's compilation of English rhymes, Mother Goose's Melody, or, Sonnets for the Cradle (London, c. 1765), is the first record we have of many classic rhymes, still in use today.[43] The 19th-century historian James Orchard Halliwell was a notable collector of English nursery rhymes.

Some of the best known nursery rhymes from Britain are "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star", "Roses Are Red", "Jack and Jill", "Cock a doodle doo", "Baa, Baa, Black Sheep", "The Grand Old Duke of York", "London Bridge Is Falling Down", "Hey Diddle Diddle", "Three Blind Mice", "Little Miss Muffet", "Pat-a-cake", "Pop Goes the Weasel", "The Queen of Hearts", "Polly Put the Kettle On", "Peter Piper", "One, Two, Buckle My Shoe", "Hickory Dickory Dock", "One for Sorrow", "This Old Man", "Simple Simon", "Old Mother Hubbard", "Little Bo Peep", "Sing a Song of Sixpence", "Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary", "Old King Cole" and "Humpty Dumpty".[44] Many of these rhymes are based on figures in British history, for example "Pussy Cat Pussy Cat" (from 1805) is about going to see the Queen. The 1730 rhyme "As I was going to St Ives" (southern English town) is in the form of a riddle.

The tune of "Deck the Halls" from Musical and poetical relicks of the Welsh bards (1794). Thomas Oliphant added the English lyrics in 1862.

Christmas carols in English first appear in a 1426 work by John Awdlay, a Shropshire chaplain who lists 25 "caroles of Cristemas", probably sung by groups of 'wassailers', who went from house to house.[45] Some of the most notable carols from the UK are "We Wish You a Merry Christmas", '"O Come All Ye Faithful", "The First Noel", "God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen", "The Holly and the Ivy", "I Saw Three Ships", "Deck the Halls", "In the Bleak Midwinter", "Joy to the World", "Once in Royal David's City", "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing", "What Child Is This?", "Good King Wenceslas", "Here We Come A-Caroling" and "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks".[46]

King's College Chapel, Cambridge (left) from where the Nine Lessons and Carols are broadcast on the BBC on Christmas Eve

A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols held in King's College Chapel, Cambridge was introduced in 1918 and first broadcast on the BBC in 1928. The service is broadcast around the world. The music of Christmas has always been a combination of sacred and secular, and every year in the UK there is highly publicised competition to be the Christmas number one single, which has led to the production of music which provides the mainstay of festive playlists. Responding to a BBC report on the 1984 famine in Ethiopia, Bob Geldof created the charity supergroup Band Aid who recorded "Do They Know It's Christmas?". It has been Christmas number one three times.[47]

Opened in 1822, the Royal Academy of Music is one of the leading music schools in the UK. Famous alumni include Elton John who studied piano.

Written by Sarah Flower Adams in 1841, the Christian hymn "Nearer, My God, to Thee" is associated with the sinking of the RMS Titanic, as some survivors reported that the ship's string ensemble (led by Wallace Hartley) played it as the vessel sank.

The UK has several major orchestras, including the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the Philharmonia, the London Symphony Orchestra and the London Philharmonic Orchestra. The BBC Philharmonic's recent work includes recording "First Steps", the BBC theme for the 2012 London Olympics. London is one of the world's major centres for classical music: it has several important concert halls and is also home to the Royal Opera House, one of the world's leading opera houses. British traditional music has also been very influential abroad.

During World War II, Vera Lynn was known as the Forces' Sweetheart, with "We'll Meet Again", sung to British troops, among the songs most associated with her. In addition to "Colonel Bogey March" (which was whistled), another popular British song during the war, "Run Rabbit Run", contained Ralph Butler's lyrics "Run rabbit – run rabbit – Run! Run! Run!", which were altered by the public to poke fun at the Axis. Butler also wrote "The Sun Has Got His Hat On" and "Nellie the Elephant". The UK single and album charts are revealed every Friday on BBC Radio 1, with Elton John's "Candle in the Wind 1997" the best-selling single in the UK, and Queen's Greatest Hits the best-selling album.[48][49]

The Beatles are the most commercially successful and critically acclaimed band in the history of music, with sales of over one billion.[50]

The Brit Awards, the BPI's annual pop music awards, take place at The O2 Arena in London every February.[51] The Ivor Novello Awards for songwriting and composing are presented annually by the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors. Large outdoor music festivals and concerts in the summer are popular, such as Glastonbury, V Festival, Summertime Ball, T in the Park, Download Festival and the Reading and Leeds Festivals.

The UK was one of the two main countries in the creation and development of many genres of popular music, including rock music: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Kinks; hard rock: Led Zeppelin, Cream, Def Leppard, Whitesnake; prog rock: Pink Floyd, Genesis, Yes, King Crimson; glam rock: David Bowie, Queen, Elton John, T. Rex, blues rock: The Yardbirds, The Animals, Eric Clapton, Dire Straits; heavy metal: Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Iron Maiden, Motörhead, Judas Priest; punk rock: Sex Pistols, The Clash, Billy Idol; new wave: The Police, Elvis Costello, Culture Club, Duran Duran; goth rock: The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cult; art rock: The Moody Blues, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Procol Harum, Peter Gabriel, Bryan Ferry, Kate Bush; folk rock: Van Morrison, Cat Stevens, Donovan, Jethro Tull; soft rock: The Hollies; blue-eyed soul: Dusty Springfield, Tom Jones, Steve Winwood; disco: Bee Gees; synth pop: Depeche Mode, Eurythmics, Pet Shop Boys, Gary Numan, Erasure; reggae: UB40; ska: Madness; shock rock: Arthur Brown; pop rock: Rod Stewart, Phil Collins, Sting, Joe Cocker, Robert Palmer, Bonnie Tyler, Tears for Fears, Simple Minds; alternative rock: The Smiths, New Order, Stone Roses, Radiohead, Coldplay; symphonic rock: ELO, Muse; Britpop: Oasis, Blur, Pulp, The Verve; soul: Sade, Soul II Soul, Simply Red, Amy Winehouse, Adele.

Spice Girls singer Geri Halliwell performing in a Union Jack dress, an enduring image of Cool Britannia, the mid-1990s celebration of youth culture in the UK

The UK has also pioneered various forms of electronic dance music including dubstep, acid house, UK garage, drum and bass and trip hop, with acts including The Prodigy, Massive Attack, Jamiroquai, The Chemical Brothers, Gorillaz, Calvin Harris and Fatboy Slim. Other notable British artists in pop music include Spice Girls, George Michael, Seal, Billy Ocean, Annie Lennox, Leona Lewis, One Direction, Sam Smith, Ellie Goulding, Mark Ronson, Cliff Richard and The Shadows, Ed Sheeran, Little Mix and Robbie Williams. At the 1997 Brit Awards, Spice Girls singer Geri Halliwell wore the iconic red, white and blue Union Jack mini-dress, which became an enduring image of the Cool Britannia era.[52]

In 2009, British artists topped the decade end ranking, with "Chasing Cars" by Snow Patrol announced as the most widely played song of the decade in the UK, and Back to Bedlam by James Blunt the best selling album of the 2000s in the UK. Other successful 2000s UK acts include Dido, Arctic Monkeys, Mika, Bullet for My Valentine and Bring Me the Horizon. Since the mid-2000s, British rap (grime) is becoming increasingly popular, mainly within the youth of cities such as London, Manchester, Birmingham, Nottingham, Leeds and Sheffield. British R&B artists include Taio Cruz, Jay Sean, M.I.A., Tinie Tempah, Zayn, Wiley, Skepta, Rita Ora and Jessie J.


English actor Sir Charlie Chaplin was described by the British Film Institute as "a towering figure in world culture."[53]

The UK has had a large impact on modern cinema, producing some of the greatest actors, directors and motion pictures, including Sir Alfred Hitchcock, Charlie Chaplin, David Lean, Laurence Olivier, Richard Attenborough, Alec Guinness, Vivien Leigh, Audrey Hepburn, John Gielgud, Peter O'Toole, Sean Connery, Richard Burton, Vanessa Redgrave, Michael Caine, Anthony Hopkins, Julie Andrews, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, John Hurt and Daniel Day-Lewis. The BFI Top 100 British films is a British Film Institute poll which ranks what they consider to be the 100 greatest British films of the 20th century. Two of the biggest actors in the silent era were Chaplin and Stan Laurel.

The UK was the location of the oldest surviving motion picture film, Roundhay Garden Scene (1888), which was shot in Roundhay, Leeds in the north of England by French inventor Louis Le Prince.[54] The world's first colour motion picture was shot by Edward Raymond Turner in 1902.[55] Eadweard Muybridge was another notable English pioneer of motion picture,[56] while pioneering Scottish documentary maker John Grierson coined the term "documentary" to describe a non-fiction film in 1926.[57]

Often regarded as the greatest British filmmaker, Sir Alfred Hitchcock was described as "a straightforward middle-class Englishman who just happened to be an artistic genius."[58]

Ranked by many as the best British filmmaker,[59] Hitchcock's first thriller, The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1926), helped shape the thriller genre in film, while his 1929 film, Blackmail, is often regarded as the first British sound feature film.[60] The 39 Steps (1935) features a signature Hitchcock cameo, and established the quintessential English 'Hitchcock blonde' Madeleine Carroll as the template for his succession of ice cold and elegant leading ladies. Alexander Korda's The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933), was the first British production to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. Boris Karloff played the leading role in major horror films in the 1930s, and collaborated with film director James Whale. Famous for their motion picture film scores, the London Symphony Orchestra first performed film music in 1935.[61] The 1939 romantic drama Goodbye, Mr. Chips about a beloved aged schoolteacher Mr. Chipping was based on the 1934 novel by James Hilton. In the 1940s James Mason was the top box office star in the UK, and starred in Odd Man Out (1947).

Christopher Lee (as Dracula in 1958) starred in numerous British horror films produced by Hammer. Lee fixed the image of the fanged vampire in popular culture.[62]

The first British Academy Film Awards (BAFTA) ceremony took place in 1947. Sir Laurence Olivier starred in and directed Henry V (1944), and Hamlet (1948), the latter picked up the BAFTA Award for Best Film and also became the first British film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. The third Shakespearean film directed by Olivier was Richard III (1955). The British film-making partnership of Powell and Pressburger made a series of influential films in the 1940s and 1950s, with The Red Shoes (1948) their most commercially successful film. With a screenplay by Graham Greene, Carol Reed directed the film noir The Third Man (1949), regarded among the best British films of the 20th century.[63]

Welsh actor Richard Burton was one of the highest paid film stars in the world in the mid-1960s

David Lean emerged as a major filmmaker in the 1940s with Brief Encounter (1945) and Great Expectations (1946), with his first big-screen epic The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957): these are ranked among the best British films. Towards the end of the 1950s, Hammer Films embarked on their series of influential and wildly successful horror films, including lavish colour versions of Frankenstein (1957), Dracula (1958) and The Mummy (1959), with actors Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee at the forefront. The Dam Busters (1955), recreates the true story of the RAF's raid on dams in Nazi Germany using Sir Barnes Wallis's invention the "bouncing bomb". The Carry On series, which consists of 31 comedy motion pictures, commenced in 1958. A West Country native where many well-known English pirates hailed from, Robert Newton's portrayal of Long John Silver in 1950s films popularised the stereotypical West Country pirate accent.[64] Often portraying disreputable members of the upper classes, comedian Terry-Thomas' personification of the Englishman as an amiable bounder struck a chord with British audiences during the 1950s.

Scottish actor Sean Connery played James Bond in seven films between 1962 and 1983.

Films that explored the "Swinging London" phenomenon of the 1960s included, Alfie (1966), Blowup (1966) and Bedazzled (1967). The James Bond film series began in the early 1960s, with Sean Connery in the leading role. Bond, portrayed by Connery, was selected as the third-greatest hero in cinema history by the AFI. After The Beatles films A Hard Day's Night (1964) and Help! (1965), it became standard for each new pop group to have a verité style feature film made about them. Michael Powell's hugely controversial thriller/horror film Peeping Tom was released in 1960, which is today considered a classic, and is regarded as a contender for the first "slasher" film.[65] The Ipcress File (1965) stars Michael Caine as Harry Palmer, a British Army sergeant with a criminal past now working for a Ministry of Defence (MoD). Adjusted for inflation, David Lean's Doctor Zhivago (1965) is among the top ten highest-grossing films. A Man for All Seasons (1966), based on Sir Thomas More, is listed by the Vatican as being among the greatest religious movies of time.

Peter O'Toole as T. E. Lawrence in David Lean’s 1962 epic Lawrence of Arabia

Other major British films of the 1960s included Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Tom Jones (1963), Zulu (1964) and Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (1965). Four of the decade's Academy Award winners for best picture were British productions, including the film musical Oliver! (1968) based on Charles Dickens' classic Oliver Twist, with Ron Moody acclaimed as Fagin. The caper film The Italian Job (1969), starring Michael Caine, is one of the most popular British films ever. Other British actors in starring roles in 1960s films included Richard Burton, Peter Sellers, Audrey Hepburn (played Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, 1964), Julie Christie, Peter Ustinov, Rex Harrison, Alec Guinness, child star Hayley Mills, Richard Attenborough, David Niven and Julie Andrews, whose portrayal of English nanny Mary Poppins is named among the great movie characters. Ken Russell's Women in Love (1969) starred Glenda Jackson, who won numerous awards.

Sir Ridley Scott was among a group of British filmmakers, including Tony Scott, Alan Parker, Hugh Hudson and Adrian Lyne, who emerged from making 1970s UK television commercials.[66]

In the 1970s, Ronald Neame directed the festive favourite Scrooge (1970). A Clockwork Orange (1971), based on Anthony Burgess' novella of the same name, starred Malcolm McDowell as Alex, the leader of a gang of thugs in a dystopian Britain. Get Carter (1971) features the eponymous London gangster Jack Carter (played by Michael Caine). The horror film The Wicker Man (1973), starring Christopher Lee, is considered a cult classic. In 1973 The Day of the Jackal starred Edward Fox as the "Jackal" (which was based on a novel by Frederick Forsyth). Nicolas Roeg's acclaimed psychological horror/thriller Don't Look Now was released in 1973. Two adaptations of Agatha Christie stories Murder on the Orient Express (1974) and Death on the Nile (1978) were critically acclaimed. The film adaptation of the West End musical The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) sees Tim Curry reprise his role as Dr Frank N Furter. Starring as James Bond in Live and Let Die (1973), Roger Moore would go on to play 007 seven times.

In the mid-1970s, British comedy team Monty Python switched their attention to films, beginning with Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), followed by Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979), the latter regularly voted the funniest film of all time by the British public.[67] A notable song from Life of Brian, "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" has become a common singalong at public events. Hollywood blockbusters filmed at major British studios in 1977–79, include Star Wars (featuring Alec Guinness, co-star Anthony Daniels–the only actor to appear in every film in the series–and 'the dean of special effects' John Stears) at Elstree Studios, Superman (featuring Terence Stamp) at Pinewood, and Alien (directed by Ridley Scott) at Shepperton.

Renowned for his on-screen diversity, Gary Oldman was among a group of British actors dubbed the 'Brit Pack', which included Tim Roth, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Colin Firth

British films won back to back Academy and BAFTAs for best picture in the 1980s, with Chariots of Fire (1981), followed by Gandhi (1982). John Hurt starred as 19th-century Englishman Joseph Merrick in The Elephant Man (1980). Bob Hoskins played a London gangster in The Long Good Friday (1980). In the 1980s, a wave of visually stylish directors, Ridley Scott, Alan Parker, Tony Scott, Hugh Hudson and Adrian Lyne, were credited for "ushering in a new era of blockbusters using the crowd-pleasing skills they'd honed in advertising."[66] The 1983 drama/comedy Educating Rita features Julie Walters and Michael Caine. The 1985 dystopian fantasy, Brazil, is regarded as one of the best British films of the mid-1980s. The 1987 black comedy, Withnail and I, has been described as "one of Britain's biggest cult films".[68] Gary Oldman portrayed British punk icon Sid Vicious in the cult film Sid and Nancy (1986). In 1988 Charles Crichton directed A Fish Called Wanda, the most acclaimed British comedy of the era. During the late 1980s, a number of young British actors who were becoming major stars, Gary Oldman, Tim Roth, Daniel Day-Lewis, Colin Firth and Rupert Everett, were dubbed the 'Brit Pack'.[69]

Screenwriter, producer and director Richard Curtis is known for his British romantic comedies Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, Bridget Jones's Diary and Love Actually.

The 1990s saw a large number of traditional British period dramas, including Sense and Sensibility (1995), Restoration (1995), Emma (1996), Mrs. Brown (1997), The Wings of the Dove (1997) and Topsy-Turvy (1999). Shakespeare in Love (1998) depicts Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) while he was writing Romeo and Juliet. Set in pre and post war Britain, The Remains of the Day (1993), starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson, was based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro. Thompson (as English lawyer Gareth Peirce) starred In the Name of the Father alongside Daniel Day-Lewis the same year. Alan Rickman starred as a ghost in Truly, Madly, Deeply (1990) and Nigel Hawthorne starred in The Madness of King George (1994). Other critical successes include The Crying Game (1992) – famous for its shocking twist, The Secret Garden (1993) – inspired by the walled garden at Great Maytham Hall in Kent, and Shadowlands (1993) starring Anthony Hopkins. Anthony Minghella's The English Patient (1996) won nine Academy Awards. BAFTA Award winning films included Danny Boyle's black comedy drama Trainspotting (1996) featuring heroin addict Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) and his circle of friends in Edinburgh, the 1997 comedy The Full Monty set in Sheffield, and the biographical drama Elizabeth (1998).

Richard Curtis's 1994 film Four Weddings and a Funeral, starring Hugh Grant in his breakthrough role, set a pattern for British-set romantic comedies, including Sliding Doors (1998) and Notting Hill (1999). Grant also made headlines for his high-profile relationship with Elizabeth Hurley, which was the focus of much attention in the British and international media. Guy Ritchie filmed the crime comedies Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) and Snatch (2000), both set in the London criminal underworld. London visual effects company The Mill produced the computer-generated imagery effects for Ridley Scott's Gladiator (2000); the film was dedicated to Oliver Reed who died during filming. The Mill created a digital body double for his remaining scenes.

Odeon Leicester Square hosts numerous European and world film premieres. Odeon, Cineworld and Vue are the three busiest cinema chains in the UK.[70]

At the start of the 21st century, three major international British successes were the romantic comedies Bridget Jones's Diary (2001), sequel Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (2004), and Richard Curtis's directorial debut Love Actually (2003). In 2000, Leavesden Film Studios began filming the first instalment of the Harry Potter film series. Set in north-east England, Billy Elliot (2000) deals with a boy becoming a ballet dancer. Composer Clint Mansell's theme “Lux Aeterna” has gained wide usage in popular culture and has featured in a number of film trailers. Written by Julian Fellowes, Gosford Park (2001) is set in an English country house. The British Indian themed sports comedy drama Bend It Like Beckham (2002) featured starring roles for Keira Knightley and Parminder Nagra. Famous for his creation Mr. Bean, the comedian Rowan Atkinson starred in Johnny English (2003). Wallace and Gromit creator and award-winning animator Nick Park directed Chicken Run (2000) and Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005). They are the two highest-grossing stop motion animated films.[71]

Andy Serkis has been acclaimed for his work in motion capture, such as Gollum in Lord of the Rings

Helen Mirren starred as Elizabeth II in The Queen (2006). Acclaimed British sci-fi films, 28 Days Later (2002), and Children of Men (2007), depict a dystopian Britain. Joe Wright's Atonement (2007) is set in England through WWII. Simon Pegg co-wrote and starred in the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy of films: Shaun of the Dead (2004), Hot Fuzz (2007), and The World's End (2013), which were directed by Edgar Wright. Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire (2008) was the most successful British film of the decade. The 2008 horror Eden Lake is among a group of contemporary films dealing with British "hoodies".[72] Based on Mark Millar's comics, Kick-Ass (2010), starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson as the title character, and Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015), starring Michael Caine as the head of the British secret service Kingsman – both directed by Matthew Vaughn – won Empire Awards for Best British Film. Historical drama The King's Speech (2010), featuring Colin Firth as George VI, received several awards.[73]

Framestore office in London after BAFTA wins for Gravity. The firm has provided visual effects for commercially successful films, including Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

Acclaimed for his motion capture work, in 2011 actor Andy Serkis opened his own motion capture workshop, The Imaginarium Studios in London. In 2012, the twenty-third James Bond film Skyfall was the highest-grossing film in the UK at that point.[74] In 2013, British visual effects company Framestore, under chief supervisor Tim Webber and film producer David Heyman, produced the critically acclaimed space epic Gravity. In 2014, the film biopics on two British scientists (Hawking and Turing), The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game, both achieved critical and commercial success. Produced and written by Alex Garland, the science fiction films Dredd (2012) and Ex Machina (2015) have both met critical acclaim. Asif Kapadia's documentary film Amy (2015) — based on the life of Amy Winehouse — broke UK box office records, and also became the highest grossing British documentary.[75]

The five most commercially successful British directors in recent years are David Yates, Christopher Nolan, Mike Newell, Ridley Scott and Paul Greengrass.[76] Other contemporary British film directors include Guy Ritchie, Joe Wright, Alan Parker, Tony Scott, Terry Gilliam, Kenneth Branagh, Paul W. S. Anderson, Tom Hooper, Stephen Daldry, Edgar Wright, Martin McDonagh, Matthew Vaughn, Richard Curtis, Danny Boyle, Stephen Frears, Ken Loach, Mike Leigh, John Boorman, Gareth Edwards, Steve McQueen and Sam Mendes.

The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) is one of the most prestigious drama schools in the UK

British actors and actresses have always been significant in international cinema. Well-known currently active performers include Tom Hardy, Daniel Craig, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Keira Knightley, Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Andy Serkis, Orlando Bloom, Christian Bale, Idris Elba, Sacha Baron Cohen, Luke Evans, Emma Thompson, Simon Pegg, Paul Bettany, Kate Beckinsale, Michael Sheen, Helena Bonham Carter, Hugh Laurie, Ben Kingsley, Kristin Scott Thomas, Mark Rylance, Tom Holland, Daisy Ridley, Benedict Cumberbatch, Carey Mulligan, Jeremy Irons, Gerard Butler, Gary Oldman, Lily James, Helen Mirren, David Thewlis, Sean Bean, Tom Hiddleston, Miranda Richardson, Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, John Boyega, Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Andrew Garfield, Sienna Miller, Henry Cavill, Eddie Redmayne, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Thandie Newton, Martin Freeman, Patrick Stewart, Emilia Clarke, Sally Hawkins, Liam Neeson, Dev Patel, Robert Pattinson, Jason Statham, Daniel Kaluuya, Clive Owen, Riz Ahmed, Felicity Jones, Rosamund Pike, Samantha Morton, Judi Dench, David Oyelowo, James McAvoy, Naomie Harris, Anthony Hopkins, and Michael Caine.

Hollywood films with a British dimension have had enormous worldwide commercial success. Many of the highest-grossing films worldwide of all time have a British historical, cultural or creative theme. Films based on British historical events; RMS Titanic, Piracy in the Caribbean, Mutiny on the Bounty, The Great Escape, historical people; William Wallace, Lawrence of Arabia, King Arthur, Elizabeth I, British stories; Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, James Bond, The Chronicles of Narnia, Sherlock Holmes, Frankenstein, A Christmas Carol, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Treasure Island, The War of the Worlds among many others. British video game Tomb Raider features English archaeologist Lara Croft which has been made into feature films. British influence can also be seen with the 'English Cycle' of Disney films, which feature Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Robin Hood, The Jungle Book, The Sword in the Stone, The Rescuers, The Hundred and One Dalmatians and Winnie the Pooh.[77]


Broadcasting House, the new headquarters of the BBC

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.

Many successful British TV shows have been exported around the world, such as Pop Idol (created by Simon Fuller), Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, Britain's Got Talent (created by Simon Cowell), The X Factor, Hell's Kitchen (created by Gordon Ramsay), The Office (created by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant), Strictly Come Dancing, House of Cards, Who Do You Think You Are? (genealogy series where a celebrity traces their family tree), Black Mirror (created by Charlie Brooker), Sherlock, Doctor Who, Downton Abbey, The Crown and Top Gear. David Attenborough's acclaimed nature documentaries, including The Blue Planet, Planet Earth and Life on Earth, are produced by the BBC Natural History Unit, the largest wildlife documentary production house in the world.[78] The British Film Institute's list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes in 2000 was voted by industry insiders.[79] In 2004 the BBC conducted a poll to find Britain's Best Sitcom.[80] The British public voted for TV's 50 Greatest Stars in 2006.[81]

Actor, comedian and screenwriter Rowan Atkinson starred in two sitcoms, Blackadder and Mr. Bean.

Popular UK sitcoms (and their iconic characters and catchphrases) from each of the last four decades of the 20th century include Dad's Army (created by Jimmy Perry) featuring Captain Mainwaring's putdown "You stupid boy!", Steptoe and Son (created by Alan Simpson and Ray Galton) with a disgusted Harold frequently calling his father "you dirty old man", Fawlty Towers (created by John Cleese and Connie Booth) with Basil Fawlty regularly slapping the hapless Spanish waiter Manuel, Blackadder (created by Richard Curtis, Ben Elton and Rowan Atkinson) where the idiotic Baldrick often reveals "I have a cunning plan", Only Fools and Horses (created by John Sullivan) where Del Boy often yells "you plonker!" to his brother Rodney, Absolutely Fabulous (created by and starring Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French), Father Ted (by Irish writers Arthur Mathews and Graham Linehan) which follows the misadventures of three Irish Roman Catholic priests (including the simple minded Father Dougal McGuire) along with their housekeeper Mrs Doyle who always wants to serve them tea, and The Royle Family (created by Caroline Aherne and Craig Cash).[82]

Gold Hill, Shaftesbury in Dorset where Ridley Scott filmed the nostalgic 1973 Hovis television commercial

Launched in 1955, ITV is the oldest commercial television network in the UK.[83] 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.[84] Other notable British commercials include the 1989 British Airways face advertisement, 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.

Members of Monty Python on stage at the O2 Arena, London in July 2014. Monty Python's Flying Circus was named among the best British TV shows

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.[85] 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.[86] 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
Statue of C. S. Lewis in front of the wardrobe in Belfast from his book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The book was adapted for a BBC miniseries.

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.[87] 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.[88] 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.[89]

The Queen Vic pub is a prominent setting in the BBC soap opera EastEnders. The show has often vied with ITV's soap opera Coronation Street for the top spot in weekly tv ratings.
Helen Mirren won three BAFTA Awards for Best Actress for her performance in the British television series Prime Suspect. The BAFTA Awards are the highest British accolade in film (ceremony in February) and television (ceremony in April).

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.[85] 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 Kirsty Young, it is the longest running music radio programme in British history.

George V giving the 1934 Royal Christmas Message on BBC Radio. The annual message typically chronicles the year's major events.

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. 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.[90]


Caricature of British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli in Vanity Fair, 30 January 1869

Freedom of the press was established in Great Britain in 1695.[91] 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.[92] The weekly newspaper 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.[93] Founded by Thomas Gibson Bowles, Vanity Fair featured caricatures of famous people for which it is best known today.[94]

A pioneer of children's publishing, John Newbery made children's literature a sustainable and profitable part of the literary market.[95] The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes was published by Newbery in 1765.[95] 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.[96] Formed four years later, Puffin Books is the children's imprint of Penguin Books: Barbara Euphan Todd's 1936 story about the scarecrow Worzel Gummidge was the first Puffin story book in 1941.[97]

Published in 1719, Robinson Crusoe is often considered the first English novel. A story about a castaway on a desert island, the novel has spawned so many imitations in film, television and radio that its name was used to define a genre, Robinsonade.

The English novel has generally been seen as beginning with Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe (1719) and Moll Flanders (1722).[98] These books were published after the creation of Copyright in 1709, with other notable published works including Samuel Richardson's Pamela (1740) and Clarissa (1747); Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels (1726) and Henry Fielding's Tom Jones (1749).

The Castle of Otranto (1764) is regarded as the first Gothic novel. The aesthetics of the book have shaped modern-day gothic books, films, art, music and the goth subculture, the latter of which began in early 1980s England in the gothic rock scene.[99]

In 1764 Horace Walpole published the first gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto, initiating a new literary genre.[99] John Polidori's The Vampyre (1819) was the first fictional vampire story.[100]

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 may 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.[101] 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.[102]

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.[103] The Statute of Anne gave the publishers rights for a fixed period, after which the copyright expired.[104]

Visual arts

The 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.[105]

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.[106]

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.[107] 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.

The logo for the CND, designed by Gerald Holtom in 1958. It has become a nearly universal peace symbol.

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.[108] 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.[109]

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.[110] 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.[111]

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.[112] 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".[113]

Mural of David Bowie in Brixton featuring his iconic lightning bolt image from the Aladdin Sane album cover

In the late 1960s, British graphic designer Storm Thorgerson co-founded the English 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.[114] 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.[115] 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).

Concorde (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.[116]

A Supermarine Spitfire from WWII which 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.[117] 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.[117]

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.[118]

Performing arts, carnivals, parades

The Proms are held annually at the Royal Albert Hall during the summer. Regular performers at the Albert Hall include Eric Clapton who has played at the venue over 200 times.

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.[119] The most prominent opera house in England is the Royal Opera House at Covent Gardens.[120] The Proms, a season of orchestral classical music concerts held at the Royal Albert Hall, is a major cultural event held annually.[120] 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.[121]

A Punch and Judy booth at Swanage, Dorset. The anarchic Mr. Punch has been an influential figure in British comedy and political cartoons.

A staple of British seaside culture, the quarrelsome couple Punch and Judy made their first recorded appearance in Covent Garden, London in 1662.[122] 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.[123] 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."[122]

Astley's Amphitheatre, London circa 1808. Astley performed stunts in a 42 ft diameter ring, the standard size used by circuses ever since.[124]

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.[124] Following his invention of the circus ring in 1768, Astley's Amphitheatre opened in London in 1773.[124] 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.[124] 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.[125]

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.[126] 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.[126]

The Christmas Pantomime 1890, UK. Pantomime plays a prominent role in British culture during the Christmas and New Year season.[127]

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.[127] 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.[127] 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".[128]

A protégé of theatre impresario and slapstick comedian Fred Karno, Stan Laurel took his standard comic devices from music hall: the bowler hat, deep comic gravity, and nonsensical understatement.[129]

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.[130]

Actor Ian McKellen at Manchester Pride. It is one of 15 annual gay pride parades in the UK, with the largest in Brighton attracting over 300,000.[131]

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.[129] 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.[129] Laurel stated, "Fred Karno didn't teach Charlie [Chaplin] and me all we know about comedy. He just taught us most of it".[132] 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."[133]

Indoor arenas
Led Zeppelin performing at the 02 Arena, London in 2007. The 02 is the busiest music arena in the world.[134]

The Manchester Arena has the highest indoor capacity in the UK with 21,000 seats. The world's busiest indoor arena, the O2 Arena in London has a 20,000 capacity. In 2007 Led Zeppelin performed a one off concert at the O2 which saw a world record 20 million online application for tickets. The Genting Arena in Birmingham has a capacity of 16,000; in 2017 the venue saw the last ever performance of Black Sabbath. The SSE Hydro in Glasgow has the largest capacity of any indoor arena in Scotland with 13,000 seats; it was opened in 2013 with a concert by Rod Stewart. The Odyssey Complex in Belfast is the largest indoor arena in Northern Ireland, while fhe Motorpoint Arena Cardiff is the largest in Wales. The Hammersmith Apollo in London opened in 1932 and has hosted some noteworthy performances, such as David Bowie's final concert as Ziggy Stardust in July 1973, while in 2014 Kate Bush undertook a 22 date residency at the venue, her first live shows in nearly 35 years.[135]


Bodiam Castle is a 14th-century moated castle in East Sussex. Today there are thousands of castles throughout the UK.[136]

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),[137] 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.[138]

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,[139] 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.[140] 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.

Designed by Sir Christopher Wren, St Paul's Cathedral is an important building of the English Baroque period. Services at St Paul's have included the funerals of Lord Nelson, the Duke of Wellington, Sir Winston Churchill, and Margaret Thatcher, and the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana.

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.[141] 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.[142] 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.[143]

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 concertsFreddie Mercury's final live performance with Queen took place at Knebworth on 9 August 1986,[144] 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.

Aerial view of Tower Bridge in London at night (with bridge open)

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.[145] 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.[145] By 1914, there were over 100 piers around the UK coast.[145] Today there are 55 seaside piers in the UK.[145] Tower Bridge (half a mile from London Bridge) opened in 1895.

The ArcelorMittal Orbit is a 376 ft sculpture and observation tower in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford, London. It is Britain's largest piece of public art.[146]

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.[147]

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.

Canary Wharf in London is home to some of the UK's tallest buildings.

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.[148] 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.[148] 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 The Pinnacle, and Heron Tower. Modernist architect Nicholas Grimshaw designed the Eden Project in Cornwall, which is the world's largest greenhouse.[149]


Cover of a Varney the Vampire penny dreadful (1845). Introducing familiar features in vampire fiction, Varney is the first story to refer to sharpened teeth for a vampire.[150]

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), and 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,[151] – 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.[152] 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."[152] 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.

The Scarlet Pimpernel (played here by Fred Terry), brought the "hero with a secret identity" into popular culture, a trope which would later feature in comic books.[153]

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.[154] The Scarlet Pimpernel first appeared on stage (1903) and then in novel (1905), and became very popular with the British public.[153] 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).[153] 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.[153]

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, an Englishman with a split personality from Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 novella, appears in Alan Moore's comic The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

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.[155] Writers included Alan Moore, famous for his V for Vendetta, From Hell, Watchmen, Marvelman, and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen;[156] Watchmen was described as "paving the way for a current cultural obsession" in comics;[157] 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, Brian Azzarello, 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.[158]

Honours system

Sir Francis Drake (left) being knighted by Queen Elizabeth I in 1581. The recipient is tapped on each shoulder with a sword.

The British honours system is a means of rewarding individuals' personal bravery, achievement or service to the United Kingdom. Candidates are identified by public or private bodies or by government departments or are nominated by members of the public. Nominations are reviewed by honours committees, made up of government officials and private citizens from different fields, who meet twice a year to discuss the candidates and make recommendations for appropriate honours to be awarded by the Queen.[159]

Sir Richard Branson. Through his Virgin Group he has interests in land, air, sea and space travel.

Historically a knighthood was conferred upon mounted warriors. By the Late Middle Ages, the rank had become associated with the ideals of chivalry, a code of conduct for the perfect courtly Christian warrior. An example of warrior chivalry in medieval literature is Sir Gawain (King Arthur's nephew and a Knight of the Round Table) in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (late 14th century). Since the early modern period, the title of knight is purely honorific, usually bestowed by a monarch, often for non-military service to the country. The modern female equivalent in the UK is damehood. The ceremony often takes place at Buckingham Palace, and family members are invited to attend.[160]

A few examples of knights are Sir Nicholas Winton: for "services to humanity, in saving Jewish children from Nazi occupied Czechoslovakia",[161] Sir Elton John: for "services to music and charitable services", Sir Ridley Scott: for "services to the British film industry",[162] and Sir Richard Branson: for "services to entrepreneurship".[163] Examples of dames are: actress Dame Julie Andrews and singer Dame Shirley Bassey: both for "services to the performing arts", actress Dame Joan Collins: for "services to charity", and Dame Agatha Christie: for "contribution to literature."[164]


Much of the folklore of the United Kingdom pre-dates the 18th century. Though some of the characters and stories are present throughout all of the UK, most belong to specific countries or regions. Common folkloric beings include pixies, giants, elves, bogeymen, trolls, goblins and dwarves. While many legends and folk-customs are thought to be ancient, such as the tales of Offa of Angeln and Weyland Smith, others date from after the Norman invasion of England, such as Robin Hood and his Merry Men of Sherwood and their battles with the Sheriff of Nottingham.[165] Richard the Lionheart, Christian leader of the Third Crusade, became to be seen as a contemporary and supporter of Robin Hood. A plaque features Richard marrying Robin and Maid Marian outside Nottingham Castle.[166]

Excalibur is the legendary sword of King Arthur, and is associated with the rightful sovereignty of Great Britain.
Winchester Round Table (made in the late 13th century) hanging in Winchester Castle bears the names of various knights of King Arthur's court.

During the High Middle Ages tales originated from Brythonic traditions, notably the Arthurian legend.[167] Deriving from Welsh source; King Arthur, Excalibur and Merlin, while the Jersey poet Wace introduced the Knights of the Round Table. These stories are most centrally brought together within Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain). Another early figure from British tradition, King Cole, may have been based on a real figure from Sub-Roman Britain. Many of the tales make up part of the wider Matter of Britain, a collection of shared British folklore.

The Loch Ness Monster is a cryptid that is reputed to inhabit Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands. The legendary monster has been affectionately referred to by the nickname "Nessie" since the 1950s. The leprechaun figures large in Irish folklore. A mischievous fairy-type creature in emerald green clothing who when not playing tricks spends all its time busily making shoes, the leprechaun is said to have a pot of gold hidden at the end of the rainbow, and if ever captured by a human it has the magical power to grant three wishes in exchange for release. In mythology, English fairy tales such as Jack and the Beanstalk and Jack the Giant Killer helped form the modern perception of giants as stupid and violent, while the dwarf Tom Thumb is a traditional hero in English folklore.

English fairy tale Goldilocks and the Three Bears is one of the most popular fairy tales in the English language.[168] Some folk figures are based on semi- or actual historical people whose story has been passed down centuries: Lady Godiva, for instance, was said to have ridden naked on horseback through Coventry; the heroic English figure Hereward the Wake resisted the Norman invasion; Herne the Hunter is an equestrian ghost associated with Windsor Forest and Great Park, and Mother Shipton is the archetypal witch.[169] The chivalrous bandit, such as Dick Turpin, is a recurring character.

Engraving of the English pirate Blackbeard from the 1724 book A General History of the Pyrates. The book is the prime source for many famous pirates of the Golden Age.[170]

Published in 1724, A General History of the Pyrates by Captain Charles Johnson provided the standard account of the lives of many pirates in the Golden Age.[170] It influenced pirate literature of Scottish novelists Robert Louis Stevenson (Treasure Island) and J. M. Barrie.[170] Many famous English pirates from the Golden Age hailed from the West Country in south west England—the stereotypical West Country "pirate accent" was popularised by West Country native Robert Newton's portrayal of Stevenson's Long John Silver in film.[64] The concept of "walking the plank" was popularised by Barrie's Peter Pan, where Captain Hook's pirates helped define the archetype.[171] Davy Jones' Locker, where sailors or ships' remains are consigned to the bottom of the sea, is first recorded by Daniel Defoe in 1726.[172] Johnson's 1724 book gave a mythical status to famous English pirates such as Blackbeard and Calico Jack—Jack's Jolly Roger flag design features a skull with crossed swords.[173]

Two of the current Ravens of the Tower of London. The ravens' presence is traditionally believed to protect the Crown and the tower; a superstition holds that "if the Tower of London ravens are lost or fly away, the Crown will fall and Britain with it".[174]

The Gremlin is part of Royal Air Force folklore dating from the 1920s, with "gremlin" being RAF slang for a mischievous creature that sabotages aircraft, meddling in the plane's equipment.[175] Legendary figures from 19th-century London whose tales have been romanticised include Sweeney Todd, the murderous barber of Fleet Street (accompanied with Mrs. Lovett who sells pies made from Todd's victims), and serial killer Jack the Ripper. On 5 November, people in England make bonfires, set off fireworks and eat toffee apples in commemoration of the foiling of Guy Fawkes' Gunpowder Plot, which became an annual event after the Thanksgiving Act of 1606 was passed.[176] Guy Fawkes masks are an emblem for anti-establishment protest groups.[177]

Halloween is a traditional and much celebrated holiday in Scotland and Ireland on the night of 31 October.[178] The name "Halloween" is first attested in the 16th century as a Scottish shortening of the fuller All-Hallows-Even,[179] and according to some historians has its roots in the Gaelic festival Samhain, when the Gaels believed the border between this world and the otherworld became thin, and the dead would revisit the mortal world.[180] In 1780, Dumfries poet John Mayne makes note of pranks at Halloween; "What fearfu' pranks ensue!", as well as the supernatural associated with the night, "Bogies" (ghosts).[181] Robert Burns' 1785 poem "Halloween" is recited by Scots at Halloween, and Burns was influenced by Mayne's composition.[181] In Scotland and Ireland, traditional Halloween customs include guising — children disguised in costume going from door to door requesting food or coins – which had become common practice by the late 19th century,[182][183] turnips hollowed out and carved with faces to make lanterns,[184] holding parties where games such as apple bobbing are played.[185] Agatha Christie's mystery novel Hallowe'en Party is about a girl who is drowned in an apple-bobbing tub. Other practices in Ireland include lighting bonfires, and having firework displays.[186] Further contemporary imagery of Halloween is derived from Gothic and horror literature (notably Shelley's Frankenstein and Stoker's Dracula), and classic horror films (such as Hammer Horrors). Mass transatlantic Irish and Scottish migration in the 19th century popularised Halloween in North America.[187]

The wizard Merlin features as a character in many works of fiction, including the BBC series Merlin.

Witchcraft has featured in the British Isles for millennia. The use of a crystal ball to foretell the future is attributed to the druids. In medieval folklore King Arthur's magician, the wizard Merlin, carried around a crystal ball for the same purpose. John Dee, consultant to Elizabeth I, frequently used a crystal ball to communicate with the angels.[188] Probably the most famous depiction of witchcraft in literature is in Shakespeare's 1606 play Macbeth, featuring the three witches and their cauldron. The ghost of Anne Boleyn is a frequently reported ghost sighting in the UK. Differing accounts include seeing her ghost ride up to Blickling Hall in a coach drawn by a headless horseman, with her own head on her lap.[189]

New Forest in Hampshire where the father of Wicca, Gerald Gardner, says he encountered the New Forest coven

Contemporary witchcraft began in England in the early 20th century with notable figures such as Aleister Crowley and the father of Wicca Gerald Gardner, before expanding westward in the 1960s.[190] Settling down near the New Forest in Hampshire, Gardner joined an occult group through which he claimed to have encountered the New Forest coven into which he was initiated in 1939.[190] Believing the coven to be a survival of the pre-Christian Witch-Cult, he decided to revive the faith, supplementing the coven's rituals with ideas borrowed from ceremonial magic and the writings of Crowley to form the Gardnerian tradition of Wicca.[190] Moving to London in 1945, following the repeal of the Witchcraft Act of 1736 Gardner became intent on propagating Wicca, attracting media attention and writing Witchcraft Today (1954) and The Meaning of Witchcraft (1959). Crowley (the founder of Thelema) was described as "the most notorious occultist magician of the 20th century", and he remains an influential figure over Western esotericism and the counter-culture.[191] His motto of "Do What Thou Wilt" is inscribed on the vinyl of Led Zeppelin's album Led Zeppelin III, and he is the subject of Ozzy Osbourne's single "Mr Crowley".[192]

National parks, museums, libraries, and galleries

Heritage administration

Stonehenge, Wiltshire at sunset

Each country of the United Kingdom has its own body responsible for heritage matters.

English Heritage is the government body with a broad remit of managing the historic sites, artefacts and environments of England. It is currently sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. The charity National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty has a contrasting role. Seventeen of the United Kingdom UNESCO World Heritage Sites are in England. Some of the best known of these include Hadrian's Wall, Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites, Tower of London, Jurassic Coast, Westminster, Saltaire, Ironbridge Gorge, and Studley Royal Park. The northernmost point of the Roman Empire, Hadrian's Wall, is the largest Roman artefact anywhere: it runs a total of 73 miles in northern England.[193]

Occupied from roughly 3180 BC to about 2500 BC, Skara Brae in Orkney, Scotland is Europe's most complete Neolithic village.

Historic Scotland is the executive agency of the Scottish Government, responsible for historic monuments in Scotland, such as Stirling Castle. The Old and New Town of Edinburgh is a notable Scottish World Heritage site. Balmoral Castle is the main Scottish residence of the Queen. The Wallace Monument in Stirling contains artifacts believed to have belonged to Sir William Wallace, including the Wallace Sword. The Rob Roy Way, named after Scottish folk hero and outlaw Rob Roy MacGregor, is a long distance footpath that runs for 92 miles.

Hadrian's Wall was built in the 2nd century AD. It is a lasting monument from Roman Britain. It is the largest Roman artefact in existence.

Many of Wales' great castles, such as the Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd and other monuments, are under the care of Cadw, the historic environment service of the Welsh Government. Welsh actor Sir Anthony Hopkins donated millions to the preservation of Snowdonia National Park. The five most frequently visited Welsh castles are Caernarfon Castle, Conwy Castle, Caerphilly Castle, Harlech Castle and Beaumaris Castle. The Northern Ireland Environment Agency promotes and conserves the natural and built environment in Northern Ireland, and the Giant's Causeway on the north-east coast is one of the UK's natural World Heritage sites. Tintagel Castle is a popular tourist destination in Cornwall, with the castle associated with the legend of King Arthur since the 12th century. There are 15 National Parks in the UK, including the Lake District in England, Snowdonia in Wales, and Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park in Scotland.[194]

Museums and galleries

A museum building designed in the Greek Revival style with a flag on top.
The British Museum in London
Titanic Belfast museum on the former shipyard in Belfast where the RMS Titanic was built

The British Museum in London with its collection of more than seven million objects,[195] is one of the largest and most comprehensive in the world, and sourced from every continent, illustrating and documenting the story of human culture from its beginning to the present. On display since 1802, the Rosetta Stone is the most viewed attraction. The Natural History Museum, London was established by Richard Owen (who coined the term "dinosaur") to display the national collection of dinosaur fossils and other biological and geological exhibits.[196] The National Museums of Scotland bring together national collections in Scotland. Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales comprises eight museums in Wales. National Museums Northern Ireland has four museums in Northern Ireland including the Ulster Museum.

A wax sculpture of Michael Caine as Harry Palmer from The Ipcress File, Madame Tussauds, London

The Titanic Belfast museum, a visitor attraction in the Titanic Quarter, east Belfast, Northern Ireland on the regenerated site of the shipyard where Titanic was built, was opened to the public in 2012.[197] The architecture is a tribute to Titanic itself, with the external facades a nod to the enormous hull of the cruise liner.

The first Madame Tussauds wax museum opened in London in 1835, and today displays waxworks of famous people from various fields, including royalty (Princess Diana), historical figures (Henry VIII), sport (David Beckham), music (Freddie Mercury), literature (Charles Dickens), politics (Winston Churchill), television (Gordon Ramsay), and cinema (Michael Caine) among others.[198]

The most senior art gallery is the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, which houses a collection of over 2,300 paintings dating from the mid-13th century to 1900. The Tate galleries house the national collections of British and international modern art; they also host the famously controversial Turner Prize.[199] The National Galleries of Scotland are the five national galleries of Scotland and two partner galleries. The National Museum of Art, Wales, opened in 2011.[200]


The British Library in London is the national library and is one of the world's largest research libraries, holding over 150 million items in all known languages and formats; including around 25 million books.[201] The National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh holds 7 million books, 14 million printed items and over 2 million maps.[202] The National Library of Wales is the national legal deposit library of Wales.[203]

Historical markers

English Heritage blue plaque commemorating Sir Alfred Hitchcock at 153 Cromwell Road, London

Blue plaques, the oldest historical marker scheme in the world, are permanent signs installed in a public place in the UK to commemorate a link between that location and a famous person or event.[204] The scheme was the brainchild of politician William Ewart in 1863 and was initiated in 1866.[204] It was formally established by the Society of Arts in 1867, and since 1986 has been run by English Heritage.[204]

The first plaque was unveiled in 1867 to commemorate Lord Byron at his birthplace, 24 Holles Street, Cavendish Square, London. Events commemorated by plaques include John Logie Baird's first demonstration of television at 22 Frith Street, Westminster, W1, London, the first sub 4-minute mile run by Roger Bannister on 6 May 1954 at Oxford University's Iffley Road Track, and a sweet shop in Llandaff, Cardiff that commemorates the mischief by a young Roald Dahl who put a mouse in the gobstoppers jar.[205]


Worcestershire Sauce is named after its home county.

The suffix "shire" is attached to most of the names of English, Scottish and Welsh counties. Shire is a term for a division of land first used in England during the Anglo-Saxon period. Examples in England are Cheshire, Hampshire, Nottinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Staffordshire, Worcestershire and Yorkshire; in Scotland, Aberdeenshire, Perthshire and Stirlingshire; and in Wales, Carmarthenshire, Flintshire and Pembrokeshire. This suffix tends not to be found in the names of counties that were pre-existing divisions. Essex, Kent, and Sussex, for example, have never borne a -shire, as each represents a former Anglo-Saxon kingdom. Similarly Cornwall was a British kingdom before it became an English county. The term "shire" is also not used in the names of the six traditional counties of Northern Ireland.

Various things are named after their county of origin, for example Cheshire Cat, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Yorkshire pudding and Worcestershire Sauce. Worcestershire, the home county of the author J. R. R. Tolkien, was the inspiration for The Shire, a region of fictional Middle-earth, described in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.[206]

Science and technology

From the time of the Scientific Revolution, England and Scotland, and thereafter the United Kingdom, have been prominent in world scientific and technological development. The Royal Society serves as the national academy for sciences, with members drawn from different institutions and disciplines. Formed in 1660, it is one of the oldest learned societies still in existence.[207]

Isaac Newton's Principia is one of the most influential works in the history of science.

Sir Isaac Newton's publication of the Principia Mathematica ushered in what is recognisable as modern physics. The first edition of 1687 and the second edition of 1713 framed the scientific context of the foundation of the United Kingdom. He realised that the same force is responsible for movements of celestial and terrestrial bodies, namely gravity. He is the father of classical mechanics, formulated as his three laws and as the co-inventor (with Gottfried Leibniz) of differential calculus. He also created the binomial theorem, worked extensively on optics, and created a law of cooling.

Charles Darwin established that all species of life have descended over time from common ancestors.[208]

Figures from the UK have contributed to the development of most major branches of science. John Napier introduced logarithms in the early 17th century as a means to simplify calculations. Michael Faraday and James Clerk Maxwell unified the electric and magnetic forces in what are now known as Maxwell's equations. Following his publication of A Dynamical Theory of the Electromagnetic Field in 1865, Maxwell predicted the existence of radio waves in 1867.[209] James Joule worked on thermodynamics and is often credited with the discovery of the principle of conservation of energy.

Naturalist Charles Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species and discovered the principle of evolution by natural selection. James Hutton, founder of modern geology, worked on the age of the Earth (deep time) which forms a key element of Darwin's theory. Other important geologists include Charles Lyell, author of Principles of Geology, who also coined the term Pleistocene, and Adam Sedgwick, who proposed (and coined) the name of the Cambrian Period.[210] William Thomson (Baron Kelvin) drew important conclusions in the field of thermodynamics and invented the Kelvin scale of absolute zero. Paul Dirac was one of the pioneers of quantum mechanics. Botanist Robert Brown discovered the random movement of particles suspended in a fluid (Brownian motion). John Stewart Bell created Bell's Theorem. Harold Kroto discovered buckminsterfullerene.

Michael Faraday's discovery formed the foundation of electric motor technology.

Other 19th- and early 20th-century British pioneers in their field include Joseph Lister (antiseptic surgery), Edward Jenner (vaccination), Richard Owen (palaeontology, coined the term Dinosaur), Florence Nightingale (nursing), Sir George Cayley (aerodynamics), William Fox Talbot (photography), and Howard Carter (modern archaeology, discovered Tutankhamun).

Scholarly descriptions of dinosaur bones first appeared in the late 17th-century England. Between 1815 and 1824, William Buckland discovered fossils of Megalosaurus and became the first person to describe a dinosaur in a scientific journal. The second dinosaur genus to be identified, Iguanodon, was discovered in 1822 by Mary Ann Mantell. In 1832, Gideon Mantell discovered fossils of a third dinosaur, Hylaeosaurus. Owen recognised that the remains of the three new species that had been found so far shared a number of distinctive features. He decided to present them as a distinct taxonomic group, dinosaurs.[211]

John Harrison invented the marine chronometer, a key piece in solving the problem of accurately establishing longitude at sea, thus revolutionising and extending the possibility of safe long-distance sea travel.[212] The most celebrated British explorers include James Cook, Walter Raleigh, Sir Francis Drake, Henry Hudson, George Vancouver, Sir John Franklin, David Livingstone, Captain John Smith, Robert Falcon Scott, Lawrence Oates and Ernest Shackleton. The aquarium craze began in Victorian England when Philip Henry Gosse created and stocked the first public aquarium at London Zoo in 1853, and coined the term "aquarium" when he published The Aquarium: An Unveiling of the Wonders of the Deep Sea in 1854.[213] Robert FitzRoy pioneered weather forecasting: the first daily weather forecasts were published in The Times in 1861.[214]

A man in his laboratory
Portrait of a man
Biologist Alexander Fleming (left) discovered the world's first antibiotic. Physician Edward Jenner (right) discovered the world's first vaccine

A crucial advance in the development of the flush toilet was the S-trap invented by Alexander Cumming in 1775 — it uses the standing water to seal the outlet of the bowl, preventing the escape of foul air from the sewer.[215] In 1824 Charles Macintosh invented the waterproof raincoat; the Mackintosh (mac) is named after him.[215] William Sturgeon invented the electromagnet in 1824.[216] The first commercial electrical telegraph was co-invented by Sir William Fothergill Cooke and Charles Wheatstone. They patented it in May 1837 as an alarm system, and it was first successfully demonstrated on 25 July 1837 between Euston and Camden Town in London.[217]

Postal reformer Sir Rowland Hill is regarded as the creator of the modern postal service and the inventor of the postage stamp (Penny Black) — with his solution of pre-payment facilitating the safe, speedy and cheap transfer of letters.[218] Hill's colleague Sir Henry Cole introduced the world's first commercial Christmas card in 1843.[219] In 1851 Sir George Airy established the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, London, as the location of the prime meridian where longitude is defined to be 0° (one of the two lines that divide the Earth into the Eastern and Western Hemispheres). George Boole authored The Laws of Thought which contains Boolean algebra. Forming the mathematical foundations of computing, Boolean logic laid the foundations for the information age.

A Watt steam engine, the steam engine that propelled the Industrial Revolution in Britain and the world[220]

Historically, many of the UK's greatest scientists have been based at either Oxford or Cambridge University, with laboratories such as the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge and the Clarendon Laboratory in Oxford becoming famous in their own right. In modern times, other institutions such as the Red Brick and New Universities are catching up with Oxbridge. For instance, Lancaster University has a global reputation for work in low temperature physics.

George Stephenson, "Father of Railways". His rail gauge of 4 feet 8 12 inches (1,435 mm) is the standard gauge for most of the world's railways.

Technologically, the UK is also amongst the world's leaders. Historically, it was at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution, with innovations especially in textiles, the steam engine, railroads, machine tools and civil engineering. Famous British engineers and inventors from this period include James Watt, Robert Stephenson, Richard Arkwright, Henry Maudslay and the 'father of Railways' George Stephenson. Maudslay's most influential invention was the screw-cutting lathe, a machine which created uniformity in screws and allowed for the application of interchangeable parts (a prerequisite for mass production): it was a revolutionary development necessary for the Industrial Revolution. The UK has the oldest railway networks in the world, with the Stockton and Darlington Railway, opened in 1825, the first public railway to use steam locomotives. Opened in 1863, London Underground is the world's first underground railway.[221] Running along the East Coast Main Line between Edinburgh and London, the Flying Scotsman has been ranked the world's most famous steam locomotive.[222]

Joseph Priestley invented soda water in 1767, the defining component of most soft drinks.

Engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, another major figure of the Industrial Revolution, was placed second in a 2002 BBC nationwide poll to determine the "100 Greatest Britons".[223] He created the Great Western Railway, as well as famous steamships including the SS Great Britain, the first propeller-driven ocean-going iron ship, and SS Great Eastern which laid the first lasting transatlantic telegraph cable. Josiah Wedgwood pioneered the industrialisation of pottery manufacture.[224] In 1820, Scottish road builder John McAdam invented "macadamisation" for building roads with a smooth hard surface. In 1901, Edgar Purnell Hooley added tar to the mix and named it Tarmac (short for tarmacadam).[225]

Smeaton's Eddystone Lighthouse, 9 miles out to sea. John Smeaton pioneered hydraulic lime in concrete which led to the development of Portland cement in England and thus modern concrete.

Probably the greatest driver behind the modern use of concrete was Smeaton's Tower built by John Smeaton in the 1750s. The third Eddystone Lighthouse (the world's first open ocean lighthouse), Smeaton pioneered the use of hydraulic lime in concrete. Scotsman Robert Stevenson constructed the Bell Rock Lighthouse in the early 1800s. Situated 11 miles off east Scotland, it is the world's oldest surviving sea-washed lighthouse. Portland cement, the most common type of cement in general use around the world as a basic ingredient of concrete, was developed in England in the 19th century. It was coined by Joseph Aspdin in 1824 (he named it after Portland stone), and further developed by his son William Aspdin in the 1840s.

The pioneering computer scientist Alan Turing provided a formalisation of the concepts of algorithm and computation with the Turing machine.

The UK has produced some of the most famous ships in the world: Harland and Wolff in Belfast built the RMS Titanic as well as her sister ships RMS Olympic and RMS Britannic; in Clydebank John Brown and Company built the RMS Queen Mary, RMS Queen Elizabeth and SS Queen Elizabeth 2; ships built in England include the Mary Rose (King Henry VIII's warship), the Golden Hind (Sir Francis Drake's ship for the circumnavigation of the globe between 1577 and 1580), HMS Victory (Lord Nelson's flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805), and HMS Beagle (ship used in Charles Darwin's five-year voyage). Other important British ships include HMS Endeavour (James Cook's ship in his first voyage of discovery), HMS Challenger (first global marine research expedition: the Challenger expedition), and Discovery (carried Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton in the Discovery Expedition, their first successful journey to the Antarctic). The Royal Navy troopship HMS Birkenhead is known for the first appearance of the "women and children first" protocol.[226]

Scottish inventor John Logie Baird demonstrated the first working television system on 26 January 1926.[227]

Since then, the UK has continued this tradition of technical creativity. Alan Turing (leading role in the creation of the modern computer), Scottish inventor Alexander Graham Bell (the first practical telephone), John Logie Baird (world's first working television system, first electronic colour television), Frank Whittle (co-invented the jet engine) — powered by Whittle's turbojet engines, the Gloster Meteor was the first British jet fighter and the Allies' only jet aircraft to achieve combat operations during World War II, Charles Babbage (devised the idea of the computer), Alexander Fleming (discovered penicillin). The UK remains one of the leading providers of technological innovations, providing inventions as diverse as the World Wide Web by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, and Viagra by British scientists at Pfizer's Sandwich, Kent. Sir Alec Jeffreys pioneered DNA fingerprinting. Pioneers of fertility treatment Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards, achieved conception through IVF (world's first "test tube baby") in 1978.[228]

Physicist Stephen Hawking set forth a theory of cosmology explained by a union of the general theory of relativity and quantum mechanics. His 1988 book A Brief History of Time appeared on The Sunday Times best-seller list for a record-breaking 237 weeks.[229]

The prototype tank was constructed at William Foster & Co. in Lincoln in 1915, with leading roles played by Major Walter Gordon Wilson who designed the gearbox and developed practical tracks and by William Tritton whose company built it.[230] This was a prototype of the Mark I tank, the first tank used in combat in September 1916 during WWI.[230] The First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, was credited by Prime Minister David Lloyd George as being the driving force behind their production. Allan Beckett designed the 'Whale' floating roadway, crucial to the success of the Mulberry harbour used in the invasion of Normandy in WWII. In 1918, HMS Argus became the world's first aircraft carrier capable of launching and recovering naval aircraft, and in WWII, HMS Ark Royal was involved in the first aerial and U-boat kills of the war, as well as the crippling of the German battleship the Bismarck in May 1941. In 1952, OXO (or Noughts and Crosses), created by computer scientist Alexander S. Douglas, is regarded as a contender for the first video game.[231] In OXO, the computer player could play perfect games of tic-tac-toe against a human opponent.[231] In the 1960s, John Shepherd-Barron invented the cash machine (ATM) and James Goodfellow invented Personal identification number (PIN) technology, and on 27 June 1967, the first cash machine was established outside a branch of Barclays Bank in Enfield, north London.

English computer scientist Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web

Other famous scientists, engineers, theorists and inventors from the UK include Sir Francis Bacon, Richard Trevithick (Train), Thomas Henry Huxley, Francis Crick (DNA), Rosalind Franklin (Photo 51), Robert Boyle (Boyle's Law), Robert Hooke, Thomas Young, Humphry Davy (discovered "laughing gas" (nitrous oxide), isolated many elements (such as calcium), invented Davy lamp), Robert Watson-Watt (radar), J. J. Thomson (discovered Electron), James Chadwick (discovered Neutron), Frederick Soddy (discovered Isotope), John Cockcroft, Henry Bessemer, Edmond Halley (Halley's comet), Sir William Herschel (discovered Uranus), Charles Parsons (Steam turbine), Alan Blumlein (Stereo sound), John Dalton (Colour blindness), James Dewar, Alexander Parkes (celluloid), Sir John Randall (cavity magnetron), Ada Lovelace, Peter Durand, Alcock & Brown (first non-stop transatlantic flight), Henry Cavendish (discovered Hydrogen), Francis Galton, James Y. Simpson (chloroform as an anaesthetic), Sir Joseph Swan (Incandescent light bulb).

The Vox AC30 amplifier produced the sound of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Queen among other acts.

Sir William Gull (Anorexia nervosa), George Everest, Edward Whymper (first ascent of Matterhorn), Daniel Rutherford, Arthur Eddington (luminosity of stars), Lord Rayleigh (why sky is blue), Norman Lockyer (discovered Helium), Sir Julian Huxley (formed WWF), Adam Smith (pioneer of modern economics and capitalism), John Maynard Keynes (Keynesian economics), Charles K. Kao (fiber optics), Harry Ferguson (three-point linkage revolutionised the farm tractor), Sir James Martin (ejection seat), Frank Pantridge (portable defibrillator), John Herschel, Bertrand Russell (analytic philosophy pioneer), Jim Marshall (guitar amplifier pioneer), Thomas Walter Jennings (Vox guitar and organ amplifiers), William Ramsay (discovered the noble gases), Peter Higgs (proposed Higgs boson), Harry Brearley (stainless steel), John Venn (Venn diagram), Jane Goodall, William Playfair (founder of statistical graphics; created bar chart and pie chart), Edward Raymond Turner (world's first colour motion picture film), Sir Jonathan Ive (Chief Design Officer of Apple Inc.), Thomas Bayes (Bayes theorem), Dorothy Hodgkin (X-ray crystallography), John Boyd Dunlop (pneumatic tyre), J. K. Starley (modern bicycle), Frederick Sanger, Sir Isaiah Berlin, Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking and Joseph Priestley.

Industrial Revolution

William III and Mary II Presenting the Cap of Liberty to Europe, 1716, Sir James Thornhill. Enthroned in heaven with the Virtues behind them are the royals William and Mary who had taken the throne after the Glorious Revolution and signed the English Bill of Rights of 1689. William tramples on arbitrary power and hands the red cap of liberty to Europe where, unlike Britain, absolute monarchy stayed the normal form of power execution. Below William is the French king Louis XIV.[232]

The Industrial Revolution began in Britain due to the social, economic and political changes in the country during the previous centuries. The stable political situation in Britain from around 1688 following the Glorious Revolution, in contrast to other European countries where absolute monarchy remained the typical form of government, can be said to be a factor in favouring Britain as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution.[233] Aided by these legal and cultural foundations, an entrepreneurial spirit and consumer revolution drove industrialisation in Britain.[234] Geographical and natural resource advantages of Great Britain also contributed, with the country's extensive coast lines and many navigable rivers in an age where water was the easiest means of transportation. Britain also had high quality coal.

Historian Jeremy Black states, "an unprecedented explosion of new ideas, and new technological inventions, transformed our use of energy, creating an increasingly industrial and urbanised country. Roads, railways and canals were built. Great cities appeared. Scores of factories and mills sprang up. Our landscape would never be the same again. It was a revolution that transformed not only the country, but the world itself."[233]

Josiah Wedgwood was a leading entrepreneur in the Industrial Revolution.

Pottery manufacturer Josiah Wedgwood was one of the most successful entrepreneurs of the Industrial Revolution. Meeting the demands of the consumer revolution and growth in wealth of the middle classes that helped drive the Industrial Revolution in Britain, Wedgwood created goods such as soft-paste porcelain tableware (bone china), which was starting to become a common feature on dining tables.[233] Credited as the inventor of modern marketing, Wedgwood pioneered direct mail, money back guarantees, travelling salesmen, carrying pattern boxes for display, self-service, free delivery, buy one get one free, and illustrated catalogues.[235] Described as "natural capitalists" by the BBC, dynasties of Quakers were successful in business matters, and they contributed the Industrial Revolution in Britain. This included ironmaking by Abraham Darby I and his family; banking, including Lloyds Bank (founded by Sampson Lloyd), Barclays Bank, Backhouse's Bank and Gurney's Bank; life assurance (Friends Provident); pharmaceuticals (Allen & Hanburys); the big three British chocolate companies Cadbury, Fry's and Rowntree); biscuit manufacturing (Huntley & Palmers); match manufacture (Bryant and May) and shoe manufacturing (Clarks). With his role in the marketing and manufacturing of James Watt's steam engine, and invention of modern coinage, Matthew Boulton is regarded as one of the most influential entrepreneurs in history.[236]


The United Kingdom was created as an Anglican Christian country, and Anglican churches remain the largest faith group in each country of the UK except Scotland, where Anglicanism is a tiny minority.[237] Following this is Roman Catholicism and religions including Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Judaism, and Buddhism. Today British Jews number around 300,000; the UK has the fifth largest Jewish community worldwide.[238]

William Tyndale's 1520s translation of the Bible was the first to be printed in English, and was a model for subsequent English translations, notably the King James Version in 1611. The Book of Common Prayer of 1549 was the first prayer book to include the complete forms of service for daily and Sunday worship in English, and the marriage and burial rites have found their way into those of other denominations and into the English language.

In 17th-century England, the Puritans condemned the celebration of Christmas.[239] In contrast, the Anglican Church "pressed for a more elaborate observance of feasts, penitential seasons, and saints' days. The calendar reform became a major point of tension between the Anglicans and Puritans."[240] The Catholic Church also responded, promoting the festival in a more religiously orientated form. King Charles I of England directed his noblemen and gentry to return to their landed estates in midwinter to keep up their old-style Christmas generosity. Following the Parliamentarian victory over Charles I in the English Civil War, Puritan rulers banned Christmas in 1647.[241]

The Examination and Trial of Father Christmas (1686), published after Christmas was reinstated as a holy day in England

Protests followed as pro-Christmas rioting broke out in several cities; and for weeks Canterbury was controlled by the rioters, who decorated doorways with holly and shouted royalist slogans.[239] The book, The Vindication of Christmas (London, 1652), argued against the Puritans, and notes old English Christmas traditions: dinner, roast apples on the fire, card playing, dances with "plow-boys" and "maidservants", old Father Christmas and carol singing.[242] The Restoration of King Charles II in 1660 ended the ban. Following the Restoration, Poor Robins Almanack contained the lines:

Now thanks to God for Charles return
Whose absence made old Christmas mourn
For then we scarcely did it know
Whether it Christmas were or no.[243]

The diary of James Woodforde, from the latter half of the 18th century, details Christmas observance and celebrations associated with the season over a number of years.[244]

Charles Dickens' 1843 novella A Christmas Carol played a major role in reviving the "spirit" of Christmas and seasonal goodwill.[245]

In the early 19th century, writers imagined Tudor Christmas as a time of heartfelt celebration. In 1843, Charles Dickens wrote the novel A Christmas Carol that helped revive the "spirit" of Christmas and seasonal merriment.[246][247] Dickens sought to construct Christmas as a family-centred festival of generosity, linking "worship and feasting, within a context of social reconciliation."[248] Superimposing his humanitarian vision of the holiday, termed "Carol Philosophy",[245] Dickens influenced many aspects of Christmas celebrated today in Western culture, such as family gatherings, seasonal food and drink, dancing, games, and a festive generosity of spirit.[249] A prominent phrase from the tale, "Merry Christmas", was popularised following its publication.[250] The term Scrooge became a synonym for miser, with "Bah! Humbug!" dismissive of the festive spirit.[247] Tiny Tim says "God bless us, every one!" which he offers as a blessing at Christmas dinner. Dickens repeats the phrase at the end of the story; symbolic of Scrooge's change of heart.

Queen Victoria's Christmas tree at Windsor Castle, published in the Illustrated London News, 1848

The revival of the Christmas Carol began with William Sandys's Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern (1833), with the first appearance in print of "The First Noel", "I Saw Three Ships", "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" and "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen". In 1843 the first commercial Christmas card was produced by Henry Cole, leading to the exchange of festive greeting cards among the public. The movement coincided with the appearance of the Oxford Movement and the growth of Anglo-Catholicism, which led a revival in traditional rituals and religious observances.[251]

In the UK, the Christmas tree was introduced in the early 19th century, following the personal union with the Kingdom of Hanover, by Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, wife of King George III. In 1832, the future Queen Victoria wrote about her delight at having a Christmas tree, hung with lights, ornaments, and presents placed round it.[252] After her marriage to her German cousin Prince Albert, a hugely influential image of the British royal family with their Christmas tree at Windsor Castle was published in the Illustrated London News in 1848, after which the custom became more widespread throughout Britain.[253]

While 2001 census information suggests that over 75% of UK citizens consider themselves to belong to a religion, Gallup reports that only 10% of UK citizens regularly attend religious services.[254] A 2004 YouGov poll found that 44% of UK citizens believe in God, while 35% do not.[255] Christmas and Easter are national public holidays in the UK.[256] First broadcast over the Easter period in 1977, the two-part Jesus of Nazareth television miniseries, starring Robert Powell as Jesus, was watched by over 21 million viewers in the UK. In 1844 Sir George Williams founded the YMCA (Young Men's Christian Association) in London. The oldest and largest youth charity in the world, its aim is to support young people to belong, contribute and thrive in their communities.[257] The Salvation Army is a Christian charity founded by William Booth and his wife Catherine in London's East End in 1865. It seeks to bring salvation to the poor, destitute and hungry.[258]


The UK has a parliamentary government based on the Westminster system that has been emulated around the world – a legacy of the British Empire. The Parliament of the United Kingdom that meets in the Houses of Parliament has two houses: an elected House of Commons and an appointed House of Lords, and any Bill passed requires Royal Assent to become law. It is the ultimate legislative authority in the United Kingdom: the devolved parliaments and assemblies in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales are not sovereign bodies and could be abolished by the UK Parliament, despite each being established following public approval as expressed in a referendum.[259]

Winston Churchill led the country throughout much of the Second World War.

The UK's two major political parties are the Labour Party and the Conservative Party, who between them won 580 out of 650 seats in the House of Commons at the most recent general election. The Scottish National Party (Scotland only) lost 21 of their seats in the House of Commons from the previous election; they remained the third-largest party by seats held, despite the Liberal Democrats making gains. The remaining seats were won by smaller parties, such as The Green Party; and UKIP lost their sole seat. Regional parties such as Plaid Cymru (Wales), Democratic Unionist Party, Social Democratic and Labour Party, Ulster Unionist Party, and Sinn Féin (Northern Ireland) also made gains.

"Number One, Mr Speaker": The standard opening of Prime Minister's Questions, from 13 February 2013.

A prominent part of British political culture, Prime Minister's Questions – often referred to as "PMQs" – is held every Wednesday at noon when the House of Commons is sitting. The Prime Minister spends around half an hour responding to questions from Members of Parliament (MPs). In questioning the policies of government ministers, MP Amber Rudd states “PMQs is central to our democracy.”[260] Due to the drama of the sessions, PMQs is among the best-known parliamentary business in the country. It is broadcast live on BBC News, Sky News and BBC Parliament television channels.

10 Downing Street, official residence of the Prime Minister

The United Kingdom has an uncodified constitution, the Constitution of the United Kingdom, consisting mostly of a collection of disparate written sources, including statutes, judge-made case law, and international treaties. As there is no technical difference between ordinary statutes and "constitutional law," the UK Parliament can perform "constitutional reform" simply by passing Acts of Parliament and thus has the political power to change or abolish almost any written or unwritten element of the constitution. However, no Parliament can pass laws that future Parliaments cannot change.[261]

Sir William Garrow coined the phrase "presumed innocent until proven guilty", insisting that defendants' accusers and their evidence be thoroughly tested in court.

British constitutional documents include Magna Carta (foundation of the "great writ" Habeas corpus — safeguarding individual freedom against arbitrary state action), the Bill of Rights 1689 (one provision granting freedom of speech in Parliament), Petition of Right, Habeas Corpus Act 1679 and Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949. A separate but similar document, the Claim of Right Act, applies in Scotland. Jurist Albert Venn Dicey wrote that the British Habeas Corpus Acts "declare no principle and define no rights, but they are for practical purposes worth a hundred constitutional articles guaranteeing individual liberty".[262] An advocate of the "unwritten constitution", Dicey stated English rights were embedded in the general English common law of personal liberty, and "the institutions and manners of the nation".[263]

According to 2016 figures from the Ministry of Justice, there is a 35% chance of people in England and Wales being summoned for jury duty over the course of their lifetime. In Scotland the percentage is higher due to Scotland having a lower population as well having juries made up of fifteen people as opposed to twelve in England and Wales.[264]

Emmeline Pankhurst. Named one of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century by Time, Pankhurst was a leading figure in the suffragette movement.[265]

The 17th-century English patriot John Hampden was a leading parliamentarian involved in challenging the authority of Charles I when he refused to be taxed for ship money in 1637, and was one of the Five Members whose attempted unconstitutional arrest by the King in the House of Commons in 1642 sparked the English Civil War. The wars established the constitutional rights of parliament, a concept legally established as part of the Glorious Revolution in 1688 and the subsequent Bill of Rights 1689. Since that time, no British monarch has entered the House of Commons when it is sitting.[266] Hampden is annually commemorated at the State Opening of Parliament by the British monarch when the doors of the House of Commons are slammed in the face of the monarch's messenger, symbolising the rights of Parliament and its independence from the monarch.[266]

William Wilberforce. Named one of the 100 Greatest Britons by the BBC, his partnership with Thomas Clarkson, which helped abolish slavery, has been called one of history's greatest.[267]

Other important British political figures include William Blackstone, eighteenth-century jurist, judge and politician best known for his seminal work, Commentaries on the Laws of England, containing his formulation: "It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer", a principle that government and the courts must err on the side of innocence,[268] Emmeline Pankhurst, led the suffragettes which helped win women the right to vote, William Wilberforce, leading parliamentary abolitionist, Robert Peel, founded the Conservative party (which was expanded by Benjamin Disraeli), and created the modern police force.[269] One of the most influential thinkers in the history of liberalism, 19th century philosopher, political economist and politician John Stuart Mill justified the freedom of the individual in opposition to unlimited state and social control. A member of the Liberal Party, he was also the first Member of Parliament to call for women's suffrage.[270]

King Edward's Chair in Westminster Abbey. A 13th-century wooden throne on which the British monarch sits when he or she is crowned at the coronation, they swear to uphold the law and the church. The monarch is apolitical and impartial, with their role as head of state largely symbolic.

Robert Walpole is generally regarded as the first British Prime Minister (1721–1742). Margaret Thatcher was the first female British Prime Minister (1979–1990). She became known as the "Iron Lady", a term coined by a Soviet journalist for her uncompromising politics and leadership style. In 1938, Neville Chamberlain believed he had secured "Peace for our time" with Germany, a year before WWII broke out. Nigel Farage, founding member of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) that advocated British withdrawal from the European Union, has been dubbed "Mr Brexit". He succeeded in his overriding ambition – to see the UK vote to leave the European Union.

English poet William Cowper wrote in 1785, "We have no slaves at home – Then why abroad? Slaves cannot breathe in England; if their lungs receive our air, that moment they are free, They touch our country, and their shackles fall. That's noble, and bespeaks a nation proud. And jealous of the blessing. Spread it then, And let it circulate through every vein."[271] Thomas Clarkson described fellow British abolitionist Josiah Wedgwood's 1787 anti-slavery medallion, "Am I Not A Man And A Brother?", as "promoting the cause of justice, humanity and freedom".[272] Following the Slave Trade Act 1807, Britain pressed other nations to end their trade with a series of treaties,[273] and in 1839 the world's oldest international human rights organisation, Anti-Slavery International, was formed in London, which worked to outlaw slavery abroad; Wilberforce's abolitionist colleague Thomas Clarkson was the organisation's first key speaker.[274] The 1965 suspension of the death penalty for murder had been introduced to Parliament as a private member's bill by Sydney Silverman MP.[275] The world's largest human rights organisation, Amnesty International, was founded by Peter Benenson in London in 1961.[276]


The full breakfast is among the best known British dishes, consisting of fried egg, sausage, white and black pudding, bacon, mushrooms, baked beans, hash browns, toast, and half a tomato.

British cuisine is the specific set of cooking traditions and practices associated with the United Kingdom. Historically, British cuisine meant "unfussy dishes made with quality local ingredients, matched with simple sauces to accentuate flavour, rather than disguise it".[277] International recognition of British cuisine was historically limited to the full breakfast and the Christmas dinner.[278] However, Celtic agriculture and animal breeding produced a wide variety of foodstuffs for indigenous Celts. Anglo-Saxon England developed meat and savoury herb stewing techniques before the practice became common in Europe. The Norman conquest introduced exotic spices into Great Britain in the Middle Ages.[278] The British Empire facilitated a knowledge of India's food tradition of "strong, penetrating spices and herbs".[278]

Fish and chips in a wrapper. Like the full breakfast, it is a national institution.[279]

Each country within the United Kingdom has its own specialities. Traditional examples of English cuisine include the Sunday roast; featuring a roasted joint, usually roast beef (a signature English national dish dating back to the 1731 ballad "The Roast Beef of Old England"), lamb or chicken, served with assorted boiled vegetables, Yorkshire pudding and gravy. The full English breakfast consists of bacon, grilled tomatoes, fried bread, baked beans, fried mushrooms, sausages and eggs. Black pudding and hash browns are often also included. It is usually served with tea or coffee.

Fish and chips are also regarded as a national institution: Winston Churchill called them "the good companions", John Lennon smothered them in tomato ketchup, while George Orwell referred to them as a "chief comfort" of the working class.[279] The meal was created in 1860 in the East End of London by a Jewish immigrant, Joseph Malin, who came up with the idea of combining fried fish with chips.[279] A blue plaque at Oldham's Tommyfield Market marks the 1860s origin of the fish and chip shop and fast food industries.[280] Various meat pies are consumed such as steak and kidney pie, shepherd's pie, cottage pie, Cornish pasty and pork pie. The last of these is consumed cold.

Traditional British cream tea (tea, scones, cream and jam). Tea is the most popular beverage in the UK.
Dunking a biscuit became a popular British custom in the Victorian era.[281] It features in the 2011 British comedy-drama film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

A quintessential British custom, afternoon tea, is a small meal typically eaten between 4 pm and 6 pm. The most popular drink in Britain, tea became more widely drunk due to Catherine of Braganza. It is traditionally accompanied with biscuits, sandwiches, scones, cakes or pastries (such as Battenberg cake, fruit cake or Victoria sponge). In his 1946 essay "A Nice Cup of Tea", author George Orwell wrote: "Tea is one of the mainstays of civilisation in this country."[282] McVitie's are the best selling biscuit brand in the UK, and the most popular biscuits to "dunk" in tea, with McVitie's chocolate digestives, rich tea and hobnobs ranked the nation's top three favourite biscuits.[283] Other popular British biscuits include bourbons, custard creams, Jammie Dodgers, ginger nuts and shortbread.[283] The first documented figure-shaped biscuits (gingerbread man) was at the court of Elizabeth I in the 16th century.[284]

The first English recipe for ice cream was published in Mrs. Mary Eales's Receipts in London in 1718, and arguably the earliest reference to an edible ice cream cone, "cornet with cream", appears in Agnes Marshall's 1888 cookbook.[285] The 18th-century English aristocrat John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich is best known for his links to the modern concept of the sandwich which was named after him. When he ordered his valet to bring him meat tucked between two pieces of bread, others began to order "the same as Sandwich!".[286] In the city of Leeds in 1767, Joseph Priestley made his "happiest" discovery when he invented carbonated water (also known as soda water), the major and defining component of most soft drinks.[287] Carbonated lemonade was available in British refreshment stalls in 1833, with R. White's Lemonade sold in 1845.

Cheddar cheese originates in the English village of Cheddar, Somerset. It is the UK's most popular cheese.[288]

Sausages are commonly eaten as bangers and mash, in sausage rolls or as toad in the hole. Lancashire hotpot is a well-known stew. Popular cheeses include Cheddar and Wensleydale. Sweet British dishes include scones, apple pie, mince pies, spotted dick, Eccles cakes, pancakes, sponge cake, trifle, jelly, custard, sticky toffee pudding, Tunnock's teacake, and Jaffa cakes; the best-selling cake in the UK. Marmalade is a popular British spread for toast or sandwich: a spread famous for its association with Paddington Bear, a beloved bear in UK culture that featured in the critically acclaimed films Paddington (2014) and Paddington 2 (2017).[289]

An award winning Victoria sponge from an English village fête. Competitive baking is part of the traditional village fête, inspiring The Great British Bake Off television series.

Home baking has always been a significant part of British home cooking. Influential cookbooks include The Experienced English Housekeeper (1769), Modern Cookery for Private Families (1845), and Isabella Beeton's Book of Household Management (1861). Home-made cakes and jams are part of the traditional English village fête. Filmed in bunting-draped marquees in scenic gardens, the success of the 2010s television show The Great British Bake Off (which was inspired by the village fête) is credited with spurring a renewed interest in home baking, with supermarkets and department stores in the UK reporting sharp rises in sales of baking ingredients and accessories. A popular cake to bake, Victoria sponge (named after Queen Victoria who enjoyed a slice), was created following the discovery of baking powder by English food manufacturer Alfred Bird in 1843, which enabled the sponge to rise higher in cakes.[290]

The hot cross bun is a popular British sweet bun traditionally eaten on Good Friday, but are now eaten all year round.[291] Treacle tart was created after the invention of Golden syrup by chemists working for Abram Lyle in 1885. With its logo and green-and-gold packaging having remained almost unchanged since then, Lyle's Golden Syrup was listed by Guinness World Records as having the world's oldest branding and packaging.[292] Scottish cuisine includes Arbroath Smokie and Haggis; Northern Irish cuisine features the Ulster fry and the Pastie and Welsh cuisine is noted for Welsh rarebit (often using Worcestershire sauce) and Cawl. Brown sauce is a traditional British condiment, with its best known variety HP Sauce (named after and featuring an image of the Houses of Parliament on the label) a popular spread on chicken and Bacon sandwiches. Scotland's Angus cattle is the UK's most popular native beef breed.[293] Cavendish bananas were cultivated by Sir Joseph Paxton in the greenhouses of Chatsworth House, Derbyshire in 1836.[294] Named after William Cavendish, they account for the vast majority of bananas consumed in the western world.[294]

A pub in Hertfordshire (Ye Olde Fighting Cocks). Pubs are a significant aspect of British culture. In many places, especially in villages, a pub is the focal point of the community.
The pub sign displayed outside The Robin Hood Inn, Rowland's Castle, Shropshire

The pub is an important aspect of British culture, and is often the focal point of local communities. Referred to as their "local" by regulars, pubs are typically chosen for their proximity to home or work, the availability of a particular beer or ale or a good selection, good food, a social atmosphere, the presence of friends and acquaintances, and the availability of pub games such as a darts or snooker. Pubs will often screen sports events, such as English Premier League and Scottish Premier League games (or for international tournaments, the FIFA World Cup). The pub quiz was established in the UK in the 1970s.

Old Bushmills Distillery, County Antrim, Northern Ireland. Founded in 1608, it is the oldest licensed whiskey distillery in the world.[295]

In 1393, Richard II introduced a law that pubs had to display a sign outdoors to make them easily visible for passing ale tasters who would assess the quality of ale sold.[296] Most pubs still have decorated signs hanging over their doors. The owner or tenant (licensee) is known as the pub landlord or publican, while barmaids are a common feature in pubs. Alcoholic drinks served in pubs include wines and English beers such as bitter, mild, stout, and brown ale. Whisky originated in Ireland and Scotland in the Middle Ages: Irish Whiskey and Scotch Whisky.[297]

A Christmas dinner plate in Scotland, featuring roast turkey, roast potatoes, mashed potatoes and brussels sprouts

On Christmas Day, goose was previously served at dinner; however since appearing on Christmas tables in England in the late 16th century, the turkey has become more popular, with Christmas pudding served for dessert.[298] The 16th-century English navigator William Strickland is credited with introducing the turkey into England, and 16th-century farmer Thomas Tusser noted that by 1573 turkeys were common in the English Christmas dinner.[299] This custom gave rise to the humorous English idiom, "like turkeys voting for Christmas".[300] The turkey is sometimes accompanied with roast beef or ham, and is served with stuffing, gravy, roast potatoes, mashed potatoes and vegetables. Invented in London in the 1840s, Christmas crackers are an integral part of Christmas celebrations, often pulled before or after dinner, or at parties.[301]

Chicken tikka masala, served atop rice. An Anglo-Indian meal, it is among the UK's most popular dishes.

Chinese restaurants and takeaways (in addition to Indian) are among the most popular ethnic food in the UK.[302] Chinese takeaways are a common sight in towns throughout the UK, and many serve a pseudo-Chinese cuisine based around western tastes (such as chicken fried rice, chips and curry sauce).[303]

A "99 Flake" (ice cream, cone and a Cadbury Flake), a popular UK dessert

The earliest recipe for the crisp ("potato chip" in North America) is in English food writer William Kitchiner's 1822 cookbook The Cook's Oracle.[304] In 1920, Frank Smith of The Smiths Potato Crisps Company Ltd packaged a twist of salt with his crisps in greaseproof paper bags, which were sold around London.[305] In the 1950s, Irish crisps company Tayto developed a technology to add seasoning during manufacture, producing the first seasoned crisps: Cheese & Onion and Salt & Vinegar.[306] The crisp market in the UK is dominated by Walkers, which holds 56 per cent of the market.

Fry's produced the first chocolate bar in 1847, which was then mass-produced as Fry's Chocolate Cream in 1866.[307]

The Quakers, founded by George Fox in 1650s England and described by the BBC as "natural capitalists", had a virtual monopoly in the British chocolate industry for much of the 19th and 20th centuries, led by Cadbury of Birmingham, Fry's of Bristol and Rowntree's and Terry's of York.[308] British chocolate bars; Cadbury Dairy Milk, Galaxy and Kit Kat, are the three best selling bars in the UK.[309] Cadbury Creme Eggs are the best selling confectionery item between New Year's Day and Easter in the UK, with annual sales in excess of 200 million. Created in Doncaster, Yorkshire, Butterscotch boiled sweets is one of the town's best known exports. A stick of rock (a hard cylindrical stick-shaped boiled sugar) is a traditional British seaside sweet, commonly sold at seaside resorts throughout the UK such as Brighton, Portrush and Blackpool. A "99 Flake" (commonly called a "99") which consists of ice cream in a cone with a Cadbury Flake inserted in it, is a hugely popular British dessert.[310]


The interior of an empty stadium as viewed from its upper tier of seating. The seats are a vivid red and the pitch is a vivid green. The pale grey sky is visible through an opening in the ceiling above the pitch.
Wembley Stadium, London, home of the England football team and FA Cup finals. Wembley also hosts music concerts: Adele's 28 June 2017 concert was attended by 98,000 fans, a stadium record for a UK music event.[311]

Most of the major sports have separate administrative structures and national teams for each of the countries of the United Kingdom. Though each country is also represented individually at the Commonwealth Games, there is a single 'Team GB' (for Great Britain) that represents the UK at the Olympic Games. With the rules and codes of many modern sports invented and codified in late 19th-century Victorian Britain, in 2012, IOC President Jacques Rogge stated; "This great, sports-loving country is widely recognized as the birthplace of modern sport. It was here that the concepts of sportsmanship and fair play were first codified into clear rules and regulations. It was here that sport was included as an educational tool in the school curriculum".[312][313]

The original hand-written 'Laws of the Game' drafted for and on behalf of The Football Association by Ebenezer Cobb Morley in 1863 on display at the National Football Museum, Manchester

Both in participation and watching, the most popular sport in the UK is association football.[314] The rules were first drafted in England in 1863 by Ebenezer Cobb Morley, and the UK has the oldest football clubs in the world.[315] England is recognised as the birthplace of club football by FIFA, with Sheffield F.C., founded in 1857, the world's oldest football club.[316] The home nations all have separate national teams and domestic competitions, most notably England's Premier League and FA Cup, and the Scottish Premiership and Scottish Cup. The top three Welsh football clubs feature in the English league system. The first ever international football match was between Scotland and England in 1872.[317] Referred to as the "home of football" by FIFA, England hosted the 1966 FIFA World Cup, and won the tournament.[318] The British television audience for the 1966 World Cup final peaked at 32.30 million viewers, making it the most watched television event ever in the UK.[85]

Queen Elizabeth II presenting the World Cup trophy to 1966 World Cup winning England captain Bobby Moore

The four home nations have produced some of the greatest players in the game's history, including, from England, Bobby Moore and Gordon Banks; from Northern Ireland, George Best and Pat Jennings; from Scotland, Kenny Dalglish and Jimmy Johnstone; and from Wales, Ian Rush and Ryan Giggs. The English Premier League (formed in 1992 by member clubs of the old Football League First Division) is the most-watched football league in the world,[319] and its biggest clubs include Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City. Scotland's Celtic and Rangers also have a global fanbase. Leicester City's 2016 Premier League title win is regarded among the greatest sporting upsets ever.

Early references to dribbling come from accounts of medieval football games in England. Geoffrey Chaucer offered an allusion to such ball skills in 14th-century England. In the Canterbury Tales he uses the following line: "rolleth under foot as doth a ball"

—Quote from Chaucer's 14th-century work, The Knight's Tale[320]

The best-placed teams in the domestic leagues of England and Scotland qualify for Europe's premier competition, the UEFA Champions League (European Cup). Previous winners from the UK are Liverpool, Manchester United, Nottingham Forest, Celtic, Chelsea and Aston Villa. The UEFA Champions League Anthem, written by English composer Tony Britten, is played before each game.[321] Henry Lyte's Christian hymn "Abide With Me" is sung prior to kick-off at every FA Cup Final, a tradition since 1927.

Sunday league football (a form of amateur football). Amateur matches often take place in public parks.

The practice of “jumpers for goalposts” alludes to street/park football in the UK where jumpers would be placed on the ground and used as goalposts. This practice was referenced by singer Ed Sheeran in his DVD Jumpers for Goalposts: Live at Wembley Stadium as a nod to playing concerts at Wembley Stadium, the home of English football.

Football in Britain is renowned for the intense rivalries between clubs and the passion of the supporters, which includes a tradition of football chants, such as, "You're Not Singing Any More" (or its variant "We Can See You Sneaking Out!"), sung by jubilant fans towards the opposition fans who have gone silent (or left early).[322] Many teams in the UK have their own club anthem or have a song closely associated with them, for example "Local Hero" by Dire Straits frontman and Newcastle United fan Mark Knopfler is played before the start of every Newcastle home game.[323] Throughout the UK, meat pies (as well as burgers and chips) is a traditional hot food eaten at football games either before kick-off or during half time. The Football Association dropped its ban on floodlights in 1950, and night games attracted increasingly large crowds of fans – some of them unruly—as well as large television audiences. Architects were challenged to build bigger stadia, and “their cantilevered constructions dwarfing mean streets, supplanted the cathedral as a symbol of the city's identity and aspirations.”[324]

The modern game of golf originated in Scotland, with the Fife town of St Andrews known internationally as the "home of golf".[325] and to many golfers the Old Course, an ancient links course dating to before 1574, is considered to be a site of pilgrimage.[326] In 1764, the standard 18 hole golf course was created at St Andrews when members modified the course from 22 to 18 holes.[327] Golf is documented as being played on Musselburgh Links, East Lothian, Scotland as early as 2 March 1672, which is certified as the oldest golf course in the world by Guinness World Records.[328] The oldest known rules of golf were compiled in March 1744 in Leith.[329] The oldest golf tournament in the world, and the first major championship in golf, The Open Championship, first took place in Ayrshire, Scotland in 1860, and today it is played on the weekend of the third Friday in July.[330] Golf's first superstar Harry Vardon, a member of the fabled Great Triumvirate who were pioneers of the modern game, won the Open a record six times. Since the 2010s, three Northern Irish golfers have had major success; Graeme McDowell, Darren Clarke and four time major winner Rory McIlroy.[331] The biennial golf competition, the Ryder Cup, is named after English businessman Samuel Ryder who sponsored the event and donated the trophy.[332] Sir Nick Faldo is the most successful Ryder Cup player ever, having won the most points (25) of any player on either the European or U.S. teams.[333]

In 1845, rugby union was created when the first rules were written by pupils at Rugby School, Warwickshire.[334] A former pupil of the school William Webb Ellis, is often fabled with the invention of running with the ball in hand in 1823. The first rugby international took place on 27 March 1871, played between England and Scotland.[335] By 1881 both Ireland and Wales had teams, and in 1883 the first international competition the annual Home Nations Championship took place. In 1888, the Home Nations combined to form what is today called the British and Irish Lions, who now tour every four years to face a Southern Hemisphere team. The Wales team of the 1970s, which included a backline consisting of Gareth Edwards, J. P. R. Williams and Phil Bennett who were known for their feints, sidesteps and attacking running rugby, are regarded as one of the greatest teams in the game — all three players were involved in The greatest try ever scored in 1973. Jonny Wilkinson scored the winning drop goal for England in the last minute of extra time in the 2003 Rugby World Cup Final. The major domestic club competitions are the Premiership in England and the Celtic League in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and (since 2010) Italy. Of Cornish origin, the chant “Oggy Oggy Oggy, Oi Oi Oi!” is associated with rugby union (and its personalised variant with football); it inspired the “Maggie Maggie Maggie, Out Out Out!" chant by opponents of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. In 1895, rugby League was created in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, as the result of a split with the other Rugby code. The Super League is the sports top-level club competition in Britain, and the sport is especially popular in towns in the northern English counties of Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cumbria. The Challenge Cup is the major rugby league cup competition.

Centre Court at Wimbledon. First played in 1877, the Wimbledon Championships is the oldest tennis tournament in the world.[336]
Andy Murray has won three Grand Slams, including Wimbledon twice, and is the only two time Olympic singles champion.

The modern game of tennis originated in Birmingham, England in the 1860s, and after its creation, tennis spread throughout the upper-class English-speaking population, before spreading around the world.[337] Major Walter Clopton Wingfield is credited as being a pioneer of the game.[338] The world's oldest tennis tournament, the Wimbledon championships, first occurred in 1877, and today the event takes place over two weeks in late June and early July.[336] Created in the Tudor period in the court of Henry VIII, the English dessert Strawberries and cream is synonymous with the British summer, and is famously consumed at Wimbledon. The tournament itself has a major place in the British cultural calendar. The eight-time Slam winner and Britain's most successful player Fred Perry is one of only seven men in history to have won all four Grand Slam events, which included three Wimbledons.[339] Virginia Wade won three Grand Slams, the most famous of which was Wimbledon in 1977, the year of the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II (the Queen attended Wimbledon for the first time since 1962 to watch the final). The 2013 and 2016 Wimbledon champion, Scotland's Andy Murray, is Britain's most recent Grand Slam winner.

Vanity Fair caricature of John Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry. The caption reads "A good light weight".
Cricketer W. G. Grace, with his long beard and MCC cap, was the most famous British sportsman in the Victorian era.

The 'Queensberry rules', the code of general rules in boxing, was named after John Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry in 1867, that formed the basis of modern boxing.[340] Britain's first heavyweight world champion Bob Fitzsimmons made boxing history as the sport's first three-division world champion. Some of the best contemporary British boxers included; super-middleweight champion Joe Calzaghe, featherweight champion Naseem Hamed, and heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis. Calzaghe's display against Jeff Lacy in 2006 prompted Lacy's trainer to state "I have never seen a better performance than that in the world."[341]

The modern game of cricket was created in England in the 1830s when round arm bowling was legalised, followed by the historical legalisation of overarm bowling in 1864.[342] In 1876–77, England took part in the first-ever Test match against Australia. Hugely influential to the development and popularity of the sport, W. G. Grace is regarded as one of the greatest cricket players of all time, devising most of the techniques of modern batting.[343] W. G. Grace's fame has endured and his large beard in particular remains familiar; for example, Monty Python and the Holy Grail uses his image as "the face of God" during the sequence in which God sends the knights out on their quest for the grail. The rivalry between England and Australia gave birth to The Ashes in 1882 that has remained Test cricket's most famous contest, and takes place every two years. The County Championship is the domestic competition in England and Wales.

1890 engraving of horses jumping the Becher's Brook fence in the Grand National. With Its treacherous fences combined with the distance (over 4 miles), the race has been called "the ultimate test of horse and rider".[344]

Originating in 17th and 18th-century England, the Thoroughbred is a horse breed best known for its use in horse racing. Horse racing was popular with the aristocrats and royalty of British society, earning it the title "Sport of Kings."[345] Named after Edward Smith-Stanley, 12th Earl of Derby, The Derby was first run in 1780. The race serves as the middle leg of the Triple Crown, preceded by the 2000 Guineas and followed by the St Leger. The name "Derby" has since become synonymous with great races all over the world, and as such has been borrowed many times in races abroad.[346]

The National Hunt horse race the Grand National, is held annually at Aintree Racecourse in early April. It is the most watched horse race in the UK, attracting casual observers, and three-time winner Red Rum is the most successful racehorse in the event's history. Red Rum is the best-known racehorse in the UK, named by 45% of Britons, with Black Beauty (from Anna Sewell's novel) in second with 33%.[347]

1924 Olympic 100 m champion Harold Abrahams (whose feats are depicted in the 1981 film Chariots of Fire) wearing J.W. Foster's pioneering running spikes

Bolton company J.W. Foster and Sons's pioneering running spikes appear in the book, Golden Kicks: The Shoes that changed Sport.[348] They were made famous by 1924 100 m Olympic champion Harold Abrahams who would be immortalised in Chariots of Fire, the British Oscar winning film.[348] Foster's grandsons formed the sportswear company Reebok in Bolton.[348]

The 1950 British Grand Prix was the first Formula One World Championship race. Since then, Britain has produced some of the greatest drivers in the sport, including Stirling Moss, Jim Clark (twice F1 champion), Graham Hill (only driver to have won the Triple Crown), John Surtees (only world champion in two and four wheels), Jackie Stewart (three time F1 champion), James Hunt, Nigel Mansell (only man to hold F1 and IndyCar titles at the same time) and Lewis Hamilton. The British Grand Prix is held at Silverstone every July.

Other major sporting events in the UK include the London Marathon, and The Boat Race on the River Thames. Cycling is a popular physical activity in the UK. In 1888, inventor Frank Bowden founded the Raleigh Bicycle Company, and by 1913, Raleigh was the biggest bicycle manufacturing company in the world. The Raleigh Chopper was named in the list of British design icons. In 1965 Tom Simpson became the first British world road race champion, and in 2012 Bradley Wiggins became the first British Tour de France winner. Chris Froome has subsequently won the Tour de France three times (2013, 2015 and 2016). Sprint specialist Mark Cavendish has won thirty Tour de France stages, putting him second on the all-time list.

Ice dancers Torvill and Dean in 2011. Their historic gold-medal-winning performance at the 1984 Winter Olympics was watched by a British television audience of more than 24 million people.[349]

In ice dancing, many of the compulsory moves were developed by dancers from the UK in the 1930s.[350] At the 1984 Winter Olympics, Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean won gold and became the highest scoring figure skaters (for a single programme) receiving twelve perfect 6.0s and six 5.9s which included artistic impression scores of 6.0 from every judge. At the 1988 Winter Olympics, ski jumper Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards gained fame as an underdog. Eddie was portrayed by Taron Egerton in the 2016 biographical sports comedy-drama film Eddie the Eagle.

Mo Farah is the most successful British track athlete in modern Olympic Games history, winning the 5000 m and 10,000 m events at two Olympic Games.

A great number of major sports originated in the United Kingdom, including association football, golf, tennis, boxing, rugby league, rugby union, cricket, field hockey, snooker, darts, billiards, squash, curling and badminton, all of which are popular in Britain. Another sport invented in the UK was baseball,[351] and its early form rounders is popular among children in Britain.[352] Snooker and darts are popular indoor games: Stephen Hendry is the seven time world snooker champion, Phil Taylor is the 16 time world darts champion. Snooker player Alex Higgins (nicknamed The Hurricane) and darts player Eric Bristow (nicknamed The Crafty Cockney) are credited with popularising each sport.

Known for his bending free-kicks and range of passing, David Beckham was voted BBC Sports Personality of the Year by the public in 2001
Mural of George Best in his home city Belfast. Known for his feints while dribbling, Best was on the six man short list for BBC Sports Personality of the Century

Bodybuilder Reg Park was Mr Britain in 1946 and became Mr Universe in 1951, 1958 and 1965.[353] Gaelic football is very popular in Northern Ireland, with many teams from the north winning the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship since the early 2000s. William Penny Brookes was prominent in organising the format for the modern Olympic Games, and In 1994, then IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch laid a wreath on Brooke's grave, and said, "I came to pay homage and tribute to Dr Brookes, who really was the founder of the modern Olympic Games".[354]

Participation in women's team sport (in addition to profile in the media) has seen a rapid increase in recent years. Popular women's team sports include Netball Superleague formed in 2005, the FA WSL (women's football) formed in 2010 (Kelly Smith is seen as a leading figure in the game), Women's Six Nations Championship in rugby union, and Women's Cricket Super League.

The Highland games are held throughout the year in Scotland as a way of celebrating Scottish and Celtic culture and heritage, especially that of the Scottish Highlands, with more than 60 games taking place across the country every year. Each December, the BBC Sports Personality of the Year is announced, as voted for by the British public.[355]

System of measurement, roads

Yard, foot and inch measurements at the Royal Observatory, London. The British public commonly measure distance in miles and yards, height in feet and inches, weight in stone and pounds, speed in miles per hour.

The use of the British imperial system of measure, particularly among the public, is widespread in the United Kingdom and is in many cases permitted by the law.[356] Distance, height, weight and speed are the most common examples of such usage. An example of giving one's body weight would be: 11 and a half stone, or 11 stone and 7 pounds.[357] Body height is usually given in feet and inches.[358]

A zebra crossing in Abbey Road, London. This same crossing was featured on the cover of the album Abbey Road by The Beatles.
The Gravelly Hill Interchange in Birmingham, England - the original "Spaghetti Junction". It is the most famous road junction in the UK.

Distances shown on road signs must be in yards and miles, while miles per hour appear on speed limit signs and car speedometers.[359] Imperial units (such as pounds and ounces) are legally permitted on UK goods after the European Commission announced in 2007 that it was to abandon the requirement for metric-only labelling on packaged goods in the UK and to allow dual metric–imperial marking to continue indefinitely.[360]

Drivers in Britain drive on the left. Research shows that countries driving on the left have a lower collision rates than those that drive on the right, and it has been suggested that this is partly because the predominantly better-performing right eye is used to monitor oncoming traffic and the driver's wing mirror.[361] The name of the zebra crossing is attributed to British MP and subsequent Prime Minister, James Callaghan, who in 1948 visited the Transport Research Laboratory which was working on a new idea for safe pedestrian crossings. On being shown a design he is said to have remarked that it resembled a zebra.[362] Located in Birmingham, the Gravelly Hill Interchange's colloquial name "Spaghetti Junction" was coined by journalists from the Birmingham Evening Mail on 1 June 1965. In 1971, the Green Cross Code was introduced to teach children safer road crossing habits. From 1987, Mungo Jerry's song "In the Summertime" featured in drink driving adverts. The building of roundabouts (circular junctions) grew rapidly in the 1960s; there are now more than 10,000 in the UK [363] The Cat's eye retroreflective safety device used in road marking was invented by Percy Shaw in 1933.

The mini became an icon of 1960s British popular culture, and featured in the 1969 caper film The Italian Job.

The UK has had a long history of car making. Some of the best known British brands are Rolls Royce, Bentley, Aston Martin, Jaguar, Land Rover and the Mini. Rolls-Royce was founded by Charles Stewart Rolls and Sir Frederick Henry Royce in 1906. In addition to the company's reputation for superior engineering quality in its cars, Rolls-Royce Limited was known for manufacturing the high-powered "R" engines, including the iconic Rolls-Royce Merlin aero engine which was used for many World War II aircraft.[364] Bentley Motors Limited was founded by W. O. Bentley in 1919 in Cricklewood, North London, and, like Rolls Royce, is regarded as a British luxury automobile icon. Aston Martin was founded in 1913 by Lionel Martin and Robert Bamford, and became associated with luxury grand touring cars in the 1950s and 1960s, and with the fictional British spy James Bond. Jaguar was founded in 1922. The Jaguar E-Type sports car was released in 1961; Enzo Ferrari called it "the most beautiful car ever made".[365] Jaguar has, in recent years, manufactured cars for the British Prime Minister. The company also holds royal warrants from Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles. The Land Rover launched in 1948 and specialises in four-wheel-drive. Many models have been developed for the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD). The Mini was released by the British Motor Corporation in 1959 and became a 1960s cultural icon. The performance versions, the Mini Cooper, was a successful rally car. The distinctive two-door Mini was designed for BMC by Sir Alec Issigonis. It has been named Britain's favourite car in a poll.[366]

Sea, rail transport to continental Europe
White cliffs of Dover in south east England. The cliffs have great symbolic value in the UK because they face towards continental Europe (21 miles away) across the narrowest part of the English Channel, where invasions have historically threatened and against which the cliffs form a symbolic guard
White cliffs of Dover in the distance seen from Cap Gris Nez, France

Before air travel, boats were the only way to travel from the UK to the European mainland (continental Europe). The shortest route (21 miles or 34 km) is from Dover in England to Calais in France. The White Cliffs of Dover are at one end of the Kent Downs designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The cliff face goes up to 350 feet and the cliffs stretch for 8 miles of coastline. The National Trust calls the cliffs "an icon of Britain", with "the white chalk face a symbol of home and war time defence."[367] The white line of cliffs was thus the first or last sight of Britain for travellers. In World War II, thousands of allied troops on the little ships in the Dunkirk evacuation saw the welcoming sight of the cliffs.[368]

The Port of Dover is the world's busiest passenger port, with 16 million travellers, 2.1 million lorries, 2.8 million cars and motorcycles and 86,000 coaches passing through it each year.[369] P&O Ferries is the UK's largest ferry operator at Dover. Built in 1994, the Channel Tunnel is a rail tunnel linking Folkestone, Kent, in England with Coquelles in northern France, beneath the English Channel at the Strait of Dover. The rail tunnel stretches for 31 miles (50 km), and at its lowest point the tunnel is 250 feet (about 76 metres) under the sea. The tunnel carries high-speed Eurostar passenger trains, the Eurotunnel Shuttle for road vehicles—the largest such transport in the world—and freight trains.


The founder of modern nursing Florence Nightingale tending to a patient in 1855. An icon of Victorian Britain, she is known as The Lady with the Lamp.

Each of the four countries of the UK has a publicly funded health care system referred to as the National Health Service (NHS). The terms "National Health Service" or "NHS" are also used to refer to the four systems collectively. All of the services were founded in 1948, based on legislation passed by the Labour Government that had been elected in 1945 with a manifesto commitment to implement the Beveridge Report recommendation to create "comprehensive health and rehabilitation services for prevention and cure of disease".[370]

The British Heart Foundation, which actress Kate Beckinsale (pictured) has supported, is the biggest funder of cardiovascular research in the UK.

The NHS was born out of a long-held ideal that good healthcare should be available to all, regardless of wealth. At its launch by the then minister of health, Aneurin Bevan, on 5 July 1948, it had at its heart three core principles: That it meet the needs of everyone, that it be free at the point of delivery, and that it be based on clinical need, not ability to pay.[371] The NHS had a prominent slot during the 2012 London Summer Olympics opening ceremony directed by Danny Boyle, being described as "the institution which more than any other unites our nation", according to the programme.[372] Cancer Research UK, Alzheimer's Research UK and Together for Short Lives are among hundreds of health charities in the UK.

Florence Nightingale laid the foundation of modern nursing with the establishment of her nursing school at St Thomas' Hospital in London. It was the first secular nursing school in the world, now part of King's College London. Nightingale wrote Notes on Nursing in 1859. The book served as the cornerstone of the curriculum at the Nightingale School and other nursing schools.[373] The Nightingale Pledge is taken by new nurses, and the annual International Nurses Day (12 May) is celebrated around the world on her birthday. Her social reforms improved healthcare for all sections of society in the UK and around the world.[374]


One of Britain's oldest indigenous breeds, the Bulldog is known as the national dog of Great Britain.[375]

The top five pets in the UK for 2010, starting with the most numerous, are:[376]

  • Fish: over 40 million (indoor and outdoor)
  • Cats: around 8 million
  • Dogs: around 8 million
  • Rabbits: around 1 million
  • Birds: around 1 million (indoor).

Founded in 1824, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) is the oldest and largest animal welfare organisation in the world.[377]

The British Shorthair was an inspiration for the Cheshire Cat in Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland.

The British Shorthair cat is the most popular pedigreed breed in its native country, as registered by the UK's Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF). The breed's broad cheeks and relatively calm temperament make it a frequent media star. The cat's profile reads: "When gracelessness is observed, the British Shorthair is duly embarrassed, quickly recovering with a 'Cheshire cat smile'”.[378] There are almost 1 million horses and ponies in the UK, with popular native breeds including Clydesdale horse (used as drum horses by the British Household Cavalry), Thoroughbred (used in horse racing), Cleveland Bay (pull carriages in royal processions), Highland pony and Shetland pony.

The UK's indigenous dog breeds include Bulldog, Jack Russell Terrier, Golden Retriever, Yorkshire Terrier, Airedale Terrier, Beagle, Border Collie, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, English Cocker Spaniel, Scottish Terrier, Welsh Corgi, Bullmastiff, Greyhound, English Springer Spaniel and Old English Sheepdog.

The Kennel Club, with its headquarters in London, is the oldest kennel club in the world, and acts as a lobby group on issues involving dogs in the UK. Its main objectives are to promote the general improvement of dogs and responsible dog ownership.[379] Held since 1891, Crufts is an annual dog show in the UK. The event takes place over four days in early March. In 1928, the very first winner of Best in Show at Crufts was Primley Sceptre, a greyhound.

National costume and dress

Highland dancing in traditional Gaelic dress with its tartan pattern
The Royal Stewart tartan. It is also the personal tartan of Queen Elizabeth II Tartan is used in clothing, such as skirts and scarves, and has also appeared on tins of Scottish shortbread.[380]

As a multi-national state, the UK has no single national costume. However, different countries within the United Kingdom have national costumes or at least are associated with styles of dress. Scotland has the kilt and Tam o'shanter, and tartan clothing – pattern consisting of criss-crossed horizontal and vertical bands in multiple colours – is a notable aspect of Gaelic culture.[381] A traditional Welsh costume with Welsh hat is worn by some women during Eisteddfodau. In England, the topic of a national costume has been in debate, since no officially recognized clothing is anointed "national". However, the closest to a national costume can be the smock or smock-frock. English Country Clothing is also very popular among rural folk, flat caps and brogue shoes also forming part of the country clothing.[382]

Certain military uniforms such as the Beefeater or the Queen's Guard are considered to be symbolic of Englishness. Morris dancers or the costumes for the traditional English May dance are sometimes cited as examples of traditional English costume, but are only worn by participants in those events. Designed in 1849 by the London hat-makers Thomas and William Bowler, the Bowler hat is arguably the most iconic stereotyped view of an Englishman (complete with Bowler and rolled umbrella), and was commonly associated with City of London businessmen. Traced back to the north of England in the 14th century, the flat cap is associated with the working classes in the UK.[382] The flat cap has seen a 21st-century resurgence in popularity, possibly influenced by various British public figures wearing them, including David Beckham, Harry Styles and Guy Ritchie, with clothing sellers Marks & Spencer reporting that flat cap sales significantly increased in the 2010s.[383] In 1856 William Henry Perkin discovered the first synthetic dye (Mauveine – a purple colour), which was suitable as a dye of silk and other textiles, helping to revolutionise the world of fashion.[384]

Burberry is most famous for creating the trench coat: they were worn by British soldiers in the trenches in World War I.[385] Among various British youth subcultures, Dr. Martens boots (often referred to as DMs) have been the choice of footwear: in the 1960s skinheads started to wear them, and they later became popular among scooter riders, punks, and some new wave musicians. Male mods adopted a sophisticated look that included tailor-made suits, thin ties, button-down collar shirts, Chelsea boots and Clarks desert boots.[386]

Queen Victoria in her white wedding dress with Prince Albert on their return from the marriage service at St James's Palace, London, 10 February 1840

British sensibilities have played an influential role in world clothing since the 18th century. Particularly during the Victorian era, British fashions defined acceptable dress for men of business. Key figures such as the future Edward VII, Edward VIII, and Beau Brummell, created the modern suit and cemented its dominance. Brummell is credited with introducing and establishing as fashion the modern man's suit, worn with a tie.[387] The use of a coloured and patterned tie (a common feature in British school uniforms) indicating the wearer's membership in a club, regiment, school, professional association etc. stems from the 1880 oarsmen of Exeter College, Oxford, who tied the bands of their straw hats around their necks.[388] The Wellington boot (first worn by Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington) became a staple for outdoor wear.

The tradition of a white wedding is commonly credited to Queen Victoria's choice to wear a white wedding dress at her wedding to Prince Albert in 1840, at a time when white was associated with purity and conspicuous consumption (because it was difficult to keep clean, and thus could not be worn by servants or labourers), and when it was the colour required of girls being presented to the royal court.[389][390] The 1981 wedding dress of Lady Diana Spencer became one of the most famous dresses in the world, and was considered one of the most closely guarded secrets in fashion history.[391]


Naomi Campbell appeared on the era-defining January 1990 cover of British Vogue.

London, as one of the world's four fashion capitals, is host to the London Fashion Week – one of the 'Big Four' fashion weeks.[392] Organised by the British Fashion Council, the event takes place twice each year, in February and September. The current venue for most of the "on-schedule" events is Somerset House in central London, where a large marquee in the central courtyard hosts a series of catwalk shows by top designers and fashion houses, while an exhibition, housed within Somerset House itself, showcases over 150 designers. However, many "off-schedule" events, such as OnOff and Vauxhall Fashion Scout, are organised independently and take place at other venues in central London.

British spy Austin Powers' "Shaguar" (1961 Jaguar E-Type). The character in the films spoofs the Swinging London fashion scene of the 1960s.

British designers whose collections have been showcased at the fashion week include Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen, John Galliano and Stella McCartney. British models who have featured at the event include Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, Jade Jagger, David Gandy, Cara Delevingne and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. For almost two decades, Princess Diana was a fashion icon whose style was emulated by women around the world.[393]

Fashion designer Mary Quant was at the heart of the "Swinging London" scene of the 1960s, and her work culminated in the creation of the miniskirt and hot pants.[394] Quant named the miniskirt after her favourite make of car, the Mini.[395] The Swinging London fashion scene has featured in films, and was spoofed in the Austin Powers comedy series.[396] The English fashion designer Charles Frederick Worth is widely considered the father of Haute couture.[397]

Symbols, flags, and emblems

Union Jacks being flown on The Mall, London looking towards Buckingham Palace

The Union Flag is the national flag of the United Kingdom. Its red, white and blue colours are the combination of the red cross of Saint George for England, the saltire of Saint Andrew for Scotland, and the red saltire of Saint Patrick to represent Ireland.[398] Wales has never been represented on the Union Jack, with the Welsh flag incorporating the Red Dragon of Cadwaladr, King of Gwynedd, along with the Tudor colours of green and white.[399]

The patron saint of Ireland (St Patrick), England (St George), Wales (St David), and Scotland (St Andrew), are celebrated annually; Saint David's Day on 1 March, Saint Patrick's Day on 17 March, St George's Day on 23 April, and St. Andrew's Day on 30 November.[400]

In 1198, King Richard the Lionheart introduced royal arms, depicting "three lions"; they remain the coat of arms of England to this day.[401] The coat of arms of Scotland feature a "red rampant lion" situated within a red double border decorated with fleurs-de-lis (known as the royal tressure). The coat of arms of Ireland features a gold harp with silver strings on a blue background, which dates from the 13th century. When the crowns of England, Scotland and Ireland were united in 1603, they were integrated into the unified royal coat of arms

The Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red artwork at the Tower of London in 2014, commemorating the centenary of the start of World War One. 888,246 ceramic poppies symbolise the British and Commonwealth lives lost in the war.[402]

Each of the four countries of the UK has a traditional floral emblem. The red rose is the national flower of England, and its use dates from the reign of Henry VII who chose a red rose, representing Lancaster, and a white rose, representing York. As a result, the English civil wars in the 15th century came to be called the Wars of the Roses. The national flower of Scotland is the thistle, of Northern Ireland is the flax flower and the shamrock, and of Wales is the daffodil and leek. The Union rose, shamrock and thistle are engrafted on the same stem on the coat of arms of the United Kingdom.[403]

Elton John wearing his remembrance poppy in 2015 commemorating those who have died while serving in the British Armed Forces

The remembrance poppy has been used in Britain since 1921 to commemorate soldiers who have died in war. In the weeks leading up to Remembrance Sunday they are distributed by The Royal British Legion in return for donations to their "Poppy Appeal", which supports all current and former British military personnel. The poppies are widespread in the UK from late October until mid-November every year and are worn by the general public, politicians, the Royal Family and others in public life. It has also become common to see poppies on cars, lorries and public transport such as aeroplanes, buses, and trams, while magazines and newspapers also show a poppy on their cover page.[404]

The Tomb of the Unknown Warrior is an unidentified British soldier killed on a European battlefield during World War I, who was buried in Westminster Abbey, London on 11 November 1920. The idea of a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was first conceived in 1916 by the Reverend David Railton, who, while serving as a British Army chaplain on the Western Front, had seen a grave marked by a rough cross, which bore the pencil-written legend 'An Unknown British Soldier'.[405] He proposed that an unidentified British soldier be buried with due ceremony in Westminster Abbey "amongst the kings" to represent the many hundreds of thousands of Empire dead. The idea was strongly supported by the Dean of Westminster and the British Prime Minister David Lloyd George.[405]

Traditional communication and greeting cards

The red telephone box and Royal Mail red post box appear throughout the UK.

A familiar sight throughout the UK, the red telephone box and Royal Mail red post box are considered British cultural icons. Designed by Sir Giles Gilbert in 1924, the red telephone box features a prominent crown representing the British government. The post pillar box was introduced in the 1850s during the reign of Queen Victoria following Sir Rowland Hill's postal reforms in the 1830s where the reduction in postal rates with the invention of the postage stamp (Penny Black) made sending post an affordable means of personal communication.[218] The red telephone box has appeared in British pop culture, such as in Adele's video "Hello", the front cover of One Direction's album Take Me Home, and the back cover of David Bowie's album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.[406]

The first commercially produced Christmas card, designed by John Callcott Horsley for Henry Cole in 1843
The robin often appears on Christmas cards in the UK.

The world's first postcard was received by Theodore Hook from Fulham, London in 1840.[407] The first pillar boxes had the distinctive Imperial cypher of Victoria Regina. Most pillar boxes produced after 1905 are made of cast iron and are cylindrical, and have served well throughout the reigns of George V, Edward VIII, George VI and Elizabeth II.[408]

The sending and receiving of greeting cards is an established tradition in the UK, with card sending or card display in the home being an important part of British culture.[409]

Sir Henry Cole devised the concept of sending greetings cards at Christmas time.[410] Designed by John Callcott Horsley for Cole in 1843, the Christmas card accounts for almost half of the volume of greeting card sales in the UK, with over 600 million cards sold annually.[409] The robin is a common sight in gardens throughout the UK. It is relatively tame and drawn to human activities, and is frequently voted Britain's national bird in polls.[411] The robin began featuring on many Christmas cards in the mid-19th century. The association with Christmas arises from postmen in Victorian Britain who wore red jackets and were nicknamed "Robins"; the robin featured on the Christmas card is an emblem of the postman delivering the card.[412]

An English Victorian era Valentine card located in the Museum of London

Sending Valentine's Day cards became hugely popular in Britain in the late 18th century, a practice which has since spread to other nations.[413] The day first became associated with romantic love within the circle of Geoffrey Chaucer in the 14th century, when the tradition of courtly love flourished.[414] In Chaucer's Parlement of Foules (1382) he wrote; For this was on seynt Volantynys day. When euery bryd comets there to chese his make.[414] The modern cliché Valentine's Day poem can be found in the 1784 English nursery rhyme Roses Are Red; "The rose is red, the violet's blue. 'The honey's sweet, and so are you. Thou art my love and I am thine. I drew thee to my Valentine."[415]

In 1797, a British publisher issued The Young Man's Valentine Writer which contained scores of suggested sentimental verses for the young lover unable to compose his own. In 1835, 60,000 Valentine cards were sent by post in the UK, despite postage being expensive.[416] A reduction in postal rates (with the 1840 invention of the postage stamp, the Penny Black) increased the practice of mailing Valentines, with 400,000 sent in 1841.[417] In the UK just under half the population spend money on gifts.[418] Other popular occasions for sending greeting cards in the UK are birthdays, Mother's Day, Easter and Father's Day.[410]


Each country of the United Kingdom has a separate education system. Power over education matters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is devolved but education in England is dealt with by the UK government since there is no devolved administration for England.

King Alfred the Great statue in Winchester, Hampshire. The 9th-century English king encouraged education in his kingdom, and proposed that primary education be taught in English, with those wishing to advance to holy orders to continue their studies in Latin.

Most schools came under state control in the Victorian era; a formal state school system was instituted after the Second World War. Initially, schools were categorised as infant schools, primary schools and secondary schools (split into more academic grammar schools and more vocational secondary modern schools). Under the Labour governments of the 1960s and 1970s most secondary modern and grammar schools were combined to become comprehensive schools. England has many independent (fee-paying) schools, some founded hundreds of years ago; independent secondary schools are known as public schools. Eton, Harrow, Shrewsbury and Rugby are four of the best-known. Most primary and secondary schools in both the private and state sectors have compulsory school uniforms. Allowances are almost invariably made, however, to accommodate religious dress, including the Islamic hijab and Sikh bangle (kara).

The Oxford Union debate chamber. Called the "world's most prestigious debating society", the Oxford Union has hosted leaders and celebrities.[419]

Although the Minister of Education is responsible to Parliament for education, the day-to-day administration and funding of state schools is the responsibility of local education authorities.

England's universities include some of the highest-ranked universities in the world: the University of Cambridge, Imperial College London, the University of Oxford and University College London are all ranked in the global top 10 in the 2010 QS World University Rankings. The London School of Economics has been described as the world's leading social science institution for both teaching and research.[420] The London Business School is considered one of the world's leading business schools and in 2010 its MBA programme was ranked best in the world by the Financial Times.[421] Academic degrees in England are usually split into classes: first class (I), upper second class (II:1), lower second class (II:2) and third (III), and unclassified (below third class).

Northern Ireland

The Northern Ireland Assembly is responsible for education in Northern Ireland. Schools are administered by five Education and Library Boards covering different geographical areas.


Scotland has a long history of universal provision of public education which, traditionally, has emphasised breadth across a range of subjects rather than depth of education in a smaller range of subjects. The majority of schools are non-denominational, but by law separate Roman Catholic schools, with an element of control by the Roman Catholic Church, are provided by the state system. Qualifications at the secondary school and post-secondary (further education) levels are provided by the Scottish Qualifications Authority and delivered through various schools, colleges and other centres. Political responsibility for education at all levels is vested in the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Executive Education and Enterprise, Transport & Lifelong Learning Departments. State schools are owned and operated by the local authorities which act as Education Authorities, and the compulsory phase is divided into primary school and secondary school (often called high school, with the world's oldest high school being the Royal High School, Edinburgh in 1505,[422] which colonists spread to the New World owing to the high prestige enjoyed by the Scottish educational system). Schools are supported in delivering the National Guidelines and National Priorities by Learning and Teaching Scotland.

First degree courses at Scottish universities are often a year longer than elsewhere in the UK, though sometimes students can take a more advanced entrance exam and join the courses in the second year. One unique aspect is that the ancient universities of Scotland award a Master of Arts degree as the first degree in humanities. The University of Edinburgh is among the top twenty universities in the world according to the QS World University Rankings 2011. It is also among the Ancient Universities of Great Britain.

Scouts, Brownies, and Cubs with the local community in Tiverton, Devon on Remembrance Sunday

The National Assembly for Wales has responsibility for education in Wales. A significant number of students in Wales are educated either wholly or largely through the medium of the Welsh language, and lessons in the language are compulsory for all until the age of 16. There are plans to increase the provision of Welsh medium education as part of the policy of promoting a fully bilingual Wales.

Outdoor education

Scouting is the largest co-educational youth movement in the UK.[423] Scouting began in 1907 when Robert Baden-Powell, Lieutenant General in the British Army, held the first Scout camp at Brownsea Island in Dorset, England.[424] Baden-Powell wrote the principles of Scouting in Scouting for Boys in 1908.[425] In July 2009, adventurer Bear Grylls became the youngest Chief Scout ever, aged 35. In 2010, scouting in the UK experienced its biggest growth since 1972, taking total membership to almost 500,000.[423]

Sociological issues


Terraced houses are typical in inner cities and places of high population density.

The UK (England in particular) has one of the highest population densities in the world.[426] So housing tends to be more closely packed than in other countries. Thus terraced houses are widespread, dating back to the aftermath of the Great Fire of London.[427]

As the first industrialised country in the world, the UK has long been urbanised.[428] In the 20th century, suburbanisation led to a spread of semi-detached and detached housing. After the Second World War, public housing was dramatically expanded to create a large number of council estates. There are many historic country houses and stately homes in rural areas, though only a minority of these are still used as private living accommodation.

In recent times, more detached housing has started to be built. Also, city living has boomed, with city centre populations rising rapidly. Most of this population growth has been accommodated in new apartment blocks in residential schemes in many towns and cities. Demographic changes (see below) are putting great pressure on the housing market, especially in London and the South East.

Living arrangements

Typical 20th-century, three-bedroom semi-detached houses in England

Historically most people in the United Kingdom lived either in conjugal extended families or nuclear families. This reflected an economic landscape where the general populace tended to have less spending power, meaning that it was more practical to stick together rather than go their individual ways. This pattern also reflected gender roles. Men were expected to go out to work and women were expected to stay at home and look after the families.

A 21st-century detached Mock Tudor house in Scotland. Its timber framing is typical of English Tudor architecture.

In the 20th century the emancipation of women, the greater freedoms enjoyed by both men and women in the years following the Second World War, greater affluence and easier divorce have changed gender roles and living arrangements significantly. The general trend is a rise in single people living alone, the virtual extinction of the extended family (outside certain ethnic minority communities), and the nuclear family arguably reducing in prominence.

From the 1990s, the break-up of the traditional family unit, when combined with low interest rates and other demographic changes, has created great pressure on the housing market, in particular on accommodation for "key workers" such as nurses, other emergency service workers and teachers, who are priced out of most housing, especially in the South East. Some research indicates that in the 21st century young people are tending to continue to live in the parental home for much longer than their predecessors.[429] The high cost of living, combined with rising costs of accommodation, further education and higher education means that many young people cannot afford to live independently from their families.


A lover of British culture is known as an Anglophile.[430]

Naming conventions

The common naming convention throughout the United Kingdom is for everyone to have one or more given names (a forename, still often referred to as a "Christian name") usually (but not always) indicating the child's sex, and a surname ("family name").[431] A four-year study by the University of the West of England, which concluded in 2016, analysed sources dating from the 11th to the 19th centuries to explain the origins of the surnames in the British Isles.[432] The study found that over 90% of the 45,602 surnames in the dictionary are native to the British Isles; the most common in the UK are Smith, Jones, Williams, Brown, Taylor, Johnson, and Lee.[432] Since the 19th century middle names (additional forenames) have become very common and are sometimes taken from the name of a family member.

Most surnames of British origin fall into seven categories:[433]

Virginia: usage as a girl's name was inspired by Elizabeth I, the "Virgin Queen".
Jennifer is a Cornish form of Guinevere (Gwenhwyfar) pictured.
The name Jessica first appears in Shakespeare's 1590s play The Merchant of Venice

Traditionally, Christian names were those of Biblical figures or recognised saints; however, in the Gothic Revival of the Victorian era, other Anglo Saxon and mythical names enjoyed something of a fashion among the literati. Since the 20th century, however, first names have been influenced by a much wider cultural base.

First names from the British Isles include Jennifer, a Cornish form of Guinevere (Welsh: Gwenhwyfar) from Arthurian romance, which gained recognition after George Bernard Shaw used it for the main female character in his play The Doctor's Dilemma (1906): Jennifer first entered the top 100 most commonly used names for baby girls in England and Wales in 1934.[435] The oldest written record of the name Jessica is in Shakespeare's play The Merchant of Venice, where it belongs to the daughter of Shylock. Jessica is the seventh most popular name for baby girls in England and Wales in 2015.[436] First appearing in 13th century England, Olivia was popularised by Shakespeare's character in the Twelfth Night (1602). Vanessa was created by Jonathan Swift in his poem Cadenus and Vanessa (1713). While it first appeared in late 16th century England, Pamela was popularised after Samuel Richardson named it as the title for his 1740 novel.

See also:

See also


  1. ^ English is established by de facto usage. In Wales, the Bwrdd yr Iaith Gymraeg is legally tasked with ensuring that "in the conduct of public business and the administration of justice, the English and Welsh languages should be treated on a basis of equality".Welsh Language Act 1993, Office of Public Sector Information, retrieved 3 September 2007  Bòrd na Gàidhlig is tasked with "securing the status of the Gaelic language as an official language of Scotland commanding equal respect to the English language" Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005, Office of Public Sector Information, archived from the original on 1 February 2010, retrieved 9 March 2007 
  2. ^ Under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages the Welsh, Scottish Gaelic, Cornish, Irish, Ulster Scots and Scots languages are officially recognised as Regional or Minority languages by the UK Government (European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, Scottish Executive, archived from the original on 1 February 2010, retrieved 23 August 2007 ) See also Languages of the United Kingdom.


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