Culture of the United Kingdom

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The Proms is an eight-week summer season of daily classical music concerts, culminating with a final night of traditional patriotic music.
A street party at a primary school in Lancashire, England, on the occasion of the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton

The United Kingdom's culture is influenced by its history as a developed state, a liberal democracy and a great power; its predominantly Christian religious life; and its composition of four countriesEngland, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland—each of which has distinct customs, cultures and symbolism.

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, including football, originated in the country. 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, the Republic of Ireland, New Zealand, the United States and other English speaking 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.[10]


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.[11][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.[12] The Cornish language is a revived language that became extinct as a first language in Cornwall in the late 18th century; Henry Jenner is the chief originator of the early 20th century Cornish language revival.[13]

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[edit]

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.[14]

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.[15] 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).[16] 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).[17] Ant & Dec are also notable television presenters with Geordie accents.

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.[18] Well-known exponents include actor/producer Stephen Merchant, musician Tricky, and journalist/writer Julie Burchill. 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.[19] 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.[20]



William Shakespeare is often called the national poet of England.[21]

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.[22]

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.[23]

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.[24]

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".[25]

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.[26] More than 75% of the British public read at least one book annually.[27]

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 over thirty Mary Poppinses descend with umbrellas to fight and defeat the villains Queen of Hearts, Captain Hook, Cruella de Vil and Lord Voldemort.[28]

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.[29]


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

From its formation in 1707, the United Kingdom has had a vibrant tradition of theatre, much of it inherited from England, Scotland and Wales. The 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.[30]

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.[31]

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).

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

In 1847, a critic using the pseudonym "Dramaticus" published a pamphlet[32] 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.[33]

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.[34] 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.[35]

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".[35] 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.[36]

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.[37] 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".[38] 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.[39]


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 best-known 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.[40]

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 known to have existed at least as early as the mid-15th century.[41]

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.[42] 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.[43] The first English collections, Tommy Thumb's Song Book and a sequel, Tommy Thumb's Pretty Song Book, were published before 1744.[44] 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.[45] 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".[46] 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.[47] 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".[48]

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.[49]

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.[50][51]

The Beatles are the most commercially successful and critically acclaimed band in popular music, with estimated sales of over one billion.[52]

The Brit Awards, the BPI's annual pop music awards, take place at the O2 Arena in London every February.[53] 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, Mumford & Sons; 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 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.[54]

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 early-2000s, British hip hop and grime has become 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, Jessie J and Ella Mai.


English actor Sir Charlie Chaplin was described by the British Film Institute as "a towering figure in world culture."[55]

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.[56] The world's first colour motion picture was shot by Edward Raymond Turner in 1902.[57] Eadweard Muybridge was another notable English pioneer of motion picture,[58] while pioneering Scottish documentary maker John Grierson coined the term "documentary" to describe a non-fiction film in 1926.[59]

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."[60]

Ranked by many as the best British filmmaker,[61] 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.[62] 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.[63] 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.[64]

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.[65]

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.[66] 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.[67] 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.

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.[68]

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.[69] 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."[68] 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".[70] 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'.[71]

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.[72]

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.[73]

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".[74] 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.[75]

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.[76] 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.[77]

The five most commercially successful British directors in recent years are David Yates, Christopher Nolan, Mike Newell, Ridley Scott and Paul Greengrass.[78] 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. Sir Anthony Hopkins is an alumnus.

British actors and actresses have always been significant in international cinema. Well-known currently active performers include Tom Hardy, Jude Law, Daniel Craig, Kate Winslet, 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, Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, John Boyega, Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters, Letitia Wright, Andrew Garfield, 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, Olivia Colman, 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.[79]


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.[80] The British Film Institute's list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes in 2000 was voted by industry insiders.[81] In 2004 the BBC conducted a poll to find Britain's Best Sitcom.[82] The British public voted for TV's 50 Greatest Stars in 2006.[83]

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 often 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), Father Ted (by Arthur Mathews and Graham Linehan) which follows the misadventures of three Irish Roman Catholic priests (including simple minded Father Dougal McGuire and foul-mouthed alcoholic Father Jack) and their housekeeper Mrs Doyle, and The Royle Family (created by Caroline Aherne and Craig Cash) featuring misanthropic Jim Royle and his mocking, "my arse!".[84]

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.[85] 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.[86] Other notable British commercials include the 1989 British Airways face advertisement, the 2005 noitulovE advert for Guinness, the 2007 Gorilla advertisement by Cadbury chocolate featuring a gorilla playing drums with Phil Collins' track "In the Air Tonight" playing in the background, and a 2013 advert for Galaxy chocolate bar featuring a computer-generated image of Audrey Hepburn. Christmas commercials are screened from early November in the UK, with campaigns including the John Lewis Christmas advert for the department store chain.

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.[87] 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.[88] 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.[89] 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.[90] 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.[91]

The Rovers Return pub is a prominent setting in the ITV soap opera Coronation Street. The show has often vied with the BBC's soap EastEnders 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.[87] 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.[92]


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

Freedom of the press was established in Great Britain in 1695.[93] 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.[94] Newspaper and publishing magnate Alfred Harmsworth played a major role in “shaping the modern press” – Harmsworth introduced or harnessed “broad contents, exploitation of advertising revenue to subsidize prices, aggressive marketing, subordinate regional markets, independence from party control” – and was called "the greatest figure who ever strode down Fleet Street."[95] 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.[96] Founded by Thomas Gibson Bowles, Vanity Fair featured caricatures of famous people for which it is best known today.[97]

A pioneer of children's publishing, John Newbery made children's literature a sustainable and profitable part of the literary market.[98] The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes was published by Newbery in 1765.[98] 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.[99] Formed in 1940, Puffin Books is the children's imprint of Penguin Books. Barbara Euphan Todd's scarecrow story, Worzel Gummidge, was the first Puffin story book in 1941.[100]

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).[101] 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.[102]

In 1764 Horace Walpole published the first gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto, initiating a new literary genre.[102] John Polidori's The Vampyre (1819) was the first fictional vampire story.[103]

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.[104] 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.[105]

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.[106] The Statute of Anne gave the publishers rights for a fixed period, after which the copyright expired.[107]

Visual arts[edit]

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.[108]

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.[109]

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.[110] 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.[111] 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.[112]

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.[113] 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.[114]

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.[115] 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".[116]

In the late 1960s, British graphic designer Storm Thorgerson co-founded the graphic art group Hipgnosis, who have designed many iconic single and album covers for rock bands. His works were notable for their surreal elements, with perhaps the most famous being the cover for Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon.[117] 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.[118] 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.[119] The Spitfire featured in Christopher Nolan's 2017 action-thriller film Dunkirk.

Sir Morien Morgan led research into supersonic transport in 1948 that culminated in the Concorde passenger aircraft.[120] 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.[120]

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.[121]

Performing arts, carnivals, parades[edit]

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.[122] The most prominent opera house in England is the Royal Opera House at Covent Gardens.[123] The Proms, a season of orchestral classical music concerts held at the Royal Albert Hall, is a major cultural event held annually.[123] 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.[124]

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.[125] 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.[126] 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."[125]

Astley's Amphitheatre, London circa 1808. Astley performed stunts in a 42 ft diameter ring, the standard size used by circuses ever since.[127]

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.[127] Following his invention of the circus ring in 1768, Astley's Amphitheatre opened in London in 1773.[127] 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.[127] 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.[128]

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.[129] 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.[129]

The Christmas Pantomime 1890, UK. Pantomime plays a prominent role in British culture during the Christmas and New Year season.[130]

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.[130] 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.[130] 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".[131]

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.[132]

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.[133] McKellen has also appeared at gay pride marches, with Manchester Pride one of 15 annual gay pride parades in the UK; the largest in Brighton attracts over 300,000.[134]

Music hall evolved into variety shows. First performed in 1912, the Royal Variety Performance was first held at the London Palladium (pictured) in 1941. Performed infront of members of the Royal Family, it is held annually in December and broadcast on television

Music hall is a British theatrical entertainment popular from the early Victorian era to the mid-20th century. The precursor to variety shows of today, music hall involved a mixture of popular songs, comedy, speciality acts and variety entertainment. Music hall songs include "I'm Henery the Eighth, I Am", "Hokey cokey", "I Do Like To be Beside the Seaside" and "The Laughing Policeman". British performers who honed their skills at pantomime and music hall sketches include Charlie Chaplin, Stan Laurel, George Formby, Gracie Fields, Dan Leno, Gertrude Lawrence, Marie Lloyd and Harry Champion.[132] 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.[132] Laurel stated, "Fred Karno didn't teach Charlie [Chaplin] and me all we know about comedy. He just taught us most of it".[135] 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."[136] Examples of variety shows that evolved from the music hall include the Royal Variety Performance (first performed in 1912), which was broadcast on BBC radio from the 1920s, and then on television since the 1950s. Annually held in December (often at the London Palladium) and performed infront of members of the British Royal Family, many famous acts have performed at the Royal Variety show over the century, and since 2007 one act of the show has been selected by the British public through the ITV television talent show Britain's Got Talent.

Indoor arenas
Led Zeppelin on stage at the O2 Arena, London in 2007. The O2 is the busiest music arena in the world.[137]

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.[138]


Bodiam Castle is a 14th-century moated castle in East Sussex. Today there are thousands of castles throughout the UK.[139]

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),[140] 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.[141]

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,[142] 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.[143] 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.

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.[144] 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.[145] 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.[146]

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,[147] 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.[148] 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.[148] By 1914, there were over 100 piers around the UK coast.[148] Today there are 55 seaside piers in the UK.[148] Tower Bridge (half a mile from London Bridge) opened in 1895.

The ArcelorMittal Orbit is an observation tower in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford, London. As a sculpture it is the UK's largest piece of public art.[149]

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.[150]

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.[151] 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.[151] 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.[152]


Statue of Minnie the Minx, a character from The Beano, in Dundee, Scotland. Launched in 1938, The Beano is known for its anarchic humour, with Dennis the Menace appearing on the cover.

British comics in the early 20th century typically evolved from illustrated penny dreadfuls of the Victorian era (featuring Sweeney Todd, Dick Turpin and Varney the Vampire). A growing consumer culture and an increased capacity for travel throughout the UK via the invention of railway (in 1825) created both a market for cheap popular literature, and the ability for it to be circulated on a large scale. Created in the 1830s, The Guardian described penny dreadfuls as “Britain’s first taste of mass-produced popular culture for the young.”[153] Introducing familiar features in vampire fiction, Varney is the first story to refer to sharpened teeth for a vampire.[154] 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,[155] – 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.[156] 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."[156]

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.[157]

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.[158] The Scarlet Pimpernel first appeared on stage (1903) and then in novel (1905), and became very popular with the British public.[157] 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).[157] 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.[157]

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.[159] Writers included Alan Moore, famous for his V for Vendetta, From Hell, Watchmen, Marvelman, and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen;[160] Watchmen was described as "paving the way for a current cultural obsession" in comics;[161] 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.[162]

Honours system[edit]

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.[163]

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.[164]

A few examples of knights are Sir Nicholas Winton: for "services to humanity, in saving Jewish children from Nazi occupied Czechoslovakia",[165] Sir Elton John: for "services to music and charitable services", Sir Ridley Scott: for "services to the British film industry",[166] and Sir Richard Branson: for "services to entrepreneurship".[167] 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."[168]


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.[169] 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.[170]

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.[171] 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.[172] 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.[173] 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.[174]

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.[174] It influenced pirate literature of Scottish novelists Robert Louis Stevenson (Treasure Island) and J. M. Barrie.[174] 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.[66] The concept of "walking the plank" was popularised by Barrie's Peter Pan, where Captain Hook's pirates helped define the archetype.[175] Davy Jones' Locker, where sailors or ships' remains are consigned to the bottom of the sea, is first recorded by Daniel Defoe in 1726.[176] 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.[177]

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".[178]

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.[179] 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.[180] Guy Fawkes masks are an emblem for anti-establishment protest groups.[181]

Halloween is a traditional and much celebrated holiday in Scotland and Ireland on the night of 31 October.[182] The name "Halloween" is first attested in the 16th century as a Scottish shortening of the fuller All-Hallows-Even,[183] 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.[184] 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).[185] Robert Burns' 1785 poem "Halloween" is recited by Scots at Halloween, and Burns was influenced by Mayne's composition.[185]

Halloween shop in Derry, Northern Ireland selling masks.

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;[186][187] (the Halloween masks (worn by children) are known as “false faces” in Ireland.[188]) turnips hollowed out and carved with faces to make lanterns,[189] and holding parties where games such as apple bobbing are played.[190] 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.[191] 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.[192]

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.[193] 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.[194]

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.[195] 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.[195] 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.[195] 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.[196] 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".[197]

National parks, museums, libraries, and galleries[edit]

Heritage administration[edit]

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.[198]

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

Historic Environment 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. A statue of Robert the Bruce and a large monument and visitor centre (operated by the National Trust for Scotland) is located in Bannockburn near the site of the Battle of Bannockburn.[199]

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.[200]

Museums and galleries[edit]

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,[201] 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.[202] 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.

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.[203] 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.[204]

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.[205] 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.[206]


Magna Carta, one of the two original copies displayed in the British Library

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.[207] The library has two of the four remaining copies of the original Magna Carta (the other two copies are held in Lincoln Castle and Salisbury Cathedral) and has a room devoted solely to them. The British Library Sound Archive has over six million recordings (many from the BBC Sound Archive, including Winston Churchill’s wartime speeches.)

The National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh holds 7 million books, 14 million printed items (such as the last letter written by Mary, Queen of Scots) and over 2 million maps.[208] The National Library of Wales is the national legal deposit library of Wales, and holds over 6.5 million books, portraits, maps and photographic images in Wales.[209]

Historical markers[edit]

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.[210] The scheme was the brainchild of politician William Ewart in 1863 and was initiated in 1866.[210] It was formally established by the Society of Arts in 1867, and since 1986 has been run by English Heritage.[210]

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.[211]


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, Inverness-shire 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.[212]

Science and technology[edit]

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.[213]

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.[214]

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.[215] 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.[216] 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.[217]

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.[218] 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.[219] Robert FitzRoy pioneered weather forecasting: the first daily weather forecasts were published in The Times in 1861.[220]

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.[221] In 1824 Charles Macintosh invented the waterproof raincoat; the Mackintosh (mac) is named after him.[221] William Sturgeon invented the electromagnet in 1824.[222] 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.[223]

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.[224] Hill's colleague Sir Henry Cole introduced the world's first commercial Christmas card in 1843.[225] 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[226]

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.[227] Running along the East Coast Main Line between Edinburgh and London, the Flying Scotsman has been ranked the world's most famous steam locomotive.[228]

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".[229] 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.[230] 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).[231]

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.[232]

Scottish inventor John Logie Baird demonstrated the first working television system on 26 January 1926.[233]

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.[234]

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.[235]

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.[236] This was a prototype of the Mark I tank, the first tank used in combat in September 1916 during WWI.[236] 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.[237] In OXO, the computer player could play perfect games of tic-tac-toe against a human opponent.[237] 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. Dolly the sheep, the first mammal successfully cloned from an adult somatic cell (by scientists at Roslin Institute in Edinburgh), became a celebrity in the 1990s.

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 (vacuum flask/Dewar flask), 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[edit]

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.[238]

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.[239] Aided by these legal and cultural foundations, an entrepreneurial spirit and consumer revolution drove industrialisation in Britain.[240] 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."[239]

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.[239] 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.[241] 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.[242] In 1861, Welsh entrepreneur Pryce Pryce-Jones formed the first mail order business, an idea which would change the nature of retail. Selling Welsh flannel, he created mail order catalogues, with customers able order by mail for the first time, and the goods were delivered by railway.[243]


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.[244] 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.[245]

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.[246] 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."[247] 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.[248]

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.[246] 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.[249] 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.[250]

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.[251]