Culture of the United Kingdom


The United Kingdom has been influential in the development of cinema, with the Ealing Studios claiming to be the oldest studios in the world. Despite a history of important and successful productions, the industry is characterised by an ongoing debate about its identity, and the influences of American and European cinema. Famous films include the Harry Potter and Ian Fleming's James Bond series which, although now made by American studios, used British source materials, locations, actors and filming crew.


The United Kingdom's official literacy rate (99%) is normal by developed country standards. Universal state education was introduced for the primary level in 1870 and secondary level in 1900 (except in Scotland where it was introduced in 1696, see Education in Scotland).[86] Education is mandatory from ages five to sixteen (15 if born in late July or August).
The majority of children in the UK are educated in state-sector schools, only a small proportion of which select on the grounds of academic ability. Around 7% of children in the UK are educated privately, the vast majority at the anachronistically named public schools. The products of public schools make up about 50% of students at the leading universities of Cambridge and Oxford, as well as the majority of doctors, judges and business leaders. State schools which are allowed to select pupils according to intelligence and academic ability can achieve comparable results to public schools: out of the top ten performing schools in terms of GCSE results in 2006 two were state-run grammar schools.
Some of the UK's 138 university level institutions are internationally renowned, especially those of Cambridge, Oxford, and London.[87] In the 2006 THES - QS World University Rankings,[88] 30 UK institutions were ranked amongst the top 200 universities in the world.
Fewer citizens of the UK are able to speak a foreign language than in any other EU country except Ireland. This has caused fear that the poor language skills in the UK will have a negative effect on business, and has led to calls for languages to be given priority in education.[89][90]


The Chandos portrait, believed to depict the famed playwright William Shakespeare.
Among the earliest British writers are Geoffrey of Monmouth (12th century) , Geoffrey Chaucer (14th century) , and Thomas Malory (15th century). In the 18th century, Samuel Richardson is often credited with inventing the modern novel. In the 19th century, there followed further innovation by Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, the social campaigner Charles Dickens, the naturalist Thomas Hardy, the visionary poet William Blake and romantic poet William Wordsworth. Twentieth century writers include the science fiction novelist H. G. Wells, the controversial D. H. Lawrence, the modernist Virginia Woolf, the prophetic novelist George Orwell and the poet John Betjeman. Most recently, the children's fantasy Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling has recalled the popularity of J.R.R. Tolkien.
Scotland's contribution includes the detective writer Arthur Conan Doyle, romantic literature by Sir Walter Scott, the epic adventures of Robert Louis Stevenson and the celebrated poet Robert Burns. More recently, the modernist and nationalist Hugh MacDiarmid and Neil M. Gunn contributed to the Scottish Renaissance. A more grim outlook is found in Ian Rankin's stories and the psychological horror-comedy of Iain Banks. Scotland's capital, Edinburgh, is UNESCO's first worldwide city of literature.
In the early medieval period, Welsh writers composed the Mabinogion. In modern times, the poets R.S. Thomas and Dylan Thomas have brought Welsh culture to an international audience.
Many authors from other nationalities, particularly from Ireland, or from Commonwealth countries, have also lived and worked in the UK. Significant examples through the centuries include Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker, George Bernard Shaw, Joseph Conrad, T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, and more recently British authors born abroad such as Kazuo Ishiguro and Sir Salman Rushdie.
In theatre, Shakespeare's contemporaries Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson added depth. More recently Alan Ayckbourn, Harold Pinter, Michael Frayn, Tom Stoppard and David Edgar have combined elements of surrealism, realism and radicalism.
Further information: English literature, Scottish literature and Welsh literature


The prominence of the English language gives the UK media a widespread international dimension.


The BBC is the UK's publicly funded radio, television and internet broadcasting corporation, and is the oldest and largest broadcaster in the world. It operates several television channels and radio stations both in the UK and abroad. The BBC's international television news service, BBC World, is broadcast throughout the world and the BBC World Service radio network is broadcast in thirty-three languages globally.
The domestic services of the BBC are funded by the television licence, a legal requirement for any British household with a television receiver that is in use to receive broadcasts, regardless of whether or not the householders watch BBC channels. Households which are the principal residence of any person over 75 are exempt[94] and the requirement does not extend to radio listeners. The BBC World Service Radio is funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the television stations are operated by BBC Worldwide on a commercial subscription basis over cable and satellite services. It is also this commercial arm of the BBC that forms half of UKTV along with Virgin Media.
There are five major nationwide television channels in the UK: BBC One, BBC Two, ITV1, Channel 4 and Five - all currently transmitted by analogue terrestrial, free-to-air signals with the latter three channels funded by commercial advertising.

The UK now also has a large number of digital terrestrial channels including a further six from the BBC, five from ITV and three from Channel 4 among a variety of others.
The vast majority of digital cable services are provided by Virgin Media with satellite being provided by BSkyB and free-to-air digital terrestrial television by Freeview. The entire country will switch to digital by 2012.
Radio in the UK is dominated by BBC Radio, which operates ten national networks and over forty local radio stations. The most popular radio station, by number of listeners, is BBC Radio 2, closely followed by BBC Radio 1. There are also many hundreds of mainly local commercial radio stations across the country offering a variety of music or talk formats.


Traditionally, British newspapers could be split into quality, serious-minded newspaper (usually referred to as "broadsheets" due to their large size) and the more populist, tabloid varieties. For convenience of reading, many traditional broadsheets have switched to a more compact-sized format, traditionally used by tabloids. The Sun has the highest circulation of any daily newspaper in the UK, with approximately a quarter of the market; its sister paper, The News of The World similarly leads the Sunday newspaper market,[95] and traditionally focuses on celebrity-led stories. The Daily Telegraph, a right-of-centre broadsheet paper, has overtaken The Times (tabloid size format) as the highest-selling of the "quality" newspapers .[96] The Guardian is a more liberal (left-wing) "quality" broadsheet. The Financial Times is the main business paper, printed on distinctive salmon-pink broadsheet paper. Scotland has a distinct tradition of newspaper readership (see List of newspapers in Scotland). First printed in 1737, the Belfast News Letter is the oldest known English-speaking daily newspaper still in publication today. One of its fellow Northern Irish competitors, The Irish News, has been twice ranked as the best regional newspaper in the United Kingdom, in 2006 and 2007.[97] Aside from newspapers, a number of British magazines and journals have achieved world-wide circulation including The Economist and Nature.


Classical music: Notable composers from the United Kingdom have included William Byrd, Henry Purcell, Sir Edward Elgar, Sir Arthur Sullivan (most famous for working with librettist Sir W. S. Gilbert) , Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Benjamin Britten, pioneer of modern British opera. London remains one of the major classical music capitals of the world.
Popular music: Prominent among the UK contibutors to the development of rock music in the 1960s and 1970s were The Beatles, Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Queen and Black Sabbath. Heavy metal, hard rock, punk rock and New Wave were among the variations that followed. In the early 1980s UK bands from the New Romantic scene such as Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, Soft Cell and Ultravox were prominent. In the 1990s, Britpop bands and electronica music also attained international success. More recent pop acts, including The Smiths, Oasis and the Spice Girls, have ensured the continuation of the UK's massive contribution to popular music.


Eminent philosophers from the UK include William of Ockham, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, David Hume, Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, Bertrand Russell, Adam Smith and Alfred Ayer. Foreign born philosophers who settled in the UK include Isaiah Berlin, Karl Marx, Karl Popper, and Ludwig Wittgenstein

Science, engineering and innovation

The modern scientific method was promoted by the English philosopher Francis Bacon in the early seventeenth century, and subsequent advances credited to British scientists and engineers include:
The laws of motion and illumination of gravity, by Sir Isaac Newton in the late 17th century
The unification of electromagnetism, by James Clerk Maxwell
The discovery of hydrogen, by Henry Cavendish
The steam locomotive, by Richard Trevithick and Andrew Vivian
The telephone, by Alexander Graham Bell
Evolution by natural selection, by Charles Darwin
The Turing machine, by Alan Turing, the basis of modern computers
The structure of DNA, by Francis Crick and others
The development of the World Wide Web, largely attributed to Tim Berners-Lee
Notable civil engineering projects, whose pioneers included Isambard Kingdom Brunel, contributed to the world's first national railway transport system. Other advances pioneered in the UK include the marine chronometer, television, the jet engine, the modern bicycle, electric lighting, the electric motor, the screw propeller, the internal combustion engine, military radar, the electronic computer, vaccination and antibiotics.
Scientific journals produced in the UK include Nature, the British Medical Journal and The Lancet. In 2006, it was reported that the UK provided 9% of the world's scientific research papers and a 12% share of citations.[98]


The Wimbledon Championships, a Grand Slam tournament, is held in Wimbledon, London every July.
A number of major sports originated in the United Kingdom, including football, rugby, cricket, tennis and golf.
The most popular sport in the UK is football. The UK does not compete as a nation in any major football tournaments. Instead, the home nations compete individually as England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Because of this four-team arrangement, the UK does not compete in football events at the Olympic Games. However, there are proposals for a united team taking part in the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, which are to be held in London. The English and Northern Irish football associations have confirmed participation in this team while the Scottish FA and the Welsh FA have declined to participate, fearing that it would undermine their independent sport status.
The UK is home to many world-renowned football clubs, such as Rangers, Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Celtic. Clubs compete in national leagues and competitions and some go on to compete in European competitions. British teams have been successful in European Competitions including some who have become European Cup/UEFA Champions League winners: Liverpool (five times) , Manchester United (twice) , Nottingham Forest (twice) , Aston Villa, and Celtic. More clubs from England have won the European Cup than any other country (four compared to three from Italy, Germany and the Netherlands). Moreover, England ranks second in the all time list of European club trophies won with 35, one behind Italy's 36. The European Cup competition itself was brought about due to the success of another UK club, Wolverhampton Wanderers, against top European sides[99] in the 1950s. The Premiership is also the most-watched football league in the world and is particularly popular in Asia; in the People's Republic of China, matches attract television audiences between 100 million and 360 million, more than any other foreign sport.[100][101]
The new Wembley Stadium is the most expensive stadium ever built costing £793 million ($1.6 billion).
The 90,000 capacity Wembley Stadium is the principle sporting stadium of the UK. Between the demolition of the former 'twin towers' stadium and construction of the new one (completed in March 2007) , Cardiff's 73,000 seater Millennium Stadium briefly served this role.
The early reference to the separate national identities in the UK is perhaps best illustrated by the game of cricket. Cricket was invented in England. There are league championships but the English national team dominates the game in Britain. There is no UK team. Some Irish and Scottish players have played for England because neither Scotland nor Ireland have Test status and only play in One Day Internationals.
The UK has proved successful in the international sporting arena in rowing. It is widely considered that the sport's most successful rower is Steven Redgrave who won five gold medals and one bronze medal at five consecutive Olympic Games as well as numerous wins at the World Rowing Championships and Henley Royal Regatta.
Both forms of rugby are national sports. Rugby League originates from and is generally played in the North of England, whilst Rugby Union is played predominantly in Wales, Ireland, Scotland, and Southern England. Having supposedly originated from the actions of William Webb Ellis at the School at Rugby, it is considered the national sport of Wales. In rugby league the UK plays as one nation — Great Britain — though in union it is represented by four nations: England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland (which consists of players from the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland). Every four years the British and Irish Lions tour either Australia, New Zealand or South Africa. Here, rugby football differs internationally to association football, as the England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland (including the Republic of Ireland) teams combine to form the British and Irish Lions although they compete separately in all other international competitions.
The game of tennis first originated from the UK's second city of Birmingham between 1859 and 1865. The Wimbledon Championships are international tennis events held in Wimbledon in south London every summer and are regarded as the most prestigious event of the global tennis calendar.
Thoroughbred racing is also very popular throughout the UK. It originated under Charles II of England as the "Sport of Kings" and is a royal pastime to this day. World-famous horse races include the Grand National, the Epsom Derby and Royal Ascot. The town of Newmarket is considered to be the centre of English racing, largely due to the famous Newmarket Racecourse.
The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, generally regarded as the world's "Home of Golf".
Golf is one of the most popular participation sports played in the UK, with St Andrews in Scotland being the sport's home course. Cricket is also popular, although the popularity of the game is dramatically greater in England than in other parts of the UK, all four constituent nations as of 2006 compete at the One-Day International level — Scotland independently, Wales as part of the English team, and Northern Ireland as part of all-Ireland.
Shinty (or camanachd) (a sport derived from the same root as the Irish hurling and similar to bandy) is popular in the Scottish Highlands, sometimes attracting crowds numbering thousands in the most sparsely populated region of the UK.
The country is closely associated with motorsport. Many teams and drivers in Formula One (F1) are based in the UK and drivers from Britain have won more world titles than any other country. The country also hosts legs of the F1 and World Rally Championship and has its own Touring Car Racing championship, the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC). The British Grand Prix takes place at Silverstone each July.

Visual art

The Royal Academy is located in London. Other major schools of art include the Slade School of Art; the six-school University of the Arts, London, which includes the Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design and Chelsea College of Art and Design; the Glasgow School of Art, and Goldsmiths, University of London. This commercial venture is one of Britain's foremost visual arts organisations. Major British artists include Sir Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough, John Constable, William Blake, J. M. W. Turner, William Morris, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, David Hockney, Gilbert and George, Richard Hamilton, Peter Blake, Howard Hodgkin, Antony Gormley, and Anish Kapoor. During the late 1980s and 1990s, the Saatchi Gallery in London brought to public attention a group of multigenre artists who would become known as the Young British Artists. Damian Hirst, Chris Ofili, Rachel Whiteread, Tracy Emin, Mark Wallinger, Steve McQueen, Sam Taylor-Wood, and the Chapman Brothers are among the better known members of this loosely affiliated movement.

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