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British Culture

British culture refers to the patterns of human activity and symbolism associated with the United Kingdom and its people. In its broadest sense, the term applies to the shared experience that comes from a dynamic mix of ages, races, regions, genders, income levels and interests.

The United Kingdom (UK) is made up of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Each of these countries have preserved and distinct customs, cultures and symbolism. As a result of the British Empire, the UK is also populated by many people from the Caribbean, the Indian subcontinent, Africa and Asia. Communities uprooted from Cyprus and Vietnam all add to the myriad of cultural identities, while others from Eastern Europe have taken up residence in the UK. English is spoken by 95 percent of the population.

Sport plays a prominent role in British culture, with many people making an emotional investment in their favorite spectator sports. The most popular professional sport is football, followed by rugby and cricket. Major individual sports include golf, tennis, athletics, motor sport and horse racing. The UK also enjoys a range of other international sports such as squash, badminton, hockey, Formula One motor racing, boxing, snooker, pool, athletics, swimming, cycling and curling.

Music is an important element of British culture and is currently worth over 4 billion dollars to the UK economy. It forms a large part of the social and communal experience and can be heard live in a variety of settings, ranging from pubs to concert venues and football stadiums. In the summer months, music festivals such as Glastonbury in the South West of England take place. The Notting Hill Carnival in London is Britain's biggest street party. Music broadcasting is well established throughout the national and regional media.

Literature enjoys a reputation as one of the most prestigious of arts within Britain, which has been the birthplace and subject for many of the world's most illustrious authors. These include Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen and Virginia Woolf. Their works are studied extensively in schools, colleges and universities in Britain and around the world. Publishing is a major industry in the U.K. with over 6,000 new fiction titles appearing each year. There are many literary awards for authors, such as the Whitbread Prize, the Guardian Fiction Prize and the highly acclaimed Booker Prize.

British theater is universally admired for its variety and the caliber of its performances. Traditional productions, novel reinterpretations, musicals and pantomime are all elements of contemporary theater. Plays are performed in many different settings, which vary from village halls to the Royal National Theater in London. Britain is home to more than 300 theaters, known as repertory theaters, which can be found in every major city.

Filmmaking has existed in Britain for over a century and is one of the most fashionable and creative areas of cultural life. Filmmaking in Britain is heavily centralized around the South East of England, with its commercial heart in the central London district of Soho, where film production companies and publicity agencies have their offices. The majority of studios are based away from the city center in outer London.

The UK is home to several fine art collections. The National Gallery currently holds over 2,000 works of Western paintings from the 13th to the 19th century. Modern art and sculpture is housed at the Tate Gallery, which opened in 1897. Portraits and photographs of distinguished figures from British history can be seen at the National Portrait Gallery, which opened in 1856. The majority of galleries are located in central London, although numerous regional collections are based in towns and cities across the United Kingdom.

English cuisine is a common talking point and debate amongst nationals and foreign nationals alike. Meals such as fish and chips are synonymous with Britain, but these are now matched in popularity by curries from India and Bangladesh and stir-fries based on Chinese and Thai cooking. Foods from Italy and France are also widely eaten.

The English love of gardens and landscapes is associated with a tradition of sightseeing visits to the many country houses, gardens, unspoiled rural and coastal areas, along with a multitude of national parks and forests. There are approximately 2,000 historic buildings, including castles and stately homes listed by the English Tourist Board. Other popular venues include safari and wildlife parks, theme parks and museums devoted to subjects such as maritime or military history.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

British Culture: An Introduction
David Christopher.
Routledge, 1999
Encyclopedia of Contemporary British Culture
Peter Childs; Mike Storry.
Routledge, 1999
British Cultural Identities
Mike Storry; Peter Childs.
Routledge, 2002 (2nd edition)
Britishness since 1870
Paul Ward.
Routledge, 2004
Studying British Cultures
Susan Bassnett.
Routledge, 2003
Human Geography of the UK: An Introduction
Irene Hardill; David T.Graham; Eleonore Kofman.
Routledge, 2001
Black British Culture and Society: A Text-Reader
Kwesi Owusu.
Routledge, 2000
'Millions Like Us'?: British Culture in the Second World War
Nick Hayes; Jeff Hill.
Liverpool University Press, 1999
Come on Down? Popular Media Culture in Post-War Britain
Dominic Strinati; Stephen Wagg.
Routledge, 1992
English Questions
Perry Anderson.
Verso, 1992
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 5 "Culture in Contraflow"
Consumer Behaviour and Material Culture in Britain, 1660-1760
Lorna Weatherill.
Routledge, 1996 (2nd edition)
Sport and the British: A Modern History
Richard Holt.
Clarendon Press, 1992
Modernism, Romance, and the Fin de Siècle: Popular Fiction and British Culture, 1880-1914
Nicholas Daly.
Cambridge University Press, 2000
Bearing the Dead: The British Culture of Mourning from the Enlightenment to Victoria
Esther Schor.
Princeton University Press, 1994
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