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Monday, January 05, 2009

The British way of life

Anthony Lane of The New Yorker is my favourite critic. In the course of a review of the new Tom Cruise film "Valkyrie", which features performances from the likes of Bill Nighy and Eddie Izzard, he fires off this gem:
"Character acting is, of course, one of the four things that the British still do supremely well, the others being soldiering, tailoring, and getting drunk in public..."
Lane's brilliant and he is British but I couldn't help thinking there must be something else in the national armoury. I haven't thought of anything thus far.

26 comments:

  1. Well - and it's a bit rubbish of me to say this, really - but we are awfully good at self-deprecation.

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  2. Making great Pop music? For such a tiny island our batting average in that department is pretty high.

    I quoted this gem from Lane on my blog a while back, talking about Hugh Grant on the Larry King show during his infamous hooker scandal many years ago:

    "Prodded by King toward self-examination, he scorned the need for psychotherapy—a source of vast bemusement to his host, who failed to realize that Englishmen have devised a cheap alternative to shrinks. The technical term for this is "a cup of tea."

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  3. If you'd posed this question at any point up until the mid-80s I would have said pop music. But since then I don't think our batting average is any greater than, say, Sweden's.

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  4. Telly, Radio. Supermarkets. Having a sense of humour (or 'irony' if you must), and, inventing things or making technical ideas work without a multi million budget.
    (But not mass production though, not ny more for some reason).
    and..Cooked Breakfasts.

    Stand Firm DH.

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  5. we've won twice the number of Nobel prizes as the French! Oh and the internet......

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  6. Combing those last two posts you could add "inventing things and letting the Americans make all the money out of them" (ie: the internet)

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  7. My favourite observation on this subject belongs to Peter Ustinov. I'm paraphrasing, and it may even have been in Word that I read this - in fact, the more I think about it, I think Mr Hepworth himself may have pointed this out; my apologies if so - but, on the subject of other cultures having no sense of humour, Ustinov reckoned that, through his worldwide travels, he had observed that every culture had a sense of humour. The British are unique, however, in that they alone accuse other cultures of not having one.

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  8. I agree londonlee, that was what I was thinking of with 'mass production'. Nice blog by the way.
    Yes, Lucas Hare, on reflection you and Mr Ustinov are of course correct.
    I'll stick with inventing things in sheds after a decent breakfast. I'm sure they are connected.

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  9. Imaginative sexual preoccupations of cabinet ministers, judges and clergymen perhaps?

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  10. Well, we do have a way with potatoes. No other nation can get even close frying or roasting them properly.

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  11. Are you kidding Archie? Do you really find British chips better than their Belgian counterparts?

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  12. Superiority complexes

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  13. English spuds: I don't think i've ever had a good chip in spain and french mash in gloopy and horrid so you may have something.

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  14. Writing and commenting on blogs in a vaguely timewasting fashion?

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  15. I think the Americans are world champions at that. He said while wasting time commenting on a blog.

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  16. Does anyone do the class system better than us?

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  17. Re: the class system. We're well known for having one. What's less well-known is that other countries have them as well. The French and the Americans for a start. We discussed this topic of what the British are good at when we recorded the Word podcast this morning and Mark Ellen offered the suggestion that we're very good at costume dramas.

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  18. Being good at costume dramas is one of the most frequently used justification for the licence fee. That's something that really baffles foreigners, having to have a licence for your TV

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  19. Out on a limb but how about pantomimes? They are rather good and no one else does 'em.

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  20. On the class system, I think it's actually been worse in America than it has been in the UK since the Fifties. While we haven't had an Old Etonian PM since Macmillan (sorry, Boris) and two of the last four are not Oxbridge graduates, all the last four US presidents - including the current president elect - have been alumni of Ivy League colleges.

    And even as recently as the early Eighties, the gates at Baltimore Country Club still had a sign that read "No Dogs, No Coloreds, No Jews". I don't think anything comparable in Britain has been since since the 19th century.

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  21. re:
    The only costumes they can do well are westerns but having seen the alamo on New years day I'm not so sure!
    As to the class system it's universal we maybe just abit more obvious about it .

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  22. Mistrust of Johnny Foreigner, surely?

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  23. Re: Mistrust of Johnny Foreigner.
    I've found that this mistrust is thriving all over the world, from Ohio to Addis Ababa. It's simply our Imperial past and our multi-cultural present that makes us so sensitive to the charge. "Queuing" I'll grant you. Most nations don't even have a word for it.

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  24. I'm Irish, so I'm not sensitive to the charge. Well, actually I am, just not from a British perspective. Which just goes to prove your point, really.

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  25. OVEN CHIPS And YOUTH CULTURE

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