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Culture

Culture

England is the country of Shakespeare, Milton, Byron and Beatrix Potter. The first is, by common consent, a hero of the human race, a Titan of literature against whom all other writers in the world over the past four hundred years have been measured. The second two are worthy names in most literate households. But the work of the fourth is best known to the English; for while the first three tended to write about people, Beatrix Potter wrote about animals and the English prefer animals and understand them better.

So it is that a mention of Peter Rabbit, Mrs Tiggy-Winkle and Jeremy Fisher elicit an immediate response from English audiences while the agonies of Hamlet, Coriolanus and Othello leave the better read of them intellectually stimulated but emotionally stone-cold.

Other nations may thrill to Henry V's call to arms at Agincourt or warm to Juliet's tearful pleas to her Romeo, but English audiences of all ages reach for the tissues on hearing how Jemima Puddleduck outwits the fox, adjusts her bonnet and escapes the cooking pot to live another sunny day.

Close on the heels of Beatrix Potter comes the sinister A.A. Milne, whose Winnie-The-Pooh - written by an adult for other adults but passed off as a children's book - is read by adults for the rest of their lives.

Paradise Lost, sadly deficient in the fauna department, stays firmly between its covers.

Television

For the majority of English, watching television is their only real experience of a broader "culture".

English television, naturally, majors in sports coverage and titanic struggles occur between television companies to win exclusive rights to televise the most popular games. But even the English cannot quite live by sport alone. Pandering to the competitive nature of their audiences, broadcasters screen large numbers of quiz and games shows. In addition they produce a wealth of news and discussion programmes and the occasional original drama series. These are bulked out with a staggering number of imported and specially-created soap operas and mini-series, which are hugely popular. For the rest, it is old films of which the English never tire.

Programmes aimed at the more intellectual members of English society are screened late at night so as to cause the least inconvenience to the majority.

The Press

The average Frenchman travelling to work reads a novel, the English read newspapers. Their voracious appetite for printed news, gossip and scandal is unequalled and the English newspaper market has attracted entrepreneurs from all over the world who struggle to the death to obtain the proprietorship of one of the chunks of it.

Nobody really understands why. The press cannot hope to compete for immediacy of coverage with radio and television. Perhaps it is because the English prefer their news, like their climate - cold. Or perhaps it is because they secretly believe that anything viewed in retrospect is really more real.

The Arts

The English theatre today is mainly supported by block bookings for new productions of old musicals or for the latest Andrew Lloyd Webber spectacular. These the English will pay for. When Lloyd Webber meets Beatrix Potter, nobody will be able to get a seat.

With the cinema, things are a little more encouraging. Rumours of its total demise thirty years ago turned out to have been somewhat exaggerated, and even foreign films are seen by thousands in English cinemas every week. But then the English do love an "outing".

Dragging their children behind them they will visit museums and art galleries to rub shoulders with foreign visitors and buy souvenirs and reproductions of famous paintings.

When it comes to art appreciation, the English tend to be nervous, suspecting that they are not all that good at it. On the whole they tend towards the taste of Queen Victoria, showing a marked preference for large paintings of people and animals by artists like Landseer. If the picture tells a story, so much the better. If they cannot understand it, they tend to dismiss it.

Fundamentally, the English see themselves more in the role of patrons than of artists. For most of them culture is a luxury and too much luxury is a dangerous thing.

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