Skip to comments.The ultimate American Anglophile guide to English culture -- from music to literature to the telly
Posted on 04/07/2013 10:03:06 PM PDT by beaversmom
T-shirts. Guidebooks. Snow globes.
These are the usual souvenirs of the tourist.
But Tim Harnett is anything but usual, or a casual tourist.
The Cleveland IT professional brought home a subway sign -- a wall-size one -- when he visited London.
And pint glasses from pubs, autographed band posters, menus, CDs and more.
Harnett, 43, is an Anglophile -- a lover of all things English. Not only did the native Ohioan cart home a massive London Underground sign to his West Park home. He used it to help re-create an Underground station and English pub in his basement.
The pub is stocked only with English beer and crisps, purchased from Gaelic Imports in Parma. Posters of British bands such as Madness and soccer flags line the walls, along with oversize subway maps, a Carnaby Street road sign and a warning to "Mind the Gap" (the recorded phrase repeated ad nauseam on the Underground).
Upstairs, a Union Jack is painted on the ceiling; a hallway is dedicated to Mini Coopers; a room dedicated to 1990s Britpop and '60s British Invasion bands features autographs from Shaun Ryder of the Happy Mondays, the Charlatans UK and a fez from ska greats Madness. In the garage sit three Mod scooters (a 1965 Lambretta and 1966 and 1980 Vespas) and a British cafe-racer-style motorcycle. A red English "post" box greets visitors at the front door.
"It's that whole grass-is-greener effect," Harnett says of his attraction to England, where he has traveled five times. "It's not where you are every day. I just love the music, the clothes, the booze . . everything that makes life there different from over here -- and better, in my opinion."
Was it punks or PBS?
Harnett's passion may be extreme, but he's far from alone in his devotion to England. Americans have always had a special relationship with British popular culture -- and vice versa -- from the days of Dickens' rock-star tours of the States to the British Invasion bands to long-running shows such as "Upstairs Downstairs" on PBS.
But the Anglophilia bug is on the rise, in large part thanks to the runaway success of the 1920s-set soap opera "Downton Abbey," also on PBS (9 p.m. Sundays); the high-profile wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011; Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee last year; and the 2012 Summer Olympics bringing daily glimpses of English life into our living rooms.
Not that being an Anglophile necessarily means being a royalist. An Anglophile could just as much be a fan of the anarchic punk bands the Sex Pistols and the Clash; British Invasion rock; the '90s Britpop scene; the Manchester postpunk movement; the swinging Mods of the '60s; the British humor of television shows, such as "Monty Python's Flying Circus" or "Absolutely Fabulous"; Edwardian tea and crumpets; or, yes, the queen and her family.
Harnett credits the genesis of his Anglophilia to PBS.
"I remember discovering 'Monty Python' on PBS when I was 14," he says. "It's my most vivid childhood memory."
PBS also hooked Andrew Samtoy, a 33-year-old Cleveland attorney who makes frequent trips across the pond to feed his Anglo addiction.
"Growing up, my sister and I discovered 'Blackadder' and 'Fawlty Towers' on PBS and became huge fans. I guess we were nerds," he says. "The humor was more cerebral than anything you could get in the U.S. . . . The jokes are not just funny as jokes, but as references to things in history that are funny.
"It seems to me a very particular British trait that one knows one's culture and history in a way that can be referenced even in humor. People there have more in common with each other, a shared culture and knowledge. I like that." Carnaby_Street.jpg Chris Morris, The Plain Dealer
The influence of imports
Public television deserves much of the credit for exposing Americans to modern British culture, says Robert Thompson, professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University. For a long time, it was the only place we could glimpse scenes of life in London, from the gritty East End to posh Belgravia. And PBS is still driving the Anglo trend.
" 'Downton Abbey' is a real cultural phenomenon," says Thompson. "It's on PBS but is approaching network-sized ratings. . . . It's getting 9 million viewers a week."
The show that began in 2010 has even inspired cookbooks, fashion trends and thousands of dinner parties.
"It's got the perfect combination of the 'Masterpiece Theatre' Anglophile drama with good old-fashioned costume drama and soap opera."
Other influential imports Thompson cites include " 'The Avengers,' because they were on a network; 'Benny Hill,' because it did so well in syndication; and 'The Prisoner,' because of its cult appeal."
But he says the impact of "Monty Python," which aired on PBS in the mid-'70s, can't be underestimated -- and not only because of the ratings. It made the viewers who discovered it feel they were in on something special.
"I remember 'Monty Python' from when I was in school," Thompson says. "The next day, the ones who discovered it would be reciting the jokes to one another, always in a British dialect."
This feeling of being in on the joke, or knowing about something most Americans haven't discovered, can partly explain the Anglophile psyche.
"It's like with 'The Office,' " says Thompson. "When the American version came out, I first thought it was not as good. Then I came around to thinking that the American version was better. There is an element of snobbishness to it, the sense that you treasure the fact that you discovered something original."
Anger, angst in music and movies Underground_logo.jpg Chris Morris, The Plain Dealer
But while television first brought us the everyday sights of English life, English bands have provided the soundtracks to our lives since the British Invasion of the '60s. You don't have to be Anglophile to like the Beatles or Rolling Stones, though if you are one, you probably will. But most Anglophile music fans dig a little deeper.
Take Annie Zaleski, 33, a music journalist from Lakewood who recently drove to Pittsburgh and Columbus in a two-day span to see iconic English singer Morrissey.
"My parents were really into the Who, the Rolling Stones, the whole Mod thing," says Zaleski. "I grew up listening to that, and when I got older, I got into Britpop when [now-defunct indie-rock radio station] The End used to be in Cleveland.
"I just really love British music -- there's something very distinct from American music. I love XTC, Blur, the Smiths, the Jam, the punk stuff, Duran Duran and new wave. British artists have a way with a hook and are not afraid of being vulnerable and honest."
Zaleski said she "never really got into British TV -- the humor never resonated with me."
But she is a fan of British movies. Not surprisingly, her list includes the Britpop-heavy "Trainspotting," by lauded English director Danny Boyle.
"Trainspotting," a bleak but pop-filled look at Edinburgh's teen drug wasteland, is a prime example of modern British cinema. More often than not, these films delve into the harsh lives of the working class (see anything by Mike Leigh or "The Full Monty," for starters) -- sometimes with heartbreaking pathos, other times with a typical English wit and great soundtracks.
English cinema since the '70s is not that different from the punk-rock movement that started in the same era. It expresses the anger and angst sparked by modern social ills afflicting good old Blighty: racism, anti-immigration sentiment, sexism and high levels of unemployment and poverty.
And, of course, there's nostalgia
That's a far cry from the elaborate manners and elegance of "Downton Abbey." But perhaps "Downton's" nostalgia for a more refined era (of course, one built on classism, sexism, xenophobia and imperialism) is part of its appeal. And part of England's appeal for many Americans.
"From my perspective, the English culture represents a strong sense of tradition, a tradition of courtesy, manners and gentility in how one leads one's life," says John Rampe, 67, former president of the Cleveland branch of the English-Speaking Union, a group dedicated to the preservation of English language, literature and culture.
"Now is that true of the entire culture? Probably not. London I don't find a whole lot different than New York, and of course England has many of its own issues."
Mark Stephens, 45, moved to Parma from London in 1998. The Cornwall native says much of what Americans like about English popular culture is rooted in the past.
"I see a lot of nostalgia for a gone era: Mini Coopers, the Beatles and miniskirts," he says. "That view of England is a view of what once was, not how it is today."
Still, that idea doesn't stop Anglophiles like Harnett from importing a bit of English flavor into their lives.
"There's just something about British culture," Harnett says. "All the things in life that have meaning to me -- music, film, food, drink, TV shows and forms of pop culture. In Britain, it just has a delightful taste of the national character that inspired me from early on in life."
Was it punks or PBS?Punk rock started in the USA. Just about every English punk band wanted to do a remake of the Ramones first album, from the Sex Pistols to the Clash to the Buzzcocks on down . . . and if it wasnt that album, it was usually the Stooges albums Fun House or Raw Power, or even the New York Dolls debut album.
Benny Hill is still the greatest show ever.
Benny Hill is right up there on my list. Just posted his pic. :)
I also liked Dave Allen at Large, although I think he was Irish.
LOL! You are just not gonna give the Brits anything, are ya?
Yeah someone else posted about him a long time ago on FR on another Brit thread. Maybe it was you! I had never heard of him, but liked the skit they posted.
Yeah, looks like he was Irish:
David Tynan O’Mahony (6 July 1936 10 March 2005), better known as Dave Allen, was an Irish comedian, very popular with television audiences in the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada in the 1960s and 1970s. He also became known in the United States through showings of his shows on television there. His career had a major resurgence during the late 1980s and early 1990s. At the height of his career he was Britain’s most controversial comedian, regularly provoking conservative indignation at his frequent highlighting of political hypocrisy and his disregard for religious authority.
Sadly, I think that part of British culture is dying....Like the Kinks put it, “There’s No England Now.”
Steam locomotive I’ll give ‘em.
:) Oh did they come up with that one? You are better at knowing the origins of stuff than I.
Have you ever seen the British show Connections?
It’s the old “Grass Is Always Greener” syndrome...people seem to like stuff more when it’s foreign. Brits took the American music they liked, and turned it into music that Americans like. A lot of bands on both sides of the Atlantic were more popular on the other side of the pond than they were at home.
I think that is true in a lot of ways. I'd like to go back and visit the 40's/50's England my mom grew up in.
I have my kids watching Connections on YouTube, best documentary show, ever.
I haven’t really sat down and watched it, but it looks interesting. I should do that. I know they are on You Tube.
Regarding Dave Allen, I have a good memory about some things! But on Saturday night I heard a good song before Jurassic Park 3d and couldn’t remember the lyrics to look up two seconds after it stopped playing:
Oops, on the second link:
Here’s the skit of Dave Allen that mylife had posted on that 2010 thread:
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