Friday 28 January 2011

Why tourists might be disappointed when they visit Britain

What does the world think of us all sat here in dear old Blighty? Whenever I go abroad - particularly to a country for the first time - it's always interesting how preconceptions are challenged but also occasionally proved right about the place and its people. It is also startling how so many of these preconceptions have been built through film or television. 

Italy, for instance, a country of well dressed, sun-glass wearing, Vespa driving ladies men was, to a degree, seen with my own eyes last weekend. I was in Jersey the weekend before, where I saw enough Charlie Hungerford* types, donning a fantastic selection of crushed raspberry cords and argyle print Pringle, to prove my preconceptions about that particular place.

So, back to my initial question addressing how we are seen by the outside world. I have a very real fear that the world's view of England particularly - but the UK more widely - is as they see us in the cinema.

If you think about it my assumption isn't so outlandish. This year's hot Oscar tip is The King's Speech, set 70 odd years ago and telling a story of our Royal Family. Other great, and successful, British films have a similar theme to them, The English Patient, Chariots of Fire, Gosford Park, The Queen, Shakespeare In Love, Howard's End, Brideshead Revisited, even Four Weddings and a Funeral depict either the English upper classes, or are set at least 70 years ago, or both.

England in the films is a land of petticoats and corsets, extravagant head wear, good manners, a stiff upper lip, tea at 3:30 and a G&T at 6 o'clock. I wonder whether visitors setting foot here for the first time aren't a little disappointed. Or do enough of them manage to hunt out enough of 'Olde England' to be satisfied that what they see in the films isn't so far from reality? If they are disappointed, we can always suggest they head up to Glasgow for a Saturday night out; they might well think they've walked onto the set of the sequel to Braveheart.  

*Charlie Hungerford was a character in the 1980s police drama 'Bergerac'.  Set on Jersey it involved a slightly dubious tax exile - Charlie Hungerford - providing pieces of information and gossip to help Sergeant Bergerac solve various crimes

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