Rishi Sunak, of the Conservative Party, recently sparked outrage in the UK arts community by suggesting that those involved or working in the arts should retrain and find new jobs. He claims he was misquoted, and has harped on since about the “Culture Recovery Fund” that the Tories are peddling out (in exchange for praise, without which no payment is made). That didn’t stop them, however, from releasing a shameful ad showing a ballet dancer, “Fatima”, and claiming that “her next job could be in Cyber. She just doesn’t know it yet”.
Putting aside this tweet from a man actually in Cyber, who says he and his colleagues have been made redundant in order to cut costs due to Brexit, this shameful disregard for the arts is disappointing, but not surprising. The Tories are all about money; they do not understand creative people and why they do what they do. However, there is one thing that Conservatives should certainly understand: heritage. It’s easy to see heritage across the UK; there are castles, manors, forts and museums absolutely everywhere.
But our artistic heritage is possibly better than any of it. Let’s delve into what the United Kingdom has given to the arts over the past few centuries.
Literature and Theatre
To this day, one of the UK’s most famous citizens is William Shakespeare. He wrote a ton of plays that went on to become the most famous of all-time, including Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet and Macbeth. In doing so, he also invented hundreds of new words and phrases that are now used in everyday life by people all over the world. His impact on playwriting and literature literally knows no bounds; it is endless, timeless. He is one of the most important people to have ever lived in artistic history.
But it goes beyond Shakespeare. In the time since, the UK has also birthed authors such as Charles Dickens (Oliver Twist), H.G. Wells (The War of the Worlds), Mary Shelley (Frankenstein), George Orwell (1984), Jane Austen (Pride and Prejudice), Agatha Christie (Poirot/Marple), J.R.R. Tolkien (Lord of the Rings), Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes), C.S. Lewis (The Chronicles of Narnia), Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), Terry Pratchett (Discworld), Anthony Horowitz (Alex Rider), Michael Morpurgo (War Horse), Malorie Blackman (Noughts & Crosses) and J.K. Rowling (Transphobe, but also Harry Potter).
So many of the world’s most revered authors and works came from this country, and our influence on global literature is undeniable. The UK’s global reputation would be far lesser without our fantastic array of fictitious works, and indeed, the English language be much, much different without the works of Shakespeare alone. When one of your country’s writers is half-inventing a language – and not one like Klingon, but one that is truly spoken by billions - you should show their field some respect.
His plays, among many others, are now performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company, which often employs A-list actors such as Dame Judi Dench, Sir Ian McKellen, Simon Callow and David Tennant. The West End in London is also incredibly famous, comparable to New York’s Broadway, and in the festive season, the UK loves a good pantomime. Our stage presence is huge, and it would be catastrophic is the UK were to lose its theatres.
Film and TV
Speaking of actors, that’s a nice Segway into this segment. Now, there’s a running gag that Britain only has about seven actors, but it is simply not true. What we do have, however, is an absolute gaggle of sublime actors. Four of them have already been namechecked, and there are simply too many to start making a list now. However, we will anyway. Dame Helen Mirren. Dame Julie Walters. Sir Patrick Stewart. Sir John Hurt. (Should be Dame) Olivia Colman. Alan Rickman. Dame Maggie Smith. My word, it’s hard not to get starstruck just listing them. Emma Thompson too!
Behind the camera, we’ve also given the world our fair share of amazing directors. Alfred Hitchcock, Ridley Scott, Danny Boyle, Edgar Wright, Christopher Nolan (kind of). Many films are also made at Shepperton Studios in Surrey, including Star Wars, Alien, Blade Runner, Harry Potter, and a large chunk of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies.
Just going to add the words “James” and “Bond” here as well (Ian Fleming, another British author) Eat your heart out, Hollywood.
Television is also a huge part of British culture and we have created some corkers over the years. However, there is one that, without doubt, overshadows the lot: Doctor Who. What a show. It has been on air for just short of SIXTY years now, simply because its basic premise is that good and allows for such longevity. Staples such as the Daleks and the TARDIS have become as much a part of British culture as anything and are now instantly recognisable worldwide. It is a legendary show and that it continues to run today is a testament to its class, its quality, and its ability to move with the times.
Beyond Who, we’ve created Monty Python, Only Fools and Horses, Sherlock, Broadchurch, and heaps more. Television is a huge part of UK culture, and we’re damn good at it.
It’s been fun looking at all of this, but regular site visitors will know that we’re primarily a music website, and boy, is the UK’s music output grand indeed. There is simply not enough time in the day to go through everything that the UK has done for music, but we’re going to talk about as much as possible.
The Beatles may be an obvious place to start, but before we do, let’s give a mention to producer Joe Meek. He was a gay man when it was illegal in the 1960s, which already caused him grief, and even beyond that, he battled with mental health issues throughout his adult life. He eventually committed suicide in 1967 whilst in the midst of being sued; he was absolutely broke and had nothing, seeing no way out. Three weeks later the suit was ruled in his favour and he’d have been rolling in it, but even so, there was much more to it than money.
Before this, however, he cemented his place as one of the pioneers of music production. His techniques were ahead of their time, and his crowning achievement was the Tornados’ hit ‘Telstar’. Written and produced by Meek and performed by The Tornados (whose guitarist was George Bellamy, father of Muse’s Matt), ‘Telstar’ became the first track by a British band to hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US, and spent five weeks at #1 in their homeland. Meek’s judgement wasn’t always perfect; he told Brian Epstein not to bother signing The Beatles, and also didn’t think much of a young Rod Stewart. But as a sound engineer, few were better.
‘Telstar’ paved the way for The Beatles to later achieve success in the USA, as it opened America’s eyes to British groups. He may not have liked them, but Meek helped Beatlemania happen. He also transformed sound engineering as we know it. A bonafide legend in the studio.
Moving on, of course we have to actually mention The Beatles as their own thing. The most influential band of all-time, we should absolutely show them off if we’re campaigning against Rishi Sunak’s attempted demolition of the arts. The 1960s also gave us The Who, The Kinks, The Rolling Stones and Cream, and in 1968 a blues cover band called Earth was formed. Earth soon got bored of the blues, however, and after being mistaken for another band of the same name, they changed it and their style. Black Sabbath had been born, and with them, a whole new genre: heavy metal.
Again, regular readers will know of my love of metal – and it’s the icing on the cake that it was born in Birmingham, England. Other early British rock acts include Deep Purple, Queen, Led Zeppelin and Judas Priest, before the immortal Iron Maiden would take over. Also worth a mention is Brian Johnson, the English vocalist of AC/DC, with one of the most instantly recognisable voices in world music.
Outside of rock, in 1973 Mike Oldfield composed a 50-minute magnum opus, Tubular Bells, at the age of just 19 – and if Sunak is interested more in business, it should be noted that Richard Branson’s Virgin company wouldn’t have gotten off of the ground with Tubular Bells.
Fleetwood Mac is also a half-British group, David Bowie speaks for himself, and who can forget the 1980s electronic music boom with the likes of Dead or Alive, The Human League, Simple Minds, Depeche Mode, Erasure and Yazoo? In more recent times, we’ve birthed the likes of Oasis, Blur, Feeder, Amy Winehouse, Ed Sheeran, Adele and Stormzy (Grime is also a British genre), a never-ending stream of popular success worldwide.
Put simply, the British are ridiculously good at making music. See how many of your favourite artists you can find on that map – and then realise how many they’ve left off (bearing in mind it is a good few years old now as well).
Don’t Kill Our Creativity, Mr. Sunak
There are seven arts, traditionally, and we’ve only looked at a few of them, barely scratching the surface. The United Kingdom is a hugely creative country, bursting with ideas and innovation in the arts. Without the UK’s contribution, there would be a lot less to watch on TV, less to watch at the cinema, much less to read and the radios would be boring as all Hell – let’s not forget that much of the music from outside of Britain would have been influenced by the Brits, so even that would be different.
Our artistic quality is quite possibly the best in the world, and that should not be hindered by a Government that doesn’t see the value of creativity. The British are historically brilliant at creating new slices of entertainment to enjoy, new works of fiction to imagine, new pieces of art to marvel at. Don’t stifle our art. It will kill the United Kingdom.
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