The UK, Great Britain, Albion, this Sceptred Isle - however you refer to this small island perched up on the north western edge of the European continent, one thing that is undeniable is that nowhere else on Earth is there such a diminutive country that has had such a massive global impact.
Whether in the form of symbols of power as with the British Empire’s Union Flag, in the guise of the person as with W. Churchill or Princess Diana, or in the form of chic design, as with the mini and mini-skirt in the Swinging Sixties, or the simple yet powerful Oasis logo from the Britpop era of the Nineties, British icons have been at both the forefront and in the background of history, decorating the past and how we perceive it.
In taking a closer look at British Icons and their history, we can gain a better understanding of the United Kingdom, its people, and what makes them tick. You2uk.com is taking a deep look at British Icons in a bid not only to better understand the UK, but also to give visitors to this island nation a more meaningful stay in a country, the very name of which, is an icon in itself.
It’s one of the highlights of the United Kingdom’s sporting calendar but is just as well known for torrential rain and overpriced strawberries as it is for the tennis. Yes, the Championships of the All England Lawn Tennis Club, or Wimbledon as it is best known, is indeed up there with the most famous of UK icons.
Every year in June, a quiet suburb of South West London becomes the focus of the world’s media as the top tennis talent from around the globe comes to Wimbledon to slog it out on the slow, grass surface of one of the 19 tournament courts at the club for a total of £12.5 million in prize money.
The London A-Z
Greater London is made up of nearly 95,000 ‘streets’, ‘roads’, ‘gardens’ and a whole host of other names for places where people live and work. Many of these, such as Oxford Street and Kings Road are well known, most however are not so. For visitors to the UK’s capital, finding their way around can be a tricky affair. Of course, the advent of smartphones and Google Maps makes things easier, but it hasn’t always been this way. The London A-Z (pronounced ‘A to zed’) was the map book of choice prior to the handheld information age. An instantly recognisable book with a very British red, white and blue cover sporting a large ‘A-Z’ was the pathfinder for those wishing to navigate the intricate the metropolis.
Topping the premiership for the third season in a row, Manchester United have become the quintessential successful modern football team, flag-bearers for the world’s greatest football league and one of popular British icons to boot. Right now they are on top of the world, football wise: they’ve won the league 18 times, equalling Liverpool’s record, have won 11 FA cups, more than anyone else, and have won the European Cup three times. They are the richest and most supported team of any sport in the world, and stars such as Giggs and Rooney are some of the most recognised faces on the planet.
The long-running UK soap opera EastEnders, which was first broadcast in February 1985 by the BBC, is now more of a UK icon than the East End of London which it was named after.
Based in the fictional location of Albert Square, EastEnders tells the stories of supposedly ordinary London folk and their trials and tribulations as they coexist in and around the Square, its market, shops and the Queen Vic (Victoria) pub.
Marks and Spencer
Marks and Spencer is a major UK retail company and a feature of any self-respecting British High Street or shopping centre. Also known as M&S, or more colloquially 'Marks and Sparks', this British retail giant is famous for amongst other things, its underwear and prawn and mayonnaise sandwiches. With 701 UK stores and 360 flying the flag in another 40 countries, Marks and Spencer has become an international byword for UK quality and is a genuine British icon.
Few if any UK icons are as baffling to the foreign eye as cricket.Traditionally played on village greens by two sides of 11 men wearing whiteclothes, the game is characterised by its slow pace, long breaks for tea and lunch, and a sense of fair play and sportsmanship that has even lead to cricket becoming a byword for these two traits.
The Mini Cooper
The Mini Cooper was recently voted the second most influential car of the 20th century which is some achievement for a boxy two door that handles like a go-kart – and great testament to its enduring charm and iconic design.
The Mini began life in 1957, when the head of the British Motor Corporation, Leonard Lord, grew peeved at the presence of so many cheap German cars on British roads: he was quoted as saying God damn these bloody awful bubble cars. We must drive them off the road by designing a proper miniature car.
Chicken tikka masala
Move over Full English Breakfast and pack your bags Sunday Roast because there’s a newer, saucier, spicier kid on the block: Chicken Tikka Masala.
Chicken tikka masala, or CTM as it’s affectionately known, is now believed to be the UK’s favourite dish, and while this may be hard to prove given the lack of numbers for sales of fried breakfasts and roast dinners, the data for CTM is certainly convincing:
‘I'd like to be a queen in people's hearts but I don't see myself being queen of this country.' - Princess Diana
As the wife of the heir to the throne, the Prince of Wales, Princess Diana was always going to be famous, of course; but it took a troubled life and a tragic death to truly make her an icon.
Lady Diana was born into the aristocracy, and had a model upper class girls upbringing: skiing, finishing school, no educational achievements (despite attending very good schools she failed all her O levels), then a job as a nanny while decorously waiting to snag a husband. And what a husband: the future King of England. The match received royal approval: she was posh, protestant and was (or at least looked like) a virgin.
Love it or hate it, as the company slogan goes, Marmite is undeniably part of the UK’s heritage and one of the most unique British icons. But British Francophobes will be sickened to learn that the name of the world famous yeast spread that divides the UK when it comes to breakfast time, originally came in from the small earthenware pot it was served in - a French casserole dish called a marmite.
Few if any UK icons represent the British way of life better than the pub. Public houses, ale houses, taverns, boozers, call them what you will, pubs have been serving up happiness to the downtrodden and depressed of this island for centuries, and barring the institution of sharia law in the UK, this tradition looks set to continue for the foreseeable future.
The first contact many people living outside the UK actually have with the country itself is through the British Broadcasting Corporation. Whether it is through the BBC World Service, a TV programme or a camera crew filming their misery as they work, starve, or get bombed and shot at, the BBC’s reach and position as the world’s largest media organisation has undoubtedly made it, and its logo, the most well known of all British icons.
The BBC began life in 1922 as a private company, the British Broadcasting Company Ltd, as a vehicle to test radio broadcasts which it began in November of that year. However in 1927 the company was closed down and replaced by the state-owned organisation we now know as the BBC.
Red Telephone Box
Red telephone box was originally designed in 1926 and though it was not initially embraced by people it has slowly become a British Icon that was familiar sight throughout the country.
In the last week of November 2011, Eurostat – which, funnily enough, collates statistics about Europe – declared that women in the UK are the fattest in Europe. At time of writing, 23.9% of women in the UK were obese. For the mathematically challenged that’s nearly a quarter (if you had four cakes one of those would equal a quarter). So it’s official: the fat woman is a British Icon.
How did it come to this? We at you2uk.com have carried out absolutely no research and come to the baseless conclusion: it’s New Labour’s fault.
Back in the rosy days before 1997, when people used to work for a living, the British were a svelte nation, noted for wiry women. Thin ladies like Kate Moss, Jody Marsh and 1960’s model Twiggy were the norm.
Like the Mini, the Routemaster bus is rather an unexpected vehicular British icon. After all, the double decker is boxy, sluggish and old fashioned, and rather cramped to ride in. But its years of service, distinctive bright red colour scheme and ubiquity have endeared it to the nation, and particularly to Londoners; it's become as much a symbol of the city as Nelson's Column.
The Full English Breakfast
The Full English Breakfast is the UK's iconic way to start the day, greasily flying in the face of all medical advice and common sense. Despite this, millions of plates of fried eggs, sausages, bacon, mushrooms, black pudding, beans, tomatoes, fried bread and toast are sold every day in cafes the length and breadth of the UK.
Sherlock Holmes was, of course, the fictional creation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, yet the character is so enduring and vital, and has taken on such a life of its own, that plenty of people find it hard to credit that the man never existed.
The ‘consulting detective' first appeared in the 1887, in an issue of the Strand magazine. In all, he appeared in four novels and sixty six short stories, written over a period of more than thirty years. Every tale follows basically the same formula; in a masterly display of intellectual bravura Holmes solves a case (usually a murder) through the application of sharp observation and deductive reasoning - all narrated by the admiring sidekick, the everyman figure Doctor Watson, who is sometimes called upon to do a bit of donkey work.
Harrod's in upmarket Knightsbridge is Britain's most famous department store, with an illustrious 150-year history and an enviable reputation for fine produce and luxury goods. On a good day it draws 300 000 customers, many of them tourists come to drink in a little glamour.
But Harrod's began life humbly in 1834, as Charles Henry Harrod's grocery store in Stepney. Charles moved the store to its present location in 1851 to take advantage of the passing trade from the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park
One of our UK Icons or a Great Briton? We at you2uk.com were f@cked if we knew where to put potty-mouthed TV chef Gordon Ramsey until our immigrant cleaner, who we pay £3.00 an hour, made the point that a Great Briton wouldn’t have had a facelift that left him looking like he was sucking lime juice off of electrified stinging nettles – so UK Icons it is.
Gordon Ramsey represents the UK phenomenon that is TV chefs. Starting life as black and white skits to show post-war Brits how to make the most of their rations, TV bosses decided to give these programmes a face and began with the wicked witch of the whisk known as Fanny Craddock. With her bouffant hair and chiffon gowns, Craddock had all the charm of an Auschwitz guard and peppered her shows with lines such as: “Only a slut gets into a mess in the kitchen.” Harsh but true.
For those who live nearby the constant roar from overhead is a constant reminder of its omnipotence. For passengers, the filth, delays and lost luggage are a constant reminder of the incompetence. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to London Heathrow, a British icon and the world’s busiest, and probably worst, airport.
Heathrow Airport is the first experience many visitors have of the UK, and on the whole it’s rarely a good one. A sprawling micro-city of concrete and chaos, it was once, along with British Airways, a byword for glamour in a time when air travel was reserved for the rich and famous. Today airports in Beijing, Bangkok and Budapest eclipse Heathrow for efficiency, comfort and cleanliness
The Union Jack
In 1603, Scotland and England were united for the first time under a common monarch, King James I. To represent this union a new flag was created, a combination of the English flag of Saint George – a red cross – and the Saint Andrew’s Cross of Scotland – a white saltire (diagonal cross) on a blue background. And thus the Union Jack was born, and for better or worse it’s been the symbol of the United Kingdom ever since.
Whether you’re a fan of the British Royal family or not one thing is for sure, Kate Middleton is set to become one of the most instantly recognisable British Icons of the 21st century.
Catherine (Kate) Elizabeth Middleton married Prince William of Wales in Westminster Abbey, London, on 29 April 2011. Born in January 1982, she grew up in Berkshire, England, and attended Marlborough College, a co-ed school for the wealthy before going on to study at the University of St Andrews in Scotland where she first met Prince William in 2001.
Pubs have long been central to the British way of life, providing a focal point for socialising in the UK. And while many individual public houses have their own parochial charms, only Wetherspoon’s pubs are zeitgeist - being both representative and symptomatic of the credit-crunched UK today.
Wetherspoon pubs are famed for their cheap booze and food, and eclectic clientele. Targeting the lower income brackets of society, it is hardly surprising, though morally questionable, that Wetherspoon’s pubs are often situated somewhere amidst clutches of social security offices, job centres and betting shops.
The death of Princess Diana was a watershed moment in the UK; a moment that many believe saw a shift in the British from a strong, proud and pragmatic people, to a mawkish anti-mob constantly looking for a shoulder to cry on as they were fed false hopes and given pseudo-sympathy by TV shows and Blair's New Labour. Since then, none have embodied the triteness of UK pop culture more than ex-glamour model, celebrity and British icon Jordan, aka Katie Price.
Born in 1978, in Brighton on the English South Coast, Price was an ordinary girl living an unremarkable life until she began appearing topless on page three of The Sun ‘newspaper’. A reasonably good looking young woman with a decent figure, Price decided to have breast implants to take her from a D cup to an F. Her resultant freakish appearance soon began to draw more attention from photographers’ lenses, and the glare of the camera flash soon became the glare of publicity.
The British are so enamoured of their traditional Sunday lunches that the French, their old enemy, made an insult out of it – they call Brits 'les rosbif' – literally, roast beef. The components of the dish haven’t changed since medieval times, when it was served by the squire to his serfs as a reward for the week’s work. The hearty Sunday lunch consists of a joint of roast beef, roast vegetables, and Yorkshire puddings (a kind of light, fluffy dumpling), all slathered with gravy and spiced up with horseradish sauce.