Some features of today's British life
Some features of today's British life
From 1981 to 1989 the British economy experienced eight years of
sustained growth at the annual average rate over 3%. However, subsequently
Britain and other major industrialized nations were severely affected by
recession. In Britain growth slowed to 0.6% in 1990, and in 1991 gross
domestic product (GDP) fell by 2.3%. GDP fell in 1992 as a whole by 0.4%,
but it rose slightly in the second half of the year. The recovery
strengthened during the first part of 1993; with GDP in the second quarter
being 2% higher than a year earlier; the European Commission expected
Britain to be the fastest growing of all major European economies in 1993
Recent indications that the recovery is under may include:
. an increase in manufacturing output;
. a steady upward trend in retail sales;
. increases in new car registrations;
. record levels of exports;
. increased business and consumer confidence; and
. signs of greater activity in the housing market.
The Government’s policy is to ensure sustainable economic growth through
low inflation and sound public finances. The Government’s economic policy
is set in the context of a medium-term financial strategy, which is revived
each year. Within this strategy, monetary and fiscal policies are designed
to defeat inflation. Short-term interest rates remain the essential
instrument of monetary policy.
Macroeconomic policy is directed towards keeping down the rate of
inflation as the basis for sustainable growth, while micro-economic
policies seek to improve the working of markets and encourage enterprise,
efficiency and flexibility through measures such as privatization,
deregulation and tax reforms.
The economy is now benefiting from substantially lower interest rates. In
September 1993 base interest rates were at 6%. They had been cut by 9
percentage points since October 1990, and were at their lowest since 1977.
Private enterprises generate over three-quarters of total domestic
income. Since 1979 the Government has privatized 46 major businesses and
reduced the state-owned sector of industry by about two-thirds. The
Government is taking measures to cut unnecessary regulations imposed on
business, and runs a number of schemes which provide direct assistance or
advice to small and medium-sized businesses.
In some sectors a small number of large companies and their subsidiaries
are responsible for a substantial proportion of total production, notably
in the vehicle, aerospace and transport equipment industries. Private
enterprises account for the greater part of activity in the agricultural,
manufacturing, construction, distributive, financial and miscellaneous
service sectors. The private sector contributed 75% of total domestic final
expenditure in 1992, general government 24 % and public corporations 1%.
About 250 British industrial companies in the latest reporting period
each had an annual turnover of more than £500 million. The annual turnover
of the biggest company, British Petroleum’, makes it the llth largest
industrial grouping in the world and the second largest in Europe. Five
British firms are among the top 25 European Community companies.
The service industries, which include finance, retailing, tourism and
business services, contribute about 65% of gross domestic product and over
70% of employment. Britain is responsible for some 10% of the world’s
exports of services; overseas earnings from services amounted to 30% of the
value of exports of manufactures in 1992. The number of employees in
services rose from over 13 million in 1982 to 15.5 million by the end of
1992, much of the rise being accounted for by growth in parttime
(principally female) employment.
Average real disposable income per head increased by nearly three-
quarters between 1971 and 1990 and this was reflected in a rise in consumer
spending of financial, personal and leisure services and on the maintenance
and repair of consumer durables. Demand for British travel, hotel and
catering services rose as real incomes in Britain and other countries
increased. The spread of home ownership, particularly during the 1980s,
increased demand for legal and state agency services.
Britain is a major financial centre, housing some of the world’s leading
banking, insurance, securities, shipping, commodities, futures, and other
financial services and markets. Financial services are an important source
of employment and overseas earnings. Business services include advertising,
market research, management consultancy, exhibition and conference
facilities, computing services and auction houses.
By the year 2000, tourism is expected to be the world’s biggest industry,
and Britain is one of the world’s leading tourist destinations. The
industry is Britain’s second largest, employing nearly 7% of the workforce.
Retailing is also a major employer and Britain has an advanced distribution
network. An important trend in retailing is the growth of out-of-town
The computing services industry continues to be one of the fastest-
growing sectors of the economy, and information technology is widely used
in retailing and financial services.
A notable trend in the services sector is the growth of franchising, an
operation in which a company owning the rights to a particular form of
trading licenses them to franchises, usually by means of an initial payment
with continuing royalties. The main areas include cleaning services, film
processing, print shops, hair-dressing and cosmetics, fitness centres,
courier delivery, car rental, engine tuning and servicing, and fast food
retailing. It is estimated that franchising’s share of total retail sales
is over 3%, a figure which is likely to increase.
The strength of the regular armed forces, all volunteers, was nearly
271,000 in mid-1993 — 133,000 in the Army, 79,300 in the Royal Air Force
(RAF) and 58,500 in the Royal Navy and Royal Marines. There were 18,800
women personnel — 7,500 in the Army, 6,800 in the RAF, and 4,400 in the
British forces’ main military roles are to:
. ensure the protection and security of Britain and its dependent
. ensure against any major external threat to Britain and its
. contribute towards promoting Britain’s wider security interests
through the maintenance of international peace and security.
Most of Britain’s nuclear and conventional forces are committed to NATO
and about 95% of defence expenditure to meeting its NATO responsibilities.
In recognition of the changed European security situation, Britain’s armed
forces are being restructured in consultation with other NATO allies.
Under these plans, the strength of the armed forces is being cut by 22%,
leaving by the mid-1990s some 119,000 in the Army, 70,000 in the RAF and
52,500 in the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines. This involves reductions in
main equipment of:
. three Tornado GR1 squadrons, four Phantom squadrons, two Buccaneer
squadrons and part of a squadron of Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft;
. 12 submarines, nine destroyers and frigates and 13 mine
. countermeasures ships; and
. 327 main battle tanks.
Civilian staff employed by the Ministry of Defence will be reduced from
169,100 in 1991 to 135,000.
As a member of NATO, Britain fully supports the Alliance’s current
strategic concept, under which its tasks are to:
. help to provide a stable security environment, in which no country
is able to intimidate or dominate any European country through the
threat or use of force;
. serve as a transatlantic forum for Allied consultations affecting
member states’ vital interests; deter from aggression and defend
member states against military attack; and
. preserve the strategic balance within Europe.
THE PRESS, RADIO AND TELEVISION
National Daily and Sunday Papers.
The British buy more newspapers than any other people except Swedes and
the Japanese. The daily press differs in two obvious ways from that of any
similar western European country. First, all over Britain most people read
“national” papers, based in London, which altogether sell more copies than
all eighty-odd provincial papers combined. Second, there is a striking
difference between the five “quality” papers’ and the six mass-circulation
These characteristics are still more salient with the Sunday press.
Almost no papers at all are published in Britain on Sundays except
“national” ones: six “popular”’ and five “quality” based in London. Three
appear on Sundays only; the others are associated with dailies which have
the same names but different editors, journalists and layouts. The
“quality” Sunday papers devote large sections to literature and the arts.
They have colour supplements and are in many ways more like magazines than
newspapers. They supply quite different worlds of taste and interest from
the “popular” papers.
Scotland has two important “quality” papers, “The Scotsman” in Edinburgh
and the “Glasgow Herald”.
The dominance of the national press reflects the weakness of regional
identity among the English. The gap in quality is not so much between
Labour and Conservative, as between levels of ability to read and
appreciate serious news presented seriously. Of the five quality morning
papers only “The Daily Telegraph” is solidly Conservative; nearly all its
readers are Conservatives. “The Times” and “Financial Times” have a big
minority of non-Conservative readers. Of the popular papers only the “Daily
Mirror” regularly supports Labour. Plenty of Labour voters read popular
papers with Conservative inclinations, but do not change their publican
opinion because of what they have read. Some of them are interested only in
the human interest stories and in sport, and may well hardly notice the
reporting of political and economic affairs.
Except in central London there are very few newspaper kiosks in town
streets. This may be because most pavements are too narrow to have room for
them. In towns the local evening papers are sold by elderly men and women
who stand for many hours, stamping their feet to keep warm. Otherwise,
newspapers can be bought in shops or delivered to homes by boys and girls
who want to earn money by doing “paper-rounds”.
Most of the newspapers are owned by big companies, some of which have
vast interests in other things, ranging from travel agencies to Canadian
forests. Some have been dominated by strong individuals. The greatest of
the press “barons” have not been British in origin, but have come to
Britain from Canada, Australia or Czechoslovakia. The most influential
innovator of modern times is partly Indian, and spent his early years in
India. He pioneered the introduction of new technology in printing.
Among the “quality” papers the strongly Conservative “Daily Telegraph”
sells more than twice as many copies as any of the others. It costs less to
buy and its reporting of events is very thorough. The “Financial Times” has
a narrower appeal, but is not narrowly restricted to business news. “The
Guardian” has an old liberal tradition, and is in general a paper of the
The most famous of all British newspapers is “The Times”. It is not now,
and has never been, an organ of the government, and has no link with any
party. In 1981 it and “The Sunday Times”’ were taken over by the
international press company of the Australian Rupert Murdoch, which also
owns two of the most “popular” of the national papers. Its editorial
independence is protected by a supervisory body, but in the 1980s it has on
the whole been sympathetic to the Conservative government. The published
letters to the editor have often been influential, and some lead to,
prolonged discussion in further letters. Under the Murdoch regime it has
continued a movement away from its old austerity.
The popular newspapers are now commonly called “tabloids”, a word first
used for pharmaceutical substances compressed into pills. The tabloid
newspapers compress the news, and are printed on small sheets of paper.
They use enormous headlines for the leading items of each day, which are
one day political, one day to do with crime, one day sport, one day some
odd happening. They have their pages of political report and comment,
short, often over-simplified but vigorously written and (nowadays)
generally responsible. They thrive on sensational stories and excitement.
The two archetypal popular papers, the “Daily Mail”’ and “Daily Express”
were both built up by individual tycoons in the early 20th century. Both
had a feeling for the taste of a newly-literate public: if a man bites a
dog, that’s news. The “Daily Express” was built up by a man born in Canada.
He became a great man in the land, a close friend and associate of Winston
Churchill, and a powerful minister in his War Cabinet. The circulation of
the “Daily Express” at one time exceeded four million copies a day. Now the
first Lord Beaverbrook is dead, and the daily sales are not much more than
half of their highest figure. The history of the “Daily Mail”, with its
more conventional conservatism, is not greatly different.
In popular journalism the “Daily Mirror” became a serious rival of the
“Express” and “Mail” in the 1940s. It was always tabloid, and always
devoted more space to picture than to text. It was also a pioneer with
strip cartoons. After the Second World War it regularly supported the
Labour Party. It soon outdid the “Daily Express” in size of headlines,
short sentences and exploration of excitement. It also became the biggest-
selling daily newspaper. For many years its sales were about four million;
sometimes well above.
Until the 1960s the old “Daily Herald” was an important daily paper
reflecting the views of the trade unions and the Labour Party. Then it went
through several changes, until in the 1970s its successor, “The Sun”, was
taken over by Mr Murdoch’s company. In its new tabloid form it became a
right-wing rival to the “Daily Mirror”, with huge headlines and some
nudity. In the 1980s its sales reached four million and exceeded the “Daily
Mirror”. Mr Murdoch’s News International already owned “The News of the
World”’, a Sunday paper which has continued to give special emphasis to
scandals. But by 1990 its sales were only two-thirds of their former
highest figure of eight million.
For a very long time the press has been free from any governmental
interference. There has been no censorship, no subsidy. But for several
decades it has seemed that some newspapers have abused their freedom. In
competing with one another to get stories to satisfy a public taste for
scandal, reporters and photographers have been tempted to harass
individuals who have for one reason or another been involved, directly or
indirectly, in events which could excite public curiosity. Prominent people
of all kinds, as well as obscure people who come into the news as victims
of crimes or accidents, have been pursued into their homes for photographs
Local and Regional Papers.
Local morning papers have suffered from the universal penetration of the
London-based national press. Less than 20 survive in the whole England, and
their combined circulation is much less than that of “The Sun” alone. Among
local daily papers those published in the evenings are much more important.
Each of about 70 towns has one, selling only within a radius of 50 to 100
kilometres. The two London evening papers, the “News” and “Standard”,
together sold two million copies in 1980, but they could not survive, and
merged into one, now called “The London Evening Standard”.
Most local daily papers belong to one or other of the big press empires,
which leave their local editors to decide editorial policy. Mostly they try
to avoid any appearance of regular partisanship, giving equal weight to
each major political party. They give heavy weight to local news and defend
local interests and local industries.
The total circulation of all provincial daily newspapers, morning and
evening together, is around eight million: about half as great as that of
the national papers. In spite of this, some provincial papers are quite
prosperous. They do not need their own foreign correspondents; they receive
massive local advertising, particularly about things for sale.
The truly local papers are weekly. They are not taken very seriously,
being mostly bought for the useful information contained in their
advertisements. But for a foreign visitor wishing to learn something of the
flavour of a local community, the weekly local paper can be useful. Some of
these papers are now given away, not sold out but supported by the
The Weekly and Periodical Press.
Good English writing is often to be found in the weekly political and
literary journals, all based in London, all with nationwide circulations in
the tens of thousands. “The Economist”, founded in 1841, probably has no
equal everywhere. It has a coloured cover and a few photographs inside, so
that it looks like “Time”’, “Newsweek” or “Der Spiegel”, but its reports
have more depth and breadth than any these. It covers world affairs, and
even its American section is more informative about America than its
American equivalents. Although by no means “popular”, it is vigorous in its
comments, and deserves the respect in which it is generally held.
“Spectator” is a weekly journal of opinion. It regularly contains well-
written articles, often politically slanted. It devotes nearly half its
space to literature and the arts.
“The Times” has three weekly supplements, all appeared and sold
separately. The “Literary Supplement” is devoted almost entirely to book
reviews, and covers all kinds of new literature. It makes good use of
academic contributors, and has at last, unlike “The Economist”, abandoned
its old tradition of anonymous reviews. “New Scientist”4, published by the
company which owns the “Daily Mirror”, has good and serious articles about
scientific research, often written by academics yet useful for the general
One old British institution, the satirical weekly “Punch”’, survives,
more abrasive than in an earlier generation yet finding it hard to keep the
place it once had in a more secure social system. Its attraction,
particularly for one intellectual youth, has been surpassed by a new rival,
“Private Eye”, founded in 1962 by people who, not long before, had run a
pupils’ magazine in Shrewsbury School. Its scandalous material is admirably
written on atrocious paper and its circulation rivals that of “The
Glossy weekly or monthly illustrated magazines cater either for women or
for any of a thousand special interests. Almost all are based in London,
with national circulations, and the women’s magazines sell millions of
copies. These, along with commercial television, are the great educators of
demand for the new and better goods offered by the modern consumer society.
In any big newsagent’s shop the long rows of brightly covered magazines
seem to go on for ever; beyond the large variety of appeals to women and
teenage girls come those concerned with yachting, tennis, model railways,
gardening and cars. For every activity there is a magazine, supported
mainly by its advertisers, and from time to time the police bring a pile of
pornographic magazines to local magistrates, who have the difficult task of
deciding whether they are sufficiently offensive to be banned.
These specialist magazines are not cheap. They live off an infinite
variety of taste, curiosity and interest. Their production, week by week
and month by month, represents a fabulous amount of effort and of felled
trees. Television has not killed the desire to read.
Radio and Television.
Since the 1970s 98% of British households have had television sets able
to receive four channels, two put out by the BBC, two by commercial
companies. Commercial satellite and cable TV began to grow significantly in
1989-1990, and by 1991 the two main companies operating in Britain had
joined together as British Sky Broadcasting. By 1991 about one household in
ten had the equipment to receive this material.
Every household with TV must by law pay for a licence, which costs about
the same for a year as a popular newspaper every day.
Unlike the press, mass broadcasting has been subject to some state
control from its early days. One agreed purpose has been to ensure that
news, comment and discussion should be balanced and impartial, free of
influence by government or advertisers. From 1926 first radio, then TV as
well, were entrusted to the BBC, which still has a board of governors
appointed by the government. The BBC’s monopoly was ended in 1954, when an
independent board was appointed by the Home Secretary to give licences to
broadcast (“franchises”) to commercial TV companies financed by
advertising, and called in general independent television (ITV). These
franchises have been given only for a few years at a time, then renewed
subject to various conditions.
In 1990 Parliament passed a long and complex new Broadcasting Act which
made big changes in the arrangements for commercial TV and radio. The old
Independent Broadcasting Authority, which had given, franchises to the
existing TV and radio companies, was abolished. In its place, for TV alone,
a new Independent Television Commission was set up in 1991, with the task
of awarding future franchises, early in the 1990s, either to the existing
companies or to new rivals which were prepared to pay a higher price. The
Commission also took over responsibility for licensing cable programme
services, including those satellite TV channels which are carried on cable
networks. The new law did not change the status of the BBC, but it did have
the purpose of increasing competition, both among broadcasters and among
producers. It envisaged that a new commercial TV channel, TVS, would start
in the early 1990s.
The general nature of the four TV channels functioning in 1991, seems
likely to continue, with BBC1 and ITV producing a broadly similar mixture
of programmes in competition with each other. ITV has a complex structure.
Its main news is run by one company, Independent Television News, its early
morning TV— a.m. by another. There are about a dozen regional companies
which broadcast in their regions for most each day, with up to ten minutes
of advertisements in each hour, between programmes or as interruptions at
intervals of twenty or thirty minutes. These regional companies produce
some programmes of local interest and some which they sell to other
regions, so that for much of each day the same material is put out all
through the country. Some of BBCl’s programmes are similarly produced by
its regional stations. BBC2 and the independent Channel 4 (which has its
own company) are both used partly for special interest programmes and for
such things as complete operas.
By international standards it could reasonably be claimed that the four
regular channels together provide an above-average service, with the
balance giving something to please most tastes and preferences. Some quiz-
shows and “soap operas”’, or long-running sagas, attract large numbers of
viewers and to some extent the BBC competes for success in this respect.
But minority preferences are not overlooked. In Wales there are Welsh-
language programmes for the few who want them. There are foreign language
lessons for the general pubic, as well as the special programmes for
schools and the Open University2. BBC news has always kept a reputation for
objectivity, and the independent news service is of similar quality.
Television is probably the most important single factor in the continuous
contest for the public’s favour between the political parties. Parties and
candidates cannot buy advertising time. At intervals each channel provides
time for each of the three main political parties for party-political
broadcasts, and during an election campaign a great deal of time is
provided for parties’ election, always on an equal basis.
Minor parties get time, based partly on the number of their candidates.
In Wales and Scotland the nationalist parties get TV time on the same basis
as the three others. Studios and transmitters must be provided free of
charge. But often a party prefers to film a broadcast outside the studio at
its own expense, for greater impact.
BBC TV Europe broadcasts some of its own programmes by satellite, and
from 1991 BBC TV International began to sell and distribute its World
Service TV news in English and some other languages.
The BBC’s Radio 4 is the main general interest radio service, with some
items run by regional studios. Radio 3 is for minority interests, including
music, “2” for light entertainment, “1” for pop music and “5” for sport,
education and children’s programmes. There are also several dozens local
BBC radio stations, covering the whole country. The world wide radio
service has been established for long time, and is the activity of the BBC
to receive a government subsidy.
The BBC runs several dozens of local radio stations, which compete with
independent commercial rivals, financed by advertisements. All provide a
mixture of local news and comment, with some entertainment matter, mainly
pop music, in between. In the 1990s there should be one or more new
commercial radio stations broadcasting nationwide, including one “non-pop”
station, possibly for continuous broadcasts of classical music.