MADE IN BRITAIN
(An Outlook on Tradition and Modernity in the U.K.)
As I am sure you have noticed,
most of the things we buy these days are labeled “Made in Taiwan” or China or
even better Bangladesh. Rare are the moments when we actually get a hold of a
“Made in the U.K.” product. “Made in Britain” seems to withhold a content that
is more than a label. A Cadbury chocolate is not just any ‘chocolate’ and a
Royce isn’t exactly a Dacia; well it depends on how you look at it!
What are the first ideas that
enter our minds when we think “The United Kingdom?” Apart from the images that
everyone seems to embrace such as the royal family, Shakespeare or the British
weather, people tend to understand Britain from two angles: of tradition and
According to the ¹survey undergone by the British Council in 2001, the
U.K. is viewed as being traditional in high-income countries while in the
middle and low-income countries it is seen as modern. The same survey shows that the image of the U.K. is
also different in the cases of those people that have or haven’t visited the
country. The former tend to see the British society as modern, while the
latter, gather that the U.K is more ‘traditional.’ Using this information we
can conclude that people draw up an image of another country according to many
factors such as the level of development (of that certain country), the degree
of education and also on personal experience and information.
the two terms ‘tradition’ and ‘modernity’ is essential in fully analyzing their
relationship in the U.K.
one know the old saw about the secret behind the loveliness of English gardens?
Asked to explain a lord replied: ‘ Simple, take ordinary grass and turn the
soil regularly for five hundred years.’ This, metaphorically speaking, has
created the image of tradition in the U.K.: regularity, permanence, devotement,
and rigor, a continuous glorification of the past and a constant appraisal and
opening to the future.
gadgets that make the society „technologically advanced,” so to say, do not
represent modernity in the U.K., or anywhere else in the world. Modernity
refers to the character of life under changed circumstances; on one hand having
the capacity to make the moment one lives in as vibrant as possible, while on
the other hand, strongly maintaining traditional values.
one visits the U.K. one is bewildered by how everything around from houses to
museums or shops are beautifully conserved but at the same time astoundingly
modern. Taxi’s are no longer a sober black but full of colour and
personality, double- deckers move rather fast on the little, narrow streets so picturesque that one has the impression they wont fit or that only a 19th
century carriage would. History is everywhere you turn in Britain but the
‘decorations’ bring light and individuality to the picture. The U.K. has never
lagged behind in the process of modernization nor in the process of keeping
traditions alive: in architecture, in design, in fashion, in car making, in its
gardens, in its literature, in other words in its ‘image’.
my opinion, Britain is not all about Manchester United, kings and queens, the
blue blood phobia or five o’clock tea.
design for example is a topic that well enhances the liaison between tradition
Frederique Huygen sees British design as: “… Burberry raincoats, floral
interior fabrics, Jaguars, Shetland pullovers, Dunhill lighters and Wedgwood
pottery. Tradition, respectability and quality.” But later in the work we
discover that even though traditionally that is what British design stands for,
modernisation does not make this image disappear.
has been the witness of several radical movements brought along by what is known
as the “street culture,” such as the anarchy of punk and pop musicians such as
the Sex Pistols whose music was a blasphemous treatment of the monarchy and
country. Well-known pop
musicians like Boy George, David Bowie or Adam Ant created a new statement in
British fashion design by wearing shocking outfits created by young fashion
designers. But such movements did not
create profound changes in Britain’s image. In fact, design was known as the
tonic for Britain’s economy that had drastically fallen after the two World
Wars, and brought industry back to life by sheer unbridled competition.
Actually British design became “shocking” rather late due to British reluctance
to all that was modern. Even
though the U.K. was the actual ‘generator’ of industrialization, the late
arrival of a Modern Movement is often associated with the quest of acceptance
of the machine.
society pushed aside mass production and classless products over hand-made and
small scale production, until it realized that tradition and modernity are not
contradictory or exclusive thus learning how to make the two coexist. For
example, a radical movement such as punk anarchy together with the art school’s
creativity brought innovation to design in the U.K. The effects were that
starting with the 80’s fashion was back in the international spotlight, the
industry made a huge profit and alongside other industries it aided economy in
regaining its strengths. Designs by Vivienne Westwood, John Galliano, John
Richmond, succeeded in finding their identity in the world of ‘haute-couture’
by creating a twist of tradition and modernity.
important branch of British design, is the car-making industry. I find car
making in the U.K. to be a relevant example of the way in which it has always
strived to combine the traditional and the modern. Well known for their class
car manufacturing of models such as the Rolls Royce, Aston Martin, Walter Owen
Bentley or the Jaguar, the term “Britishness” becomes self-explanatory.
to the fact that British approach to design is one of common sense rooted in
the craft tradition, the cars have maintained that classic design and style
that spell ‘British’ or better said ²´“well
groomed and tame” as the Jaguar is described. But these types of cars are
spicily priced and their affordability comes easy only to those who are willing
and can pay large sums of money. An interesting fact is that according to ³ BBC News, in 2000 car makers in Britain were ordered
to cut prices for they were up to 10% and even 20% higher than in other
European countries. Still, the 2000 figure of sales was that of 2.21 million sold cars and in 2001 sales established a
record sale of 2.33 million beating the record of 1989.
Although the class cars do not figure in the top ten
most sold, they do appear in the top 30 and 40 which no doubt shows the
relatively high living standard in Britain. Even though it is still considered
to be a class-structured society, high-income rates have contributed to
political tranquillity. ˉ To paraphrase the work “20th Century
Britain,” compared to the 1900 when British society was sharply divided among
class and gender lines, in Edwardian Britain this structured status quo was not
meekly accepted by everyone (we are to remember the Suffragette movement).
Therefore, we can see that as society evolved so did mentality and as living
standards surged the class and gender issues dissipated and Britain ˉ
“seemed to be moving towards a fairer, more egalitarian society.”
Modernity lies in the power to somehow shape mentality,
much like modern ideas give a new and polished look to a classic Bentley or
make the Range Rover more equipped to win the Paris- Dakar.
Art has no history because ˜ “history has an
unchanging basic structure” and as car making, fashion or everything design
represents is art, art knows no temporal boundaries. Because just like
tradition is at times erroneously considered a “thing of the past” without any
contemporary legitimacy, and modernity is often mistakenly understood as a
synonym for modernism, art is timeless.
A tradition can be born today and referred to as being
modern or not. Today we so often state that some clothing article is ‘modern’
when in fact it was also known to be ‘modern’ in the 60’s or at the beginning
of the century!
By this I would like to conclude that ‘modernity’ is
not necessarily something happening right now or in the future and ‘tradition’
is not just the docile transmission of some dead deposit but the living
repetition that manages to suggest a fresh truth.
CEO for Aston Martin describes this car in such a way that clearly elicits what
tradition and modernity are in the U.K. Therefore, when you ever ask
yourselves: “What can a car say about a country?” think of this:
is how I see tradition and modernity in the U.K. A profound respect for
traditional values, a promoter of creativity and an inborn pride in saying:
“Made in Britain.” Now you can understand what I meant that this “is more than
2’ Frederique Huygen “British Design Image & Identity” first published 1989
in Great Britain, Thames and Hudson Ltd., London – (page 15 (2), page 24 (2’))
BBC News, Sunday April 8th
2001(also exists in article form at www.bbc.com)
Britain-Economic, Social and Cultural Change” edited by Paul Johnson, first
published 1994 in London and New York, Longman,(
Peter Donaldson and John
Farquhar “Understanding the British Economy”, Penguin Group 1988,( page 11)
“Art Has No History- The
Making and Unmaking of Modern Art” edited by John Roberts, Verso 1994, (page1)
Name: Irina Oana Gligor
Address: Aura Buzescu #32