London

Contents

Prehistory_____________________________________________________ 2

London is the largest city in Europe_________________________________ 3

Cultural life of London___________________________________________ 5

The characteristics of British arts and letters__________________________ 5

Theatre and cinema______________________________________________ 7

Music________________________________________________________ 8

Literature_____________________________________________________ 9

The fine arts__________________________________________________ 11

Museums of London____________________________________________ 12

Parks of London_______________________________________________ 13

Housing_____________________________________________________ 14

Traffic_______________________________________________________ 16

Bibliography__________________________________________________ 18


Prehistory

Two thousand years ago there was an Iron Age Celtic culture throughout the British Isles. It seems that the Celts who had been arriving from Europe from the eighth century BC onwards intermingled with the peoples who were already there. We know that religious sites that had been built long before the arrival of the Celts continued to be used in the Celtic period.

For people in Britain today the chief significance of the prehistoric period is its sense of mystery. This sense finds its focus most easily in the astonishing monumental – architecture of this period the remains of which exist throughout the country. Wiltshire in south-western England has two spectacular examples: Silbury Hill the largest burial mound in Europe and Stonehenge. Such places have a special importance for anyone interested in the cultural and religious practices of prehistoric Britain. We know very little about these practices but there are some organizations today who base their beliefs on them.

London is the largest city in Europe

London dominates Britain. It is home for the headquarters of all government departments. Parliament the major legal institutions and the monarch. It is the country's business and banking centre and the centre of its transport network. It contains the headquarters of the national television networks and of all the national newspapers. It is about seven times larger than any other city in the country. About a fifth of the total population of the UK lives in the Greater London area.

The original walled city of London was quite small. It did not contain Parliament or the royal court since this would have interfered with the autonomy of the merchants and traders who lived and worked there. It was in Westminster another 'city' outside London's walls that these national institutions met. Today both 'cities' are just two areas of central London. The square mile is home to the country's main financial organizations the territory of the stereotypical English 'city gent'. During the daytime nearly a million people work there but less than 8000 people actually live there.

Two other well-known areas of London are the West End and the East End. The former is known for its many theatres cinemas and expensive shops. The latter is known as the poorer residential area of central London. It is the home of the Cockney and in this century large numbers of immigrants have settled there.

There are many other parts of central London which have their own distinctive characters and central London itself makes up only a very small part of Greater London. In common with many other European cities the population in the central area has decreased in the second half of the twentieth century. The majority of Londoners' live in its suburbs millions of them travelling into the centre each day to work. These suburbs cover a vast area of land.

Like many large cities London is in some ways untypical of the rest of the country in that it is so cosmopolitan. Although all of Britain's cities have some degree of cultural and racial variety the variety is by far the greatest in London. A survey carried out in the 1980's found that 37 different languages were spoken in the homes of just one district.

In recent years it has been claimed that London is in decline. It is losing its place as one of the world s biggest financial centres and in comparison with many other western European cities it looks rather dirty and neglected. Nevertheless its popularity as a tourist destination is still growing. And it is not only tourists who like visiting London – the readers of Business Traveller magazine often vote it their favourite city in the world in which to do business. This popularity is probably the result of its combination of apparently infinite cultural variety and a long history which has left many visible signs of its richness and drama.


Cultural life of London

One cannot learn or teach a language well without coming into contact with the cultural content. It is common knowledge that every country has its own national culture and heritage. So has Great Britain. This English speaking country is famous for great painters and artists architects and composers brilliant playwrights and poets actors and writers. Such names as Christopher Wren William Shakespeare Bernard Shaw Benjamin Britten Turner and Gainsborough are well known all over world.

The centre of cultural life in Britain is London of course. If you stay in London for a few days you will have no difficulty to find where to spend an evening. You will find opera comedy drama variety to your taste. Some of the best known theatres in England are: the Royal Opera House Royal Shakespeare theatre Old Vic and others.

The characteristics of British arts and letters

If there is one characteristic of British work in the arts that seems to stand out it is its lack of identification with wider intellectual trends. It is not usually ideologically committed nor associated with particular political movements. Playwrights and directors for instance can be left-wing in their political outlook but the plays which they produce rarely convey a straightforward political message. The same is largely true of British novelists and poets. Their writing is typically naturalistic and is not connected with particular intellectual movements. They tend to be individualistic exploring emotions rather than ideas the personal rather than the political. Whatever the critics say it is quite common for British playwrights and novelists to claim that they just record 'what they see' and that they do not consciously intend any social or symbolic message. Similarly British work in the arts also tends to be individualistic within its own field. That is artists do not usually consider themselves to belong to this or that' movement'. In any field of the arts even those in which British artists have strong international reputations it is difficult to identify a 'British school'.

The style of the arts also tends to be conventional. The avant-garde exists of course but with the possible exception of painting and sculpture it is not through such work that British artists become famous. In the 1980's Peter Brook was a highly successful theatre director. But when he occasionally directed avant-garde productions he staged them in Paris!

In these features of the work of British artists it is perhaps possible to find an explanation for the apparent contradiction between on the one hand the low level of public support for the arts and on the other hand the high level of enthusiasm on the part of individuals. There appears to be a general assumption in Britain that artistic creation is a personal affair not a social one and that therefore the flowering of artistic talent cannot be engineered. Either it happens or it doesn't. It is not something for which society should feel responsible.

Theatre and cinema

The theatre has always been very strong in Britain. Its centre is of course London where successful plays can sometimes run without a break for many years. But every large town in the country has its theatres. Even small towns often have 'repertory' theatres where different plays are performed for short periods by the same group of professional actors.

It seems that the conventional format of the theatrical play gives the undemonstrative British people a safe opportunity to look behind the mask of accepted social behaviour. The country's most successful and respected playwrights are usually those who explore the darker side of the personality and of personal relationships.

British theatre has such a fine acting tradition that Hollywood is forever raiding its talent for people to star in films. British television does the same thing. Moreover Broadway when looking for its next blockbuster musical pays close attention to London productions. In short British theatre is much admired. As a consequence it is something that British actors are proud of. Many of the most well-known television actors though they might make most of their money in this latter medium continue to see themselves as first and foremost theatre actors.

In contrast the cinema in Britain is often regarded as not quite part of 'the arts' at all – it is simply entertainment. Partly for this reason Britain is unique among the large European countries in giving almost no financial help to its film industry. Therefore although cinema-going is a regular habit for a much larger number of people than is theatre-going British film directors often have to go to Hollywood because the resources they need are not available in Britain. As a result comparatively few films of quality are made in the country. This is not because expertise in film making does not exist. It does. American productions often use studios and technical facilities in Britain. Moreover some of the films which Britain does manage to make become highly respected around the world. But even these films often make a financial loss.

There are many cinemas and cinema clubs in London. Some cinemas show lots of comedies and long epic films. Other cinemas show a large number of continental films or films for young people.

If you want to know which films are on there are many publications to help you. Any daily newspaper will have a short list of films and shows. One of the newspapers which is on sale in the middle of the day gives you the best list of films and the time they begin.

Some cinemas show films in the afternoon early evening and late evening. Others have continuous programmes from about two o'clock in the afternoon.


Music

Classical music in Britain is a minority interest. Few classical musicians whether British or foreign become well known to the general public. When they do it is usually because of circumstances which have nothing to do with their music. For example the Italian tenor Pavarotti became famous in the country when an aria sung by him was used by the BBC to introduce its 1990 football World Cup coverage. Despite this low profile thousands of British people are dedicated musicians and many public libraries have a well-stocked music section. Several British orchestras soloists singers choirs opera companies and ballet companies and also certain annual musical events have international reputations.

In the 1960's British artists had a great influence on the development of music in the modern or 'pop' idiom. The Beatles and other British groups were responsible for several innovations which were then adopted by popular musicians in the USA and the rest of the world. These included the writing of words and music by the performers themselves and more active audience participation. The words of their songs also helped to liberate the pop idiom from its former limitation to the topics of love and teenage affection. Other British artists in groups such as Pink Floyd and Cream played a major part in making the musical structure of pop music similarly more sophisticated.

Since the 1960's popular music in Britain has been an enormous and profitable industry. The Beatles were awarded the honour of MBE for their services to British exports. Within Britain the total sales of the various kinds of musical recording are more than 200 million every year – and the vast majority of them are of popular music. Many worldwide trends have come out of Britain and British 'pop' artists have been active in attempting to cross the boundaries between popular music folk music and classical music.

And some more about music. London is a very musical capital. Every evening you can see or hear opera or classical music ballet or rock music. The Royal Opera House is famous all over the world for its productions and singers but seat prices are very high. There are three concert halls near the National Theatre. In the summer there are sometimes one or two free open-air rock concerts in Hyde Park. An audience of a quarter of a million people is a usual thing. Every summer from July to September concerts are held in the Royal Albert Hall and you can buy tickets at all prices. Serious music-lovers stand in the arena or in the top gallery but you do not to stand because there are plenty of seats.

The largest provincial centres also have orchestras which give regular concerts. All these orchestras sometimes visit other places to give concerts.

Literature

Although the British are comparatively uninterested in formal education and although they watch a lot of television they are nonetheless enthusiastic readers.

Many people in the literary world say that British literature at the end of the twentieth century has lost its way. The last British author to win the Nobel Prize for literature was William Golding in 1983. Many others disagree with this opinion. But what is not in doubt is that a lot of the exciting new literature written in English and published in Britain in recent years has been written by people from outside Britain. The Booker Prize is the most important prize in Britain for a work of fiction. Starting with Salman Rushdie in 1981 nine of its next fourteen winners were writers from former British colonies such as Canada India Ireland and Nigeria.

Although many of the best 'serious' British writers manage to be popular as well as profound the vast majority of the books that are read in Britain could not be classified as 'serious' literature. Britain is the home of what might be called 'middlebrow' literature. For example the distinctly British genre of detective fiction is regarded as entertainment rather than literature – but it is entertainment for intelligent readers. There are many British authors mostly female who write novels which are sometimes classified as 'romances' but which are actually deeper and more serious than that term often implies. They are neither popular 'blockbusters' nor the sort of books which are reviewed in the serious literary press. And yet they continue to be read year after year after year by hundreds of thousands of people.

In 1993 more than half of the hundred most-borrowed books from Britain's public libraries were romantic novels. Many were of the middlebrow type. The rest were more simplistic stories about romance.

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