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Essentially British?: Think of England (1999)
In the Classroom


Consider the title Think of England. What is the difference between England and Britain? Ask students to look at the Act of Union and the origins of the UK.

Clip one: Football has a rich history. Compare this clip with a game from the turn of the century - Mitchell and Kenyon 110: Newcastle United v. Liverpool (1901) in Screenonline (link on the right). Alternatively, show the football match that was filmed as part of Island People, roughly 6 minutes into the film. As the camera pans past a sea of spectators, the narrator declares: "80,000 of them, from every walk of life are united by a game." Challenge students to work out what teams might have been playing? We are told that "20,000 people - steel workers, miners and textile operators have come 300 miles with their team and on the football field mingle with the people of the south."

What about sports other than football? Why not play the clips from Cricket (1951), encouraging students to explore the origins and evolution of both games.

Clip two: this offers an opportunity to look at the impact of the industrial revolution and the changing economic landscape across different parts of the UK.

A World War II veteran asserts that he is proud to have fought for England during the war. Back at the pub, another interviewee says he wouldn't fight for his country. What do students know about why soldiers signed up in 1914 and 1939? What about conscription? What has changed today to make military service a more or less attractive option?

Useful films for comparison

  • Island People (1940): use the extract showing a football match about 6 minutes into the film.
  • Cricket (1951): a useful way into thinking about the different origins and influences of these two popular British sports.


You could start by looking at the programme's title. Think of England - why not Think of Britain? Can students think of anything that represents something truly 'English' or truly 'British'? How do they make distinctions between the two concepts? What is the legal difference between England and Britain? Extend their understanding by asking them to research some of the causes and consequences of devolution - a topic that is touched on in clip two.

Clip one: Why might Martin Parr choose to begin a documentary called 'Think of England' in a pub during an England football match? Sport, football in particular, is one of the most powerful sources of national unity and pride. Why do students think this is? Can football also have a divisive effect, on a regional as well as national level? Is football England's most popular sport? What about rugby, cricket, tennis? As a point of comparison, why not play a clip from Cricket (1951), which extols the game as part of the very fabric of the country's education? Is this still the case? Is there anything as powerful as sport when it comes to defining a national consciousness?

Clip two: This is a great clip to get students thinking about how regions, localities, cities, towns etc. can undermine or even enhance a person's sense of national pride. What do we mean when we talk about 'north' and 'south'. What do students associate with the terms? Is there such a thing as a north-south divide? Are there 'northern' and 'southern' stereotypes? What can we learn from the interviewee's anecdote about the 'Hemel Hempstead Hockey Club'?

One interviewee mentions that he wouldn't sign up to fight for England, another says that he is proud to have fought for Britain in the war. What do students feel about the idea of fighting 'for Queen and Country'? Do they feel any form of civic responsibility to protect their nation?

Useful films for comparison

  • White Tribe (2000) Clip two: an extremely sympathetic Central Office of Information film dealing with the experiences of Eastern European refugees adapting to life in the UK.
  • I'm British But... (1989): develop students' understanding with this film in which a group of young Asian Britons, from Glasgow, Belfast, London and South Wales discuss their plural identities.