of state. The idea of life peerage was introduced in 1958 to elevate to the peerage certain people who have rendered political or public service to the nation in order to enhance the quality of business done in the Lords.
Among the numerous changes introduced to the activities of the House of Commons is “selected committee” system which was created to examine and monitor government departments and policies, and the manner in which ministers discharge their responsibilities.
The select committee system consists of 17 individual committees “shadowing” the expenditure, administration and policy of the main government departments. Each committee has a more or less permanent cross party membership, all of whom have acquired considerable expertise in their respective fields. They give an opportunity for MPs to act more independently of their party than they are able to do in the debating chamber. During the period of Conservative government in the 1980ies, for example, members of select committees, including their Conservative members, were strongly critical of the government.
The fact that Parliament debates are now televised in spite of the traditional British obsession with secrecy can tell volumes about the dynamic changes. Even the institution of monarchy has to get adjusted to the new conditions. For the last two centuries the public have wanted their monarchs to have high moral standards Queen Victoria as a hard working, religious mother of nine children, devoted to her husband, Prince Albert, was regarded as the personification of contemporary morals.
In 1936 Edward VIII, the uncle of the present Queen, was forced to abdicate because be wanted to marry a woman who had divorced two husbands. The government and the major churches in the country insisted that Edward could not marry her and remain King. In 200 Prince Charles , the heir to the British throne married Camilla Parker Bowles, a divorcee , who had been his lover for many years and the monarchy did not fall.
At the end of the 20ieth century the members of the royal family made the headlines of nearly all the countrys tabloids. The year 1992 was called “annus horribilis” by the Queen and the fire at Windsor Castle was hardly the worst of the Queens troubles. In January the Duchess of York, Prince Andrews wife, popularly known as “Fergie”, was reliably reported to be having an affair. In February Princess Diana on tour with her husband in India, posed alone in front of the Taj Mahal, conveying the unmistakable message that her marriage was also in trouble. In March the Duke and Duchess of York announced their separation. In April Princess Anne and her husband divorced. In June, a young journalist, Andrew Morton, published a book entitled “ Diana: Her True Story” which made public Charless long standing relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles.
Further revelations came in quick succession as the newspapers competed to buy the most lurid stories, photographs and tapes of telephone calls involving various members of the Royal Family. It was little wonder that the Queen publicly referred to 1992 as her “annus horribilis”
Dianas tragic death in 1996 made another blow to the image of the Royal Family. It revealed the latters lack of warmth, frankness and spontaneous compassion. No wonder Tony Blair who at that time held the position of the Prime Minister advised the Royal Family to abandon protocol and show greater public feeling.
After Dianas death the Royal Family began to modify its image in order to survive. It has become less grand, a little less distant. Only few can say whether it will help return peoples love and admiration.
Another area in which stereotypes and modern life, traditions and innovations come into conflict is clothes. For modern Russians a typically British gentleman is hardly associated with John Bull as the name and the character seem rather obscure , but the stereotyped image of the Londons city gent includes the wearing of a suit and a bowler hat , holding a walking stick and smoking a pipe or a sigar. The stereotyped image of the lady of the manor is something between Queen Elizabeth, Margaret Thatcher and Miss Marple. When Madonna bought an ancient mansion in England she did her best to look like a lady wearing a woolen twin set and a thread of pearls.
In fact, a photograph taken at random in a busy street on a Saturday, would tell an observer very little about the lace, the season, the social class or the work done by the people, so diversified have the clothes worn by the British become. One can make the generalization that people over 50 tend to dress more traditionally and formally at least when on a visit to “town” , whereas the population under the age of 45 to 50 presents a variety of costume that, at its extreme , turns the street into a fancy dress parade . There is no uniformity of skirt length, trouser width, or of style in general beyond some vague similarities of detail that allow one to characterize some as “Punks”, others as “Goths” or as executive types.
It is true that a small number of the upper and professional upper middle class, for example barristers, diplomats and Conservative MPs dress in specially tailored suits. Yet how they dress is wholly unrepresentative of whole society. In general the British are comparatively uninterested in clothes. It all depends on whether a person is playing a public role or a private role. When people are “on duty” they have to obey some quite rigid rules. A male bank employee, for example, is expected to wear a suit with a tie, even if he can not afford a very smart one. On the other hand, when people are not playing a public role- when they are just being themselves there seem to be no rules at all. You may find, for example, the same bank employee, on his lunch break in hot weather, walking through the streets with his tie round his waist and his collar unbuttoned. He is no longer “at work” and for his employers to criticize him for his appearance would be seen as a gross breach of privacy.
Perhaps because of the clothing formalities that many people have to follow during the week, the British, unlike the people of many other countries, like to “dress down” on Sundays. They cant wait to take off their respectable working clothes and slip into something really scruffy. Lots of men and women who wear suits during the week can then be seen in old sweaters and jeans, sometimes with holes in them.
The British spend a lower proportion of their income on clothing than people in most other European countries do. Many people buy second hand clothes and are not at all embarrassed to admit it. There can be few countries where people who can afford new clothes deliberately choose to buy the “cast-offs” of others. It is true that many who buy their clothes from charity shops are genuinely needy. But equally, many are not. They choose to buy their clothes in these shops because they are cheap and because they sometimes find wonderful bargains, almost new high-quality items that cost next to nothing. Sir Paul McCartney, one, of the richest men in the UK, boasts of such purchases. David McDowall, the author of “Britain in Close-Up” writes, “There is a tolerance, shabbiness and inventiveness in the way some, particularly the young, dress.”
We have touched upon shabbiness and tolerance, now we are going to focus on inventiveness. Since the 1960ies the British and not the French or Italians have set fashion for young rebels all over Europe. It is not accidental that a mini skirt which made not only a fashion revolution but a revolution in our minds was designed by a British designer Mary Quant. It is not accidental either that she was awarded the O.B.E (Order of the British Empire) given by the Queen, which she collected in Buckingham Palace dressed in a many skirt.
It may seem astonishing at first sight but in fact there is nothing odd in it. The British have always been known for their individualism and independence. One can find the freakiest freaks, Freaks with the capital letter, even among the characters of Charles Dickens. So those who sold and bought clothes in Carnaby street in the 60ies (Freddy Mercury was among those who frequented it) simply followed the tradition.
Thus love of second hand clothes can be explained not only by traditional British thrift but by a strong desire of the most dress-conscious young people to find astonishing apparel and look sensational, almost unique.
Thus slowly but surely London is becoming the fashion capital of the world and St Martins school has already become the fashion mecca. The label “Made in UK” does not mean only high quality and traditional cut. It also means the latest fashion and revolutionary design.
At the beginning of the chapter we mentioned the image of a typical British woman that resembles the Queen, Lady Thatcher and Miss Marple at one and the same time. The only thing Vivienne Westwood, a famous British designer, has in common with the above mentioned ladies is her age. But in spite of her age this red-haired woman always dressed in clothes of her own design and accompanied by a very young boyfriend represents a new, more sophisticated attitude of the British to fashion. May be soon their reputation for being the worst dressed people in Europe will cease to exist.
4. Food and Eating Habits
Perhaps, there is no other area, where stereotypes and change can be traced more vividly than that related to food. In their book “Managing Cultural Differences” Harris and Moran state, “The manner in which food is selected, prepared, presented, and eaten often differs by culture. One mans pet is another persons delicacy …