he vote by the Reform Act of 1918, and the same Act granted the vote to all men over the age of 21. In 1928 women were given voting rights that were equal to those of men.
The immediate post-war years were marked by economic boom, rapid demobilization, and much labour strife. By 1921, however, the number of people without work had reached one million. Between 1929 and 1932, the depression more than doubled an already high rate of unemployment. Unemployment rose to more than 2 million in the 1930s. In the course of several years, both the levels of industrial activity and of prices dipped by a quarter, and industries such as shipbuilding collapsed almost entirely.
Between 1933 and 1937, the economy recovered steadily, with the construction, automobile, and electrical industries leading the way. Unemployment remained high, however, especially in Wales, Scotland, and northern parts of England.
In 1936 King Edward VIII ascended the throne, and a remarkable occasion took place. Edward preferred to be happy in private life rather than to dedicate himself to the royal duties and discharged his duty as a king and emperor in favour of a love affair. Edward VIII was succeeded by his brother, George VI.
In 1939 World War II broke out. After the surrender of France in 1940, Britain remained the only resisting country in the West front. In 1940, also, one of the greatest aerial battles in history took place. The so-called Battle of Britain was the British answer to the permanent attempts of Germany to ruin the industry of United Kingdom and to suppress the spirit of the British people by heavy air bombardments. By the end of 1940 almost all aircraft factories in England were destroyed, and a few British fighter squadrons remained operational, but the ability of Luftwaffe to carry out offensive operations in the West was almost zeroed due to very heavy losses. The real help in struggle against Germany was that beginning early in 1941, the still-neutral United States granted lend-lease aid to Britain.
Luckily, the British Isles experienced no ground fighting throughout the whole war, and no British troops were engaged in ground operations until the Allies landing in France in 1944. Before that date, British took part in the coordinated Anglo-American operations in North Africa, fighting against German troops there, the most significant battle being that at El Alamein, where the Allies managed to defeat one of the best German commanders-in-chief Rommel. After the landing in Normandy, which didnt play the big role in the course of war, but helped to bring it to closure sooner than it was expected, it took only ten month to make Germany to surrender on 8 May, 1945.
When World War II ended, the British government launched a number of important programmes in an effort to restore the countys economy. The National Insurance Act of 1946 was a consolidation of benefit laws involving maternity, disability, old age, and death, as well as assistance if unemployed. In 1948 the National Health Service was set up. The general election of 1945 gave the Labour party the majority in Parliament, and the party launched a programme of nationalization of private industries to improve the economical situation.
In 1949 Britain joined other Western powers in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), which was created as a counterweight to the Warsaw Block countries, leaded by USSR. Also, the late 1940s in the British Empire were marked with the beginning of decolonization.
In 1953, Queen Elizabeth II inherited the throne from George VI. The early 1950s brought economic recovery with flourishing of trade and the boom of housing construction, and since that time Britain has been steadily developing in economical, political, social and scientific aspects, becoming one of the leading countries in the world.
3. Culture of Great Britain
3.1. Cultural Life in Great Britain
Artistic and cultural life in Britain is rather rich, like in most of the European countries. It has passed several main stages in its development.
The Saxon King Alfred encouraged the arts and culture. The chief debt owed to him by English literature is for his translations of and commentaries on Latin works. Art, culture and literature flourished during the Elizabethan age, during the reign of Elizabeth I; it was the period of English domination of the oceans and colonies, and, due to the strong political and economic position of the country, there were few obstacles in the way of the cultural development. This time is also famous for the fact that William Shakespeare lived and worked then.
The empire, which was very powerful under Queen Victoria, saw another cultural and artistic hey-day as a result of industrialisation and the expansion of international trade during the so-called industrial age.
However, German air raids caused much damage during the First World War and then during the Second World War. The madness of the wars briefly inhibited the development of British culture.
Immigrants who have arrived from all parts of the Commonwealth since 1945 have not only created a mixture of nations, but have also brought their cultures and habits with them. Monuments and traces of past greatness are everywhere. There are buildings of all styles and periods. A great number of museums and galleries display precious and interesting finds from all parts of the world and from all stage in the development of nature, man and art. London is one of the leading world centres for music, drama, opera and dance. Festivals held in towns and cities throughout the country attract much interest. Many British playwrights, composers, sculptors, painters, writers, actors, singers and dancers are known all over the world.
3.2. Musical culture of Great Britain
The people living in the British Isles are very fond of music, and it is quite natural that concerts of the leading symphony orchestras, numerous folk groups and pop music are very popular.
The Promenade concerts are probably the most famous. They were first held in 1840 in the Queen's Hall, and later were directed by Sir Henry Wood. They still continue today in the Royal Albert Hall. They take place every night for about three months in the summer, and the programmes include new and contemporary works, as well as classics. Among them are symphonies and other pieces of music composed by Benjamin Britten, the famous English musician.
Usually, there is a short winter season lasting for about a fortnight. The audience may either listen to the music from a seat or from the promenade, where they can stand or stroll about, or, if there is room, sit down on the floor.
Concerts are rarely given out-of-doors today except for concerts by brass bands and military bands that play in the parks and at seaside resorts during the summer.
Folk music is still very much alive. There are many folk groups. Their harmony singing and good humour win them friends everywhere.
Rock and pop music is extremely popular, especially among younger people. In the 60s and 70s groups such as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd became very popular and successful.
The Beatles, with their style of singing new and exciting, their wonderful sense of humour became the most successful pop group the world has ever known. Many of the famous songs written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney are still popular. Some of the more recent rock groups are Eurhythmics, Dire Straits, and Black Sabbath.
British groups often set new trends in music. New staff and styles continue to appear. One of the most popular contemporary musicians and composers is Andrew Lloyd Webber. The musicals and rock operas by A. L. Webber have been a great success both in Britain and overseas.
The famous English composer of the 19th century was Arthur Sullivan. Together with William Gilbert, the writer of the texts, he created fourteen operettas of which eleven are regularly performed today. In these operettas the English so successfully laugh at themselves and at what they now call the Establishment that W. S. Gilbert and A. Sullivan will always be remembered.
3.3. Art Galleries
Britain is probably one of the most rich European countries when cultural inheritance is considered. Along with Italy and Germany, its a home for many famous art galleries and museums.
If you stand in Trafalgar Square in London with your back to Nelson's Column, you will see a wide horizontal front in a classical style. It is the National Gallery. It has been in this building since 1838 which was built as the National Gallery to house the collection of Old Masters Paintings (38 paintings) offered to the nation by an English Private collector, Sir George Beamount.
Today the picture galleries of the National Gallery of Art exhibit works of all the European schools of painting, which existed between the 13th and 19th centuries. The most famous works among them are Venus and Cupid by Diego Velazquez, Adoration of the Shepherds by Nicolas Poussin, A Woman Bathing by Harmensz van Rijn Rembrandt, Lord Heathfield by Joshua Reynolds, Mrs Siddons by Thomas Gainsborough and many others.
In 1897 the Tate Gallery was opened to house the more modern British paintings. Most of the National Gallery collections of British paintings were transferred to the Tate, and only a small collection of a few masterpieces is now exhibited at Trafalgar Square. Thus, the Tate Gallery exhibits a number of interesting collections