Топик : Some features of today's British life 

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Some features of today's British life

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From 1981 to 1989 the British economy experienced eight years of sustained growth at the annual average rate over 3%. However, subsequently Britain and other major industrialized nations were severely affected by recession. In Britain growth slowed to 0.6% in 1990, and in 1991 gross domestic product (GDP) fell by 2.3%. GDP fell in 1992 as a whole by 0.4%, but it rose slightly in the second half of the year. The recovery strengthened during the first part of 1993; with GDP in the second quarter being 2% higher than a year earlier; the European Commission expected Britain to be the fastest growing of all major European economies in 1993 and1994.

Recent indications that the recovery is under may include:

  • an increase in manufacturing output;

  • a steady upward trend in retail sales;

  • increases in new car registrations;

  • record levels of exports;

  • increased business and consumer confidence; and

  • signs of greater activity in the housing market.

The Government’s policy is to ensure sustainable economic growth through low inflation and sound public finances. The Gov­ernment’s economic policy is set in the context of a medium-term financial strategy, which is revived each year. Within this strat­egy, monetary and fiscal policies are designed to defeat inflation. Short-term interest rates remain the essential instrument of monetary policy.

Macroeconomic policy is directed towards keeping down the rate of inflation as the basis for sustainable growth, while micro-economic policies seek to improve the working of markets and encourage enterprise, efficiency and flexibility through measures such as privatization, deregulation and tax reforms.

The economy is now benefiting from substantially lower in­terest rates. In September 1993 base interest rates were at 6%. They had been cut by 9 percentage points since October 1990, and were at their lowest since 1977.


Private enterprises generate over three-quarters of total do­mestic income. Since 1979 the Government has privatized 46 major businesses and reduced the state-owned sector of industry by about two-thirds. The Government is taking measures to cut unnecessary regulations imposed on business, and runs a number of schemes which provide direct assistance or advice to small and medium-sized businesses.

In some sectors a small number of large companies and their subsidiaries are responsible for a substantial proportion of total production, notably in the vehicle, aerospace and transport equipment industries. Private enterprises account for the greater part of activity in the agricultural, manufacturing, construction, distributive, financial and miscellaneous service sectors. The pri­vate sector contributed 75% of total domestic final expenditure in 1992, general government 24 % and public corporations 1%.

About 250 British industrial companies in the latest reporting period each had an annual turnover of more than £500 million. The annual turnover of the biggest company, British Petroleum’, makes it the llth largest industrial grouping in the world and the second largest in Europe. Five British firms are among the top 25 European Community companies.


The service industries, which include finance, retailing, tour­ism and business services, contribute about 65% of gross domestic product and over 70% of employment. Britain is responsible for some 10% of the world’s exports of services; overseas earn­ings from services amounted to 30% of the value of exports of manufactures in 1992. The number of employees in services rose from over 13 million in 1982 to 15.5 million by the end of 1992, much of the rise being accounted for by growth in parttime (principally female) employment.

Average real disposable income per head increased by nearly three-quarters between 1971 and 1990 and this was reflected in a rise in consumer spending of financial, personal and leisure serv­ices and on the maintenance and repair of consumer durables. Demand for British travel, hotel and catering services rose as real incomes in Britain and other countries increased. The spread of home ownership, particularly during the 1980s, increased demand for legal and state agency services.

Britain is a major financial centre, housing some of the world’s leading banking, insurance, securities, shipping, com­modities, futures, and other financial services and markets. Fi­nancial services are an important source of employment and over­seas earnings. Business services include advertising, market re­search, management consultancy, exhibition and conference fa­cilities, computing services and auction houses.

By the year 2000, tourism is expected to be the world’s big­gest industry, and Britain is one of the world’s leading tourist destinations. The industry is Britain’s second largest, employing nearly 7% of the workforce. Retailing is also a major employer and Britain has an advanced distribution network. An important trend in retailing is the growth of out-of-town shopping centres.

The computing services industry continues to be one of the fastest-growing sectors of the economy, and information technol­ogy is widely used in retailing and financial services.

A notable trend in the services sector is the growth of fran­chising, an operation in which a company owning the rights to a particular form of trading licenses them to franchises, usually by means of an initial payment with continuing royalties. The main areas include cleaning services, film processing, print shops, hair-dressing and cosmetics, fitness centres, courier delivery, car rental, engine tuning and servicing, and fast food retailing. It is estimated that franchising’s share of total retail sales is over 3%, a figure which is likely to increase.


The strength of the regular armed forces, all volunteers, was nearly 271,000 in mid-1993 — 133,000 in the Army, 79,300 in the Royal Air Force (RAF) and 58,500 in the Royal Navy and Royal Marines. There were 18,800 women personnel — 7,500 in the Army, 6,800 in the RAF, and 4,400 in the Royal Navy.

British forces’ main military roles are to:

  • ensure the protection and security of Britain and its de­pendent territories;

  • ensure against any major external threat to Britain and its allies; and

  • contribute towards promoting Britain’s wider security in­terests through the maintenance of international peace and security.

Most of Britain’s nuclear and conventional forces are commit­ted to NATO and about 95% of defence expenditure to meeting its NATO responsibilities. In recognition of the changed European security situation, Britain’s armed forces are being restructured in consultation with other NATO allies.

Under these plans, the strength of the armed forces is being cut by 22%, leaving by the mid-1990s some 119,000 in the Army, 70,000 in the RAF and 52,500 in the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines. This involves reductions in main equipment of:

  • three Tornado GR1 squadrons, four Phantom squadrons, two Buccaneer squadrons and part of a squadron of Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft;

  • 12 submarines, nine destroyers and frigates and 13 mine

  • countermeasures ships; and

  • 327 main battle tanks.

Civilian staff employed by the Ministry of Defence will be re­duced from 169,100 in 1991 to 135,000.

As a member of NATO, Britain fully supports the Alliance’s current strategic concept, under which its tasks are to:

  • help to provide a stable security environment, in which no country is able to intimidate or dominate any European country through the threat or use of force;

  • serve as a transatlantic forum for Allied consultations af­fecting member states’ vital interests; deter from aggression and defend member states against military attack; and

  • preserve the strategic balance within Europe.


National Daily and Sunday Papers.

The British buy more newspapers than any other people except Swedes and the Japa­nese. The daily press differs in two obvious ways from that of any similar western European country. First, all over Britain most people read “national” papers, based in London, which altogether sell more copies than all eighty-odd provincial papers combined. Second, there is a striking difference between the five “quality” papers’ and the six mass-circulation popular “tabloids”.

These characteristics are still more salient with the Sunday press. Almost no papers at all are published in Britain on Sundays except “national” ones: six “popular”’ and five “quality” based in London. Three appear on Sundays only; the others are associated with dailies which have the same names but different editors, journalists and layouts. The “quality” Sunday papers devote large sections to literature and the arts. They have colour supplements and are in many ways more like magazines than newspapers. They supply quite different worlds of taste and interest from the “popular” papers.

Scotland has two important “quality” papers, “The Scots­man” in Edinburgh and the “Glasgow Herald”.

The dominance of the national press reflects the weakness of regional identity among the English. The gap in quality is not so much between Labour and Conservative, as between levels of ability to read and appreciate serious news presented seriously. Of the five quality morning papers only “The Daily Telegraph” is solidly Conservative; nearly all its readers are Conservatives. “The Times” and “Financial Times” have a big minority of non-Conservative readers. Of the popular papers only the “Daily Mir­ror” regularly supports Labour. Plenty of Labour voters read popular papers with Conservative inclinations, but do not change their publican opinion because of what they have read. Some of them are interested only in the human interest stories and in sport, and may well hardly notice the reporting of political and economic affairs.

Except in central London there are very few newspaper ki­osks in town streets. This may be because most pavements are too narrow to have room for them. In towns the local evening papers are sold by elderly men and women who stand for many hours, stamping their feet to keep warm. Otherwise, newspapers can be bought in shops or delivered to homes by boys and girls who want to earn money by doing “paper-rounds”.

Most of the newspapers are owned by big companies, some of which have vast interests in other things, ranging from travel agencies to Canadian forests. Some have been dominated by strong individuals. The greatest of the press “barons” have not been British in origin, but have come to Britain from Canada, Australia or Czechoslovakia. The most influential innovator of modern times is partly Indian, and spent his early years in India. He pioneered the introduction of new technology in printing.

Among the “quality” papers the strongly Conservative “Daily Telegraph” sells more than twice as many copies as any of the others. It costs less to buy and its reporting of events is very thorough. The “Financial Times” has a narrower appeal, but is not narrowly restricted to business news. “The Guardian” has an old liberal tradition, and is in general a paper of the Left.

The most famous of all British newspapers is “The Times”. It is not now, and has never been, an organ of the government, and has no link with any party. In 1981 it and “The Sunday Times”’ were taken over by the international press company of the Australian Rupert Murdoch, which also owns two of the most “popular” of the national papers. Its editorial independence is protected by a super­visory body, but in the 1980s it has on the whole been sympathetic to the Conservative government. The published letters to the editor have often been influential, and some lead to, prolonged discussion in further letters. Under the Murdoch regime it has continued a movement away from its old austerity.

The popular newspapers are now commonly called “tabloids”, a word first used for pharmaceutical substances compressed into pills. The tabloid newspapers compress the news, and are printed on small sheets of paper. They use enormous headlines for the leading items of each day, which are one day political, one day to do with crime, one day sport, one day some odd happening. They have their pages of political report and comment, short, often over-simplified but vigorously written and (nowadays) generally responsible. They thrive on sensational stories and excitement.

The two archetypal popular papers, the “Daily Mail”’ and “Daily Express” were both built up by individual tycoons in the early 20th century. Both had a feeling for the taste of a newly-literate public: if a man bites a dog, that’s news. The “Daily Ex­press” was built up by a man born in Canada. He became a great man in the land, a close friend and associate of Winston Churchill, and a powerful minister in his War Cabinet. The circulation of the “Daily Express” at one time exceeded four million copies a day. Now the first Lord Beaverbrook is dead, and the daily sales are not much more than half of their highest figure. The history of the “Daily Mail”, with its more conventional conservatism, is not greatly different.

In popular journalism the “Daily Mirror” became a serious ri­val of the “Express” and “Mail” in the 1940s. It was always tab­loid, and always devoted more space to picture than to text. It was also a pioneer with strip cartoons. After the Second World War it regularly supported the Labour Party. It soon outdid the “Daily Express” in size of headlines, short sentences and explora­tion of excitement. It also became the biggest-selling daily news­paper. For many years its sales were about four million; some­times well above.

Until the 1960s the old “Daily Herald” was an important daily paper reflecting the views of the trade unions and the La­bour Party. Then it went through several changes, until in the 1970s its successor, “The Sun”, was taken over by Mr Murdoch’s company. In its new tabloid form it became a right-wing rival to the “Daily Mirror”, with huge headlines and some nudity. In the 1980s its sales reached four million and exceeded the “Daily Mirror”. Mr Murdoch’s News International already owned “The News of the World”’, a Sunday paper which has continued to give special emphasis to scandals. But by 1990 its sales were only two-thirds of their former highest figure of eight million.

For a very long time the press has been free from any gov­ernmental interference. There has been no censorship, no subsidy. But for several decades it has seemed that some newspapers have abused their freedom. In competing with one another to get sto­ries to satisfy a public taste for scandal, reporters and photogra­phers have been tempted to harass individuals who have for one reason or another been involved, directly or indirectly, in events which could excite public curiosity. Prominent people of all kinds, as well as obscure people who come into the news as victims of crimes or accidents, have been pursued into their homes for pho­tographs and interviews.

Local and Regional Papers.

Local morning papers have suffered from the universal penetration of the London-based na­tional press. Less than 20 survive in the whole England, and their combined circulation is much less than that of “The Sun” alone. Among local daily papers those published in the evenings are much more important. Each of about 70 towns has one, selling only within a radius of 50 to 100 kilometres. The two London evening papers, the “News” and “Standard”, together sold two million copies in 1980, but they could not survive, and merged into one, now called “The London Evening Standard”.

Most local daily papers belong to one or other of the big press empires, which leave their local editors to decide editorial policy. Mostly they try to avoid any appearance of regular parti­sanship, giving equal weight to each major political party. They give heavy weight to local news and defend local interests and local industries.

The total circulation of all provincial daily newspapers, morning and evening together, is around eight million: about half as great as that of the national papers. In spite of this, some pro­vincial papers are quite prosperous. They do not need their own foreign correspondents; they receive massive local advertising, particularly about things for sale.

The truly local papers are weekly. They are not taken very seriously, being mostly bought for the useful information con­tained in their advertisements. But for a foreign visitor wishing to learn something of the flavour of a local community, the weekly local paper can be useful. Some of these papers are now given away, not sold out but supported by the advertising.

The Weekly and Periodical Press.

Good English writing is often to be found in the weekly political and literary journals, all based in London, all with nationwide circulations in the tens of thousands. “The Economist”, founded in 1841, probably has no equal everywhere. It has a coloured cover and a few photographs inside, so that it looks like “Time”’, “Newsweek” or “Der Spiegel”, but its reports have more depth and breadth than any these. It covers world affairs, and even its American section is more informative about America than its American equivalents. Although by no means “popular”, it is vigorous in its comments, and deserves the respect in which it is generally held. “Spectator” is a weekly journal of opinion. It regularly contains well-written articles, often politically slanted. It devotes nearly half its space to literature and the arts.

“The Times” has three weekly supplements, all appeared and sold separately. The “Literary Supplement” is devoted almost entirely to book reviews, and covers all kinds of new literature. It makes good use of academic contributors, and has at last, unlike “The Economist”, abandoned its old tradition of anonymous re­views. “New Scientist”4, published by the company which owns the “Daily Mirror”, has good and serious articles about scientific research, often written by academics yet useful for the general reader.

One old British institution, the satirical weekly “Punch”’, sur­vives, more abrasive than in an earlier generation yet finding it hard to keep the place it once had in a more secure social system. Its attraction, particularly for one intellectual youth, has been sur­passed by a new rival, “Private Eye”, founded in 1962 by people who, not long before, had run a pupils’ magazine in Shrewsbury School. Its scandalous material is admirably written on atrocious paper and its circulation rivals that of “The Economist”.

Glossy weekly or monthly illustrated magazines cater either for women or for any of a thousand special interests. Almost all are based in London, with national circulations, and the women’s magazines sell millions of copies. These, along with commercial television, are the great educators of demand for the new and better goods offered by the modern consumer society. In any big newsagent’s shop the long rows of brightly covered magazines seem to go on for ever; beyond the large variety of appeals to women and teenage girls come those concerned with yachting, tennis, model railways, gardening and cars. For every activity there is a magazine, supported mainly by its advertisers, and from time to time the police bring a pile of pornographic magazines to local magistrates, who have the difficult task of deciding whether they are sufficiently offensive to be banned.

These specialist magazines are not cheap. They live off an in­finite variety of taste, curiosity and interest. Their production, week by week and month by month, represents a fabulous amount of effort and of felled trees. Television has not killed the desire to read.

Radio and Television.

Since the 1970s 98% of British households have had television sets able to receive four channels, two put out by the BBC, two by commercial companies. Commer­cial satellite and cable TV began to grow significantly in 1989-1990, and by 1991 the two main companies operating in Britain had joined together as British Sky Broadcasting. By 1991 about one household in ten had the equipment to receive this material.

Every household with TV must by law pay for a licence, which costs about the same for a year as a popular newspaper every day.

Unlike the press, mass broadcasting has been subject to some state control from its early days. One agreed purpose has been to ensure that news, comment and discussion should be balanced and impartial, free of influence by government or advertisers. From 1926 first radio, then TV as well, were entrusted to the BBC, which still has a board of governors appointed by the gov­ernment. The BBC’s monopoly was ended in 1954, when an inde­pendent board was appointed by the Home Secretary to give li­cences to broadcast (“franchises”) to commercial TV companies financed by advertising, and called in general independent televi­sion (ITV). These franchises have been given only for a few years at a time, then renewed subject to various conditions.

In 1990 Parliament passed a long and complex new Broad­casting Act which made big changes in the arrangements for commercial TV and radio. The old Independent Broadcasting Authority, which had given, franchises to the existing TV and radio companies, was abolished. In its place, for TV alone, a new Independent Television Commission was set up in 1991, with the task of awarding future franchises, early in the 1990s, either to the existing companies or to new rivals which were prepared to pay a higher price. The Commission also took over responsibility for licensing cable programme services, including those satellite TV channels which are carried on cable networks. The new law did not change the status of the BBC, but it did have the purpose of increasing competition, both among broadcasters and among producers. It envisaged that a new commercial TV channel, TVS, would start in the early 1990s.

The general nature of the four TV channels functioning in 1991, seems likely to continue, with BBC1 and ITV producing a broadly similar mixture of programmes in competition with each other. ITV has a complex structure. Its main news is run by one company, Independent Television News, its early morning TV— a.m. by another. There are about a dozen regional companies which broadcast in their regions for most each day, with up to ten minutes of advertisements in each hour, between programmes or as interruptions at intervals of twenty or thirty minutes. These regional companies produce some programmes of local interest and some which they sell to other regions, so that for much of each day the same material is put out all through the country. Some of BBCl’s programmes are similarly produced by its re­gional stations. BBC2 and the independent Channel 4 (which has its own company) are both used partly for special interest pro­grammes and for such things as complete operas.

By international standards it could reasonably be claimed that the four regular channels together provide an above-average service, with the balance giving something to please most tastes and preferences. Some quiz-shows and “soap operas”’, or long-running sagas, attract large numbers of viewers and to some ex­tent the BBC competes for success in this respect. But minority preferences are not overlooked. In Wales there are Welsh-language programmes for the few who want them. There are for­eign language lessons for the general pubic, as well as the special programmes for schools and the Open University2. BBC news has always kept a reputation for objectivity, and the independent news service is of similar quality.

Television is probably the most important single factor in the continuous contest for the public’s favour between the political parties. Parties and candidates cannot buy advertising time. At intervals each channel provides time for each of the three main political parties for party-political broadcasts, and during an elec­tion campaign a great deal of time is provided for parties’ elec­tion, always on an equal basis.

Minor parties get time, based partly on the number of their candidates. In Wales and Scotland the nationalist parties get TV time on the same basis as the three others. Studios and transmit­ters must be provided free of charge. But often a party prefers to film a broadcast outside the studio at its own expense, for greater impact.

BBC TV Europe broadcasts some of its own programmes by satellite, and from 1991 BBC TV International began to sell and distribute its World Service TV news in English and some other languages.

The BBC’s Radio 4 is the main general interest radio service, with some items run by regional studios. Radio 3 is for minority interests, including music, “2” for light entertainment, “1” for pop music and “5” for sport, education and children’s programmes. There are also several dozens local BBC radio stations, covering the whole country. The world wide radio service has been estab­lished for long time, and is the activity of the BBC to receive a government subsidy.

The BBC runs several dozens of local radio stations, which compete with independent commercial rivals, financed by adver­tisements. All provide a mixture of local news and comment, with some entertainment matter, mainly pop music, in between. In the 1990s there should be one or more new commercial radio stations broadcasting nationwide, including one “non-pop” station, possibly for continuous broadcasts of classical music.


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