. Some features of today's British life

Some features of today's British life


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


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 Governments policy is to ensure sustainable economic growth through

low inflation and sound public finances. The Governments 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 worlds

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 worlds 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 worlds biggest industry,

and Britain is one of the worlds leading tourist destinations. The

industry is Britains 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 franchisings 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


. ensure against any major external threat to Britain and its

allies; and

. contribute towards promoting Britains wider security interests

through the maintenance of international peace and security.

Most of Britains 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, Britains 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 Alliances 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


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, thats 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 Murdochs 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 Murdochs 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


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 Scientist4, 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


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


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 womens 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 newsagents 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 BBCs 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 BBCls 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 publics 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 BBCs 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 childrens 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.