The UK and the US have had a “Special Relationship” for the past sixty years. I know the term sounds like a euphemism for something else — I feel like I should be winking whenever I say “Special Relationship” — but this is actually what they call it. Nowadays, the relationship is perhaps starting to show some bumps and signs of strain, as old relationships often do. When you’re here, you’ll likely notice a mix of sentiments about America in British media, ranging from very positive to very negative. And this, of course, is one of the many reasons you should study abroad in the first place — to get exposed to a variety of other perspectives on where you come from.
In the post-war 1950s, however, I think it’s safe to say that in the flush of a brand new special relationship [wink], the United Kingdom had a bit of a crush on America, and vice versa. One place that we can see this is in the early years of rock and roll. Once records by Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry and Little Richard began crossing the Atlantic, young British bands devoured them and imitated them closely. And then, of course, a few years later, once the Beatles had conquered the world, teenagers in garage bands across America started singing with fake British accents, imitating the sound of English bands who in turn were trying to sound American. Sweet, isn’t it?
As an example of Britain’s post-war flirtation with America, here’s Cliff Richard and the Shadows, who have style to spare:
Cliff Richard, I should mention, has been a huge star in the UK for over fifty years now, selling over 250 million records (which is a LOT), although he’s almost completely unknown in the US. For that matter, Hank Marvin from the Shadows (the guitarist with the Buddy Holly specs in the back row on the right), is also seriously famous in the UK — the Shadows had 35 hit singles all on their own, over and above their work with Cliff Richard, and this despite the fact that they do that ludicrous synchronized walk.
Which brings me to my second point. Britain, you will find, is a celebrity-obsessed culture, perhaps even more celebrity-obsessed than the US, if you can believe it. And while the British are pretty conversant about American celebrity culture, you should be prepared for the fact that there are a massive number of British celebrities that you probably have never heard of. Like Cliff Richard. Or Hank Marvin.
Over the coming months, it’d be a great idea to have a look at a good UK newspaper online (like the Guardian or the Times) every few days to get a sense of what’s going on in Britain. But for fun, you also might want to check out a horrible tabloid like the Daily Mirror or the Daily Mail from time to time. You know, for cultural purposes.