A cup of tea and game of cricket? What is it to be English, today?

While the Scots, Irish and Welsh are at home with their identity, the changing face of Britain has led to a new interest in Englishness. Academics and film-makers meet to discuss the issue this week

A "crisis of Britishness" is prompting growing numbers of people to redefine themselves as "English", raising troubling questions about national identity and the extremes of home-grown Islamic radicals and the far right.

The question of what it is to be an Englishman has exercised some of the finest minds. To George Orwell it was "solid breakfasts and gloomy Sundays, smoky towns and winding roads, green fields and red pillar-boxes", while the American-born poet T S Eliot argued it lay in the Henley regatta, Wensleydale cheese and the music of Elgar.

Academics and film-makers aware of this nationalist trend are gathering in Derby this week to explore English identity at ID Fest, a new film festival exploring English identity.

"There is a crisis of Britishness," said Jeffrey Richards, professor of cultural history at Lancaster University. "Because of things like devolution, the EU and the crises in parliament – and, in the past, the monarchy – some people have felt the need for a separate identity from Britishness."

Earlier this year, the Arts and Humanities Research Council cited a resurgence of interest in English folk music and dance as evidence of this. The experts also admit English is not as well established as Scottish, Irish or the Welsh identities. If flying the flag is a an important symbol of national identity for our neighbours, the St George's cross has come to be associated with football hooliganism and fascism.

"The English have never really had to assert their identity, as they are the senior party in the UK," said Professor Richards. But the problem of defining the national identity of a country of more than 51 million people is complicated by mass immigration, which has made England one of the most multicultural countries in the world.

"It's the elephant in the room of national identity," said Robert Colls, professor of English history at Leicester University. "England is much more tolerant, and open to difference. On the other hand... major changes in the nation-state have left many wondering in what sense they are living in the same country."

Such divisions were highlighted last week by police who warned that demonstrations by nationalist groups such as the English Defence League are fuelling Islamic extremism.

"When I go to Pakistan I feel English, but when I am in England I don't always feel that I am English because there are so many Englands, from metropolitan London to horrible racist places where people who are different get stared at on village greens," said the cricketer Imran Khan.

While some believe English identity lies in morris dancing and brass bands, the literature of Chaucer and Shakespeare, and an obsession with cups of tea and the weather, others see this as reductionist. The poet Ian McMillan said: "You can either take the John Major view of Englishness, that it is about warm beer; or the idea of radical Englishness – that we've been invaded so many times Englishness is a construct, and can comprise a multiplicity of languages and cultures."

In the quest to find out what it really means to be English, we travelled to two very different locations – Ripley in Derbyshire and Bradford in West Yorkshire – both of which have been described as among the most English places in the country.

Eighty-eight per cent of Ripley residents have an English ethnic background, while 97.8 per cent of the area is white. Nestled in Derbyshire's Amber Valley, the market town was mentioned in 1086 in the Domesday Book as a flourishing industrial town.

It is a world away from the multicultural city of Bradford. Despite the high proportion of British Asians living there – estimated to reach 26 per cent by 2011 – Bradford was found to have outstandingly "English" characteristics, with a high number of tea rooms and cricket clubs. The West Yorkshire city has long had Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and Christians living alongside one another, but not without tensions: in 2001 there were massive race riots, with clashes stoked by the National Front and the Anti-Nazi League.

The Rose family

Five generations of the Rose family have made their home in the small Derbyshire town of Ripley. Today, former engine fitter Brian, 67, lives with his wife Pat, 65, just streets away from their son Paul, 46, and his wife Wendy, 42, and the couple's two sons, Ben, 14, and Adam, 10. Church-going and close-knit, they consider themselves a thoroughly English family.

Paul, a charity shop worker, said: "I've never put 'UK' on anything. I consider myself English. I used to do morris dancing, like my grandfather in the 1920s.

"I don't get much free time, but when I do we sit in front of the TV, which I suppose is very English. DIY is my hobby and I'm hoping to do up an old Morris Minor in the garage.

"We go to church as a family every Sunday, which used to be quite an English thing. It is like a big family. We've got young children and our oldest member is 98.

"We have quite a lot of holidays in this country – to Cornwall and Sandbanks, which was the best holiday we've ever had.

"I gave up my job to look after the kids 10 years ago, which isn't very typical in England, but it was great because I got to spend more time with them."

The Rahman family

Shoaib Rahman, 32, lives in Bradford with his wife Nazreen, 33, and his two sons Uzair, six, and 21-month-old Ibrahim. He works in the family restaurant, the Sweet Centre, which his grandfather founded in 1964 after emigrating from Pakistan.

Shoaib said: "I am English. Being English isn't about race. We've been born, bred and educated here. My younger brother is in the RAF – you don't get much more English than that. But it does depend how you define 'English'. Being a Muslim is a big part of my life, and religion is a sensitive issue in England. I go to the mosque to pray, that's very important to me. My son's first language is English. He goes to Saltaire school. There aren't a lot of Asians there, and all our neighbours are white, but there is a good community. Our kids play in the street and when it snows all the neighbours come out with shovels. I have experienced racism, but mostly when I was younger.

"I've been working here for 16 years. My grandfather started the business in 1964, and I'm the third generation of my family to live and work here. My grandfather presented a box of sweets to the Queen about five years ago.

"I'm interested in the royals because it's the history of the country and you've got to keep up with that. The wedding [Kate Middleton and Prince William] is a big day for this country and for us. My wife is very interested in it. I'm not a massive football fan but support Bradford City. The stadium is just down the road and you feel part of it. We do drink tea, but I'm not sure being English is about stuff like that."

Through the eyes of others

The Scotsman David Davidson, Politician

"I'm not sure there is such a thing as Englishness, it varies so much. Scots don't walk through Glasgow in a kilt, on the whole, and the English no longer walk through London in funny hats."

The Welshman Rob Brydon, Comic

"Scots say, 'The English can take our land, but never take our freedom.' The Welsh say: 'You've taken our land: don't forget our freedom before you go. Thanks for coming!'"

The Irishman Dara O'Briain, Comic

"London is hosting the Olympics, yet you all talk about how terrible the country is... and then there's that giggly, Carry On attitude to sex, that is unique. But you don't realise any of this."

News
scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
News
newsRyan Crighton goes in search of the capo dei capi
Extras
indybest

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Actors front row from left, Jared Leto, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Ellen DeGeneres, Bradley Cooper, Peter Nyongío Jr., and, second row, from left, Channing Tatum, Julia Roberts, Kevin Spacey, Brad Pitt, Lupita Nyongío and Angelina Jolie as they pose for a
film
Sport
sport
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Life and Style
news

As Voltaire once said, “Ice cream is exquisite. What a pity it isn’t illegal”

Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Market Administrator (1st line Support, Bloomberg, Broker)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Market Administrator (1st line Support, Trade Fl...

Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Directory, ITIL, Reuter)

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Dire...

Data Support Analyst (Linux, Solaris, Windows Server, Reuters)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Data Support Analyst (Linux, Solaris, Windows Se...

Helpdesk Support Engineer (Windows, MS Office, Exchange)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Helpdesk Support Engineer (Windows, MS Office, E...

Day In a Page

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition