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."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
life
News
news

The party's potential nominations read like a high school race for student body president

Voices
A mother and her child
voices
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballI have never seen the point of lambasting the fourth official, writes Paul Scholes
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
Latest stories from i100
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

Recruitment Genius: External Relations Executive

£33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An External Relations Executive is requi...

Ashdown Group: Web Developer (PHP & Wordpress) - Central London

£25000 - £28000 per annum + 25 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: Web Dev...

Recruitment Genius: Production Operative - Unskilled & Skilled

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has arisen to jo...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - Law Firm - Bromley

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (Market...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee