Cool Britannia

Cool Britannia

Cool Britannia is a media term that was used during the late 20th century to describe the contemporary culture of the United Kingdom. The term was prevalent during the 1990s and later became closely associated with the early years of "New Labour" under Tony Blair.[1] It is a pun on the title of the British patriotic song "Rule, Britannia!".


Origins of the term

The phrase "Cool Britannia" was first used in 1967 as a song title by the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band.[2] The phrase "Cool Britannia" reappeared in the mid-1990s as a registered trade mark for one of Ben & Jerry's ice-creams (vanilla with strawberries and chocolate-covered shortbread). The ice cream name and recipe was coined in early 1996 by an American lawyer living in London, Sarah Moynihan-Williams, as a winning entry in a Ben and Jerry's ice cream competition. The phrase was quickly adopted in the media and in advertising, seeming to capture the "It" quality of London at the time. Of particular significance was a 1996 Newsweek magazine cover that featured the phrase.[3] John Major's ruling Conservative government was quick to associate itself with the growing cultural confidence of this time: the election of Blair's Labour government in 1997 on a platform of modernisation and with Blair as a relatively young Prime Minister gave the idea fresh currency. There is something of a parallel between this and the catch-phrase "Swinging London" during the early years of Harold Wilson's Labour government, of which the concept of "Cool Britannia" is a pastiche.[citation needed]

1990s culture

To the extent that it had any real meaning, "Cool Britannia" referred to the transient fashionable London scene, 1990s bands such as Blur and Oasis, fashion designers, the Young British Artists and magazines. Cool Britannia also summed up the mood in Britain during the mid-1990s Britpop movement, when there was a sudden influx of lively British rock and pop music from bands such as Oasis, Blur, Suede, Supergrass, Pulp, The Verve and Elastica, as well as the Spice Girls. Many[who?] link the resurgence of James Bond 007 and the renewal in British pride (reinforced by the strong and uninterrupted growth of the British economy from 1993), typified by such things as Noel Gallagher's Union Flag guitar and Geri Halliwell's iconic skimpy Union Flag dress as factors of the spread of Cool Britannia. The Euro 96 football tournament, hosted in England and featuring England and Scotland as competing teams, was also seen at the time, and particularly in retrospect, as an event that capitalised on this sense of patriotic enlightenment. In March 1997 Vanity Fair published a special edition on Cool Britannia with Liam Gallagher and Patsy Kensit on the cover with the title 'London Swings! Again!'. Figures in the issues included Alexander McQueen, Damien Hirst, Graham Coxon and the editorial staff of Loaded. By 1998 The Economist was commenting that "many people are already sick of the phrase,"[4] and by 2000 - after the fall of Britpop - it was being used mainly in a mocking or ironic way.

Similar terms have been used for the phenomena in Wales and Scotland; "Cool Cymru" and "Cool Caledonia" respectively.[5][6]

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ J. Ayto, Movers and Shakers: a Chronology of Words that Shaped our Age (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), ISBN 0198614527, p. 233.
  3. ^
  4. ^ Leaders: Cool Britannia. The Economist. London: Mar 14, 1998. Vol. 346, Iss. 8059
  5. ^ Is it Cool Cymru - again?
  6. ^ 'Cool Caledonia' sells Scotland short

External links

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