Review: The Clothesline

The Oxfordshire-born and Cornwall-dwelling McAlpine, the lead writer for BBC Anglophenia (and a specialist in Doctor Who), here offers a lengthy list of things that get Brits going (in a good way most of the time), and while that might sound light and silly there’s still much fun to be had, with plenty of barbed swipes at UK sorts – and some real wit too.

Opening with an introduction that offers a definition of what will qualify, for the purposes of this book, as a Brit (ie. denizens of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland probably, and whether they like it or not), we then get into the list of stuff. And it includes: the obvious (‘British History’; ‘The Royal Family’ – or mostly; ‘Doctor Who’, of course; ‘Tea’; ‘Comedy’; ‘Rugby’; ‘Pub Quizzes’; and ‘The Theatre’ – and please note the spelling); slightly embarrassing, neurotic or haughty truths about the British character (‘Talking About The Weather’; ‘Talking About Class’; ‘Speaking English When Abroad’; ‘Cross Dressing’; ‘Cheering The Bad Guy’; and ‘Quirks, Foibles And Eccentricities’); odd choices (‘Sarcasm’; ‘Curry’; ‘Queuing’); and a few surprises (like ‘Mythical Beasts’, which features a wonderfully funny rundown of bizarre British beasts from folklore, mythology, the supernatural and cryptozoology – and there’s that word again, so why not look it up?).

Always amusing, and at times cuttingly so (as when McAlpine none-too-reverentially describes five films that Brits like: The Great Escape, The Railway Children, Trainspotting, Kes and Four Weddings And A Funeral), this works best as a book to dip into for a quick laugh over an extended period, as surely longer exposure – or even daring to read the whole thing from cover to cover – risks turning the reader British. And one can’t have that, now can one?

Reviewed by Dave Bradley

This title is available through the Allen & Unwin website. Click HERE to purchase your copy.

Via The Clothesline  (Australia)


Review: Two Islands: Tales from Great Britain & Iceland

One of the things I like most about living here is the British humour. Brits are specialists at making fun of themselves and that I absolutely love.

Stuff Brits Like: A Guide to What’s Great About Great Britain is a new book by author Fraser McAlpine. The introduction of the book says it ‘celebrates why we like puns and pedantry, decorum and drawing willies on things, Trainspotting and Downton Abbey, apologizing needlessly (sorry) and cocking a snook. We cheer both the underdog and the bad guy, we adore melancholy types like Morrissey and grumpy Eeyore… and we love being told off by scolds.’

It didn’t surprise me one bit to read that the Queen was regarded as the most iconic Brit and that tea is the nation’s favourite drink. A bit more unexpected was that the Sunday roast and Curry beat Fish and chips in the competition of the favourite British dish. 

Some of the British traditions rub off on you. After three years I find myself apologizing needlessly a lot more than before. So much in fact that when I’m visiting Iceland my friends sometimes look at me as if I’ve turned into a an elf or a troll. I still don’t understand the love Brits have for boybands, soap operas and Marmite though.

Reviewed by Sigridur Petursdottir

Via Two Islands: Great Britain & Iceland

Review: The Book Bag

Stuff Brits Like by Fraser McAlpine

With over 100 chapters on different aspects of Britain and Britishness, this book is both fascinating and hilarious. Just looking at the list of subjects is enough to produce a sardonic twist of that stiff upper lip: the chapters cover topics that range from offal to curry, from pedantry to banter, from conkers to rugby. There may be many chapters but this is no academic tome — each chapter is just two to three pages long, each is written with endearing affection, each is easy and satisfying — and quirkily funny — to read.

Many of Fraser McAlpine’s observations could be applied more generally to other countries as well as Britain. Reality TV, for example, exists in all four corners of the globe, while the Speaking English Abroad chapter could, with a couple of adaptations, apply equally to the US as to Britain. And football is, well, football the world over. But most of the subjects covered are quintessentially British.

Fraser McAlpine hits exactly the right note and he certainly knows his Britain. He observes every foible of the great British public with such good-natured wit and candour that only the most dour among us could possibly take offence (and yes, there is a chapter on Melancholy). In fact, he has been excessively kind in places. He waxes positively lyrical about the BBC (and two programmes it has spawned, The Archers and The Shipping Forecast), without a whiff of cynicism, despite all the bad press the BBC has suffered in recent years. But perhaps that’s not so surprising – he has, after all, worked for the Beeb for many years and, in any case, one shouldn’t be rude about one’s favourite Auntie. He’s only marginally more mocking about reality TV, from the endless singing/dancing/baking/sewing competitions to what he calls ‘augmented reality’ shows such as Made in Chelsea. His approach is understated, gentle, rather… British. (See his chapter on Social Reserve and Decorum… we Brits really don’t get hot under the collar much at all, it seems.) Sometimes, though, I’d like him to be a little less nice, a little more cutting, just for the fun of it.

There are some surprising omissions in Stuff Brits Like. The Call Centre, for example, is an inescapable – and much loathed – fact of Modern Britain. Rhyming slang, too, is curiously absent: it would have made a marvellous addition to a book such as this, and would have proved richly satisfying to American readers.

There are some delightful nuggets of information in the book – useless facts with which you can bore your friends in the pub. Did you know, for example, that the Lyle’s Golden Syrup tin features a picture of a dead lion and a swarm of bees, along with the Biblical quotation ‘Out of the strong came forth sweetness’? A reference, of course, to the Old Testament’s Samson who killed a lion and discovered a nest of bees in the carcass. You’re going to go straight to your store cupboard and search out that crusty old Golden Syrup tin now, aren’t you?

All in all, this is a most enjoyable read. It’s probably not a book to read from cover to cover in one go — it’s more a book for dipping into when you’ve got ten minutes, so you can read and fully savour the writer’s winsome turns of phrase and careful observations. So it’d be a great bedtime table book, or a book for a day when you just need a little cheering up without having to make too much effort.

For another account of Britain and things British from a more American viewpoint, have a look at Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson or The Anglo Files: A Field Guide To The British by Sarah Lyall.

Reviewed by Liz Green

4/5 stars

Via The Book Bag



Review: Sydney Morning Herald: School Britannia

Fraser McAlpine is the lead writer for Anglophenia, BBC America’s blog for American Anglophiles, “and consequently spends a good deal of his working life arguing about the finer points of Doctor Who, Sherlock Holmes, Downton Abbey and anything with Tom Hiddleston in,” or so says his biography.

Australians will likely be more familiar with chip butties, Marmite and calling soccer “football”, but breaking them down into afternoon tea-sized bites of McAlpine’s dry English wit and sense of the absurd, honed during years of writing for NME and The Guardian, should have even the most staunch supporter of all things pukka chuckling anew at the peculiarities.


From The Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney, Australia, July 18-19, 2015.


The Daily Mirror: 17 things that put the Great in Britain — from Marmite to Eddie the Eagle

Why were our phone boxes red, which Women’s Institute members are heavy metal fans and which Lord would only eat meals in his swimming pool?

Author Fraser McAlpine, who must explain Britain to foreigners as editor of the BBC’s Anglophenia blog, answers these questions and more in new book Stuff Brits Like: A Guide To What’s Great About Great Britain.

So here are some of the best bits about being British…

Keep Calm posters

Keep Calm and Carry On posters were printed in 1939 and were meant to be used in a moment of dire need, such as after an invasion.

But the moment never came and most were destroyed after the Second World War.

A surviving poster was found in 2000 in a box of old books in a secondhand shop in Alnwick, Northumberland.

The owners framed it and the rest is history.

Cornish pasty

The Cornish pasty, staple of the West Country county, was created as a handy lunch for the tin miners.

They often ended up with arsenic on their fingers, and the pasty allowed them to hold the thick crust, which they could then discard at the end of their lunch.

Shipping forecast

BBC Radio 4 broadcasts the shipping forecast four times a day.

Blur’s Damon Albarn admitted that when he was on his first US tour in 1991, he tuned into the shipping forecast when he felt homesick.

Joe Orton

The playwright, who wrote Loot, and his lover Kenneth Halliwell used to sneak books from libraries and replace their dust jackets with homemade versions, complete with a fresh – and scandalous – blurb and the odd naked man, too.

Pantomime Dame

The British love of cross-dressing originates with Shakespeare, who had males playing females. But in Victorian times both the main female and male lead were traditionally played by women.


Loved and hated in equal measure, Marmite is made from the breweries’ boiled-down leftovers, known as beer scum.

Despite being a quintessential British condiment, it was actually created by a German scientist called Justus von Liebig.

Memorial plaque

In Hammersmith, West London, where the opening credits of Nineties comedy series Bottom was filmed, there is a plaque that reads “Rik Mayall – 1958-2014 – punched his friend in the balls near this spot”.

Phone boxes

The original design of the iconic red British phone boxes were actually green to blend in with the grass and trees. But they blended in so well people started walking into them, so the colour had to change. As Royal Mail also ran telephone services, they were painted the classic red colour.

Tikka masala

Chicken tikka masala is a Glaswegian invention thought up in 1971, while the Indian balti dishes were first created in Birmingham restaurant Adil’s in 1977.

The WI

The Women’s Institute started in 1915 in the Welsh village of Llanfairpwllgwyngyll to encourage women to take an active role in food production during the First World War.

Now there are 212,000 members across 6,600 institutes. A Liverpool branch called Iron Maidens was created to welcome Death Metal fans, goths and burlesque dancers.


The word chav, which was coined in the early 2000s, most likely comes from the Romany word chavi, meaning child.

Rugby… league & union

The divide between rugby union and rugby league goes back to the late 1800s.

In the industrial north, amateur players were losing too much paid work in order to play so they decided to go professional. But players from clubs in the south refused to join them in their rugby league, which developed in parallel to rugby union, each with their own rules and customs.

Lord Rokeby

The eccentric 18th century peer loved water so much he ate dinner in his pool and it was believed he wanted to be a fish.

Doctor Who

The Doctor Who theme tune, recorded at an experimental BBC Radiophonic Workshop, was one of the first widely popular electronic songs.

Rod Stewart

Several pages of the pop legend’s autobiography are dedicated to his habit of drawing penises on things, including the passports of the boys from McFly.

Golden Syrup

The inscription on the iconic Lyle’s Golden Syrup tin comes from the Old Testament story of Samson and the Lion. “Out of the strong came forth sweetness” was the first British advertising slogan.

Eddie the Eagle

Eddie Edwards became a household name after losing the 70m and 90m ski jump in the 1988 Winter Olympics. It was the first time Britain had entered a competitor in the event and Eddie had to borrow his ski boots, which were so big he wore six pairs of socks to make them fit.

by Melissa Thompson

The Daily Mirror, 13 July 2015

Bustle: 10 Ways To Be A Little More British Every Day, Because It’s Fun To Be An Anglophile

Our country may have decided we were over being part of the British Empire more than two centuries ago, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t still have an affinity for many aspects their culture. Great Britain has a lot to offer, whether you’re a die-hard Anglophile or you’re just obsessed with Downton Abbey. Not only is their history is exciting and scandalous, Britain has also given us everything from our Founding Fathers to the Beatles to our love for the royal family.

In Stuff Brits Like: A Guide to What’s Great About Great Britain, author Fraser McAlpine brings us through an extensive — though admittedly not comprehensive — list of, well, stuff Brits like. His hilarious look at his own culture goes beyond the basics, such as remembering to call soccer “football,” and gets into habits and traditions of the people who live in the countries that make up Great Britain. The topics discussed in his book range from desserts with unappetizing (not to mention kind of inappropriate) names to crossdressing.

Through McAlpine’s highly amusing explanations, you’ll find yourself wondering how the pilgrims neglected to bring some of these traditions across the pond to the new world. Warning: You may find yourself planning a trip to the British Isles after reading this book.

Wishing you could get in on the fun? Keep calm and try these 10 tips for adding more aspects of British culture to your everyday life, inspired by McAlpine’s guide:

Be Overly Polite

Brits are known for their good manners, in part because of their habit of apologizing constantly — especially when it’s completely unnecessary. They’re also great at queuing, even if they don’t like to, because order is important to them. McAlpine attributes both of these traits to Brits’ social awkwardness, but whatever the reason, try it out. Get in line, and if someone bumps into you, be sure to say you’re sorry. It’s the British thing to do.

Get Serious About Tea

“Tea isn’t merely a drink,” says McAlpine. “It’s a way of life.” Serve it to deal with all emotions and for all occasions. If you’re comforting a friend with a broken heart, de-stressing, and even just getting ready for bed, you absolutely must put the kettle on. Just don’t forget to serve it with appropriate snacks.

Adjust Your Sense of Humor

For Brits, “a sense of humor is like a fine martini: the dryer it is, the better,” according to McAlpine. Banter, aka joking around with others, is a national pastime. Sarcasm is never off limits, even when you’re discussing a loved one’s recent death. Your goal is to make it as unclear as possible whether or not you were serious so you can keep everyone guessing. Wordplay is also key, and you get extra points for making it dirty. If you need help, study up by watching pros, because Brits love comedy.

Remember to Keep a Stiff Upper Lip

Too much emotion in public is always a bad thing. People will find it “a bit much,” so you need to find a way to lock those pesky feelings down when you’re out and about. Seriously, nothing warrants outburst, if you ask McAlpine — not even broken bones, broken hearts or broken ranks.

Become a Regular at a Pub

Pubs aren’t a place to go get trashed; that’s what bars and clubs are for. Pubs are “the hub of all social interactions in British communities,” writes McAlpine. They’re where Brits gather to catch up on local news, share information, banter with neighbors and friends, relax, and even celebrate meaningful events. You can watch sporting events on TV, play games, and test your knowledge in pub quizzes. All you need is a pint and you’ll fit right in. Feel free to bring your dog along with you. The health inspector might not like it, but it’s what a Brit would do.

Get Into Football (and Stop Calling It “Soccer”)

“No sport carries the same degree of obsession in Britain as football does,” shares McAlpine. If you were British, you’d have gotten into it as a small child, so you’ll have to catch up now — that is, if the World Cup didn’t already inspire you. Follow a team, wear the merchandise, and never miss an opportunity to cheer them on. When in doubt, root for the underdog. Like McAlpine says, “Winning is boring.”

Keep Up With the Royal Family

The royal family isn’t universally popular but they’re an essential part of British culture, so make sure you stay in the know. They can be found splashed across the many British tabloids, with which Brits have a love-hate relationship. Let’s face it, though: the royal wedding and subsequent royal babies probably sucked you in — and that’s just if Kate Middleton’s hair and fascinators hadn’t already.

Don’t Be Afraid to Swear — Frequently

“The sad truth of the matter is that the British excel at swearing. And they’re proud of it too,” admits McApline, who divides swearwords into grade-A and grade-B, depending on how offensive they are. British slang definitely beats American English when it comes to grade-B options. Brits have tons of options when it comes to words that aren’t fit for polite company, yet still aren’t totally obscene. Why should they have all the fun? Try out words like ”bugger,” ”wanker,” and ”bollocks.” I’ll use them in a sentence for you: “Oh, bollocks, just bugger off, you wanker!” Fun, right?

Complain About American Chocolate

American chocolate has different ratios of cocoa solids to sugar, and Brits are not fond of our version. As much as I love all chocolate, I see their point. If you’ve had British chocolate, you have to concede its superiority. Never admit to liking Hershey’s; Galaxy and Cadbury are where it’s at.

Get Creative With a Deep-Fryer

Anything can be deep-fried. Seriously, anything. Pizza? An egg wrapped in sausage meat and breaded? Banana fritters? It’s not only possible, it’s been done. While you’ll probably mostly want to stick to the usual suspects, like fish and chips, feel free to get creative. Scots are especially well-known for their innovative deep-fried creations, and we wouldn’t want to forget England’s neighbor to the north.

by Stephanie Topacio Long

Via Bustle

Review: The Independent on Sunday

The Brit parade

If there is an art to writing the kind of book that feels most comfortable in the smallest room in the house, the writer Fraser McAlpine might have just created a masterpiece of the form with Stuff Brits Like: A Guide to What’s Great About Great Britain published this week. Ever aware that “if this were a blog, the comments section would blaze with outrage and correction”, McAlpine has opened his work – which contains sections on “Dunking Biscuits”, “Conkers” and “Apologising Needlessly” (see below) – with a chapter called simply “Pedantry”.

“The question ‘Which chair should I sit on?’ is a prime target for pedants to leap at and suggest ‘On which chair should I sit?’ as the correct alternative,” he writes. “This will then provoke other pedants to point out that the preposition rule gets in the way of conversational speech and that people should be less persnickety about grammar in general, so long as the meaning is understood. This will then provoke a further point of pedantry because in Britain the word is pernickety. And that’s when everyone realises there are no more chairs.”

Has McAlpine been eavesdropping on an average day in The IoS office?

—Simmy Richman, The Independent on Sunday, 5 July 2015

Review: Broadcaster Doug Miles

Most of us Americans, if we haven’t visited the UK, get our information and impressions of Great Britain from imported television shows like Monty Python, Dr. Who and Downton Abbey. Humorist and author Fraser McAlpine, in his book “Stuff Brits Like, A Guide to What’s Great About Great Britain”, illustrates the many differences of our neighbors across the pond in a light-hearted and humorous collection of essays. I recommend the book for anyone looking to understand our British brethren better. I spoke with Fraser McAlpine and that conversation can be heard here.

-—Doug Miles,

8 July 2015

Review: Library Journal

A writer and broadcaster specializing in popular culture, British native McAlpine (BBC America’s Anglophenia blog) has put together a book equivalent of “one-liners”—stand-up routines touching upon many British idiosyncrasies and eccentricities. The focus of this humorous and easy-to-read book is on differences between British and American culture intended to initiate Americans on a range of topics that go beyond language, dialect, and spelling differences. Among the many topics are entries for sports, pubs, British food, television, movies, the Royals, and the special relationship between the British people and their BBC, all of which give us an irreverent view of the culture. An index or table of contents to direct to topics or sections of interest would have been helpful. That said, a series of nonsequential short (two-to-three page) chapters can be read with enjoyment in any order.

VERDICT: This is as much about British dislikes as “Stuff Brits Like,” but the audience for this book is the American who wants not-too-serious insights into contemporary British popular culture.

—Herbert E. Shapiro, Lifelong Learning Soc., Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton

Library Journal, 1 July 2015