Englishness Materialises in the House of Commons when Pop Cultures Collide with Brexit
The TARDIS landed, albeit metaphorically, in the House of Commons in February when Members of Parliament, musicians and academics gathered to discuss English identity through the lens of pop music. The Doctor’s assumed Britishness was one of many filters to the conversation on contested nationalities as panellists and authors reflected on their own experiences as well as the impact of pop upon audiences across the pop ages.
The event, a book launch for the Bloomsbury book Mad Dogs and Englishness, included a panel, chaired by Rupa Huq MP for Ealing Central and Acton, where identities were debated with a packed audience of academics, MPs, musicians, actors and members of the public.
The book grew from a conference at St. Mary’s University in 2013 and draws on original research contributions by authors individually evaluating how popular music stands connect with notions of English national identities. The volume includes chapters on Bowie, Burial and Tricky. Dene October’s chapter on Doctor Who and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop examines the role experimental sounds played both in creating alien environments for the programme, as well as in reconfiguring the television audience in relation to the English imaginary.
“The early 1960s is a time of transition from an assumed Englishness, one that grainy black-and-white television images report back as dull and depthless. When such pictures are augmented by unfamiliar electronic sounds, you have the opportunity for new connections to materialise, a virtual time traveling where the analogue is that which is familiar – the TARDIS or the television – but really it’s the door through which a sensory recalibration takes place. What it means to be English or British. Whether that’s the Doctor, or the viewer.”
The TARDIS materialised during questions on cultural hybridity and media prisms through which Englishness proved to be one of many experiences of pop, along with the influence of American music on radio. Naturally, the conversation also turned to Brexit, the viewpoint of migrants and even how schools teach history and stories of Englishness. The English imaginary materialises in the songs of The Kinks, the Anthony Newley vocal styling of early David Bowie and in the Britpop marketing of Blur.
The panel was made up of musician and journalists: Paolo Hewitt (author of Bowie: Album by Album) Stephen Mallinder (founder member of Cabaret Voltaire) Robert Henrit (drummer with The Kinks) and Carey Fleiner (author of The Kinks: A Thoroughly English Phenomenon). Questions from the floor included authors of chapters in the Mad Dogs book including Richard Mills, Dene October Abigail Gardner, Johnny Hopkins, Christian Lloyd and Shara Rambarran.
Mad Dogs and Englishness: Popular Music and English Identities, Bloomsbury Academic 2018