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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 November, 2004, 13:44 GMT
Britons 'funny but drunken' breed
Matt Lucas as Vicki Pollard in comedy series Little Britain
Britons: Blessed with clever humour
Britons are cleverly humorous, polite, proud and still maintain a stiff upper lip, an international survey has found.

People in Milan, Mumbai, Chicago, foreign correspondents and a panel in Norfolk found Britons were individual, tolerant and had a sense of history.

But hooliganism and drunkenness were also seen as part of British culture, when alcohol and sport were involved.

The survey was carried out by Mori for the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce.

The RSA wants to identify British values and characteristics to find criteria for its new Great Britons Awards.

'Let loose'

The British are seen by other nations as reserved, the RSA said, but "when alcohol or sporting events, or both, are involved, they let loose and become highly unreserved".

Every group questioned agreed Britain had a unique brand of comedy - but other traits drew a mixed response

David Walliams as Emily Howard in Little Britain
But the Italians surveyed questioned their dress sense
Americans in Chicago said British politeness and pride were positive, but others, especially the Milanese, said British politeness was "off-putting" and Britons were reserved, uptight and snobbish.

The Italians also thought Britons were tied to outdated traditions and customs.

Individuality, on a personal and political level was also highlighted, but Britain also drew criticism as being too closely aligned to the US.

Across the world, Britons are seen as multicultural and tolerant, but the Norfolk focus group made distinctions on different minority groups.

Meanwhile, in the style stakes, Italians scoffed at claims of British panache but the Americans admitted Britons were at least better dressed than them.

Two focus groups of 8-10 people in each of four places - Chicago, Mumbai, Milan and King's Lynn were questioned for the survey, along with six London-based foreign correspondents.

Your comments

English reserve is certainly irritating in many situations but worth living with in order to then live with the British sense of humour. So many of the American comedies that are imported to here aren't seen as funny because they just are too obvious. British humour is one of a kind - long live intelligent comedy, satire and shows like Little Britain, Only Fools and Horses, Have I Got News For You, Fawlty Towers... the list is endless.
Sarah, Cambridge

British humour is at its best when we make fun of ourselves. The ability to laugh at ourselves and our history and traditions, up to and including the Monarchy, puts us way ahead of most other nations, who take themselves far too seriously. A prime example is the USA, where to make fun of "The American Way" is considered to be unpatriotic.
John Atkins, Bridgwater, England

Our bashful awkwardness in formal situations is delightfully compensated for by sarcasm, wit, and an ability to laugh at ourselves
James, London UK
British reserve and a humorous tradition are inextricably linked. Our bashful awkwardness in formal situations is delightfully compensated for by sarcasm, wit, and an ability to laugh at ourselves, as well as others. Something our more forthright-speaking colleagues overseas generally miss.
James, London UK

Ahhh-haaaaaa!! Italians saying we are not funny? Now that sunshine is libellous!! p.s. Give me a second series!
Alan Partridge, Norwich, England

Yeah, but no, but, yeah but thebritishsenseofhumoursreallyfunnyinnit? Because when I said it's funny I mean it's funny but I never said so I didn't it was Michelle smith she said I was a virgin and I neva...
Vicky, UK

Having lived in America, I definitely agree that we British, as a nation, have a great sense of humour. However I also find that the best American comedies, such as The Simpsons, South Park and Family Guy, are far superior to anything we have to offer because they work on so many levels. Below the surface of crude, cheap laughs, these programmes are full of intelligent comedy, often highly topical and satirical, hence their broad appeal. What British comedy series is appreciated globally by both children and adults alike?
Will, Cambridge, England

British humour is the best in the world! Why else would the Americans continually hijack our best ideas, only to water them down for the comically challenged American audience? They love it, but they don't quite get it..... It all started with The Goons, not Python. Sheer comic genius - timeless! And not an American accent or can of laughter in sight!
Martin Macaskill, Inverkip, Scotland

It is very easy for us to say our sense of humour is the best since British comedy reflects what British people find funny. I personally find American comedy a bit insipid but I'm not American. From what I have seen of continental comedy it seems a bit crass, but I have not seen enough to make an informed opinion. All I can say is British has a very proud literary history and I think this is continued by our current crop of script writers and authors.
Andy Thomas, London

I must also add that Brits use the humour to hide their failures at every stage of their lives
Khairul Hasan, Camberley, UK
After living here for nearly 4 years, I must admit Brits have good sense of humour. But, I must also add that Brits use the humour to hide their failures at every stage of their lives.
Khairul Hasan, Camberley, UK

British humour works so well because we're politically incorrect, self-deprecating, and think nothing of taking the mickey out of other people. What's funny to some is always painful to others. By contrast American humour is generally so obsessively "nice", focus-grouped, and inoffensive as to contain nothing to laugh at which is why we tend to find it boring at best. The only American exceptions tend to be cartoons (Simpsons, South Park, King Of The Hill, Ren & Stimpy). Compare Will & Grace to Gimme Gimme Gimme, or Scrubs to Green Wing, or Friends to Coupling - there's simply no competition.
Al Johnson, London, UK

The best example of the popularity of British humour I can remember is when I was returning home from my Father's funeral onboard a KLM plane from Cape Town to Amsterdam. Mr Bean was being shown and virtually everyone, if not everyone, was watching and crying with laughter. I remember thinking at the time what a remarkable moment it was.
David John, Leicester UK

Where are the comic writers in Britain who can also tap into tragedy the way that the brilliant (and American) Woody Allen does? Why do people repeatedly point to British programmes to prove they are the best in the world without having anything (apart from some US comedy shows) to compare them with? Don't you have to travel a bit to other countries to be able to give a balanced opinion? Or is the conclusion 'the British are the funniest people in the world because they say they are'?
Michiel, Apeldoorn, The Netherlands

Cutting edge British humour is often misunderstood, but that's part of the charm
Tom, London
British humour is superb when it wants to be. The play of words, sarcasm and dryness in humour are some of the basic ingredients. Give the recipe to any other nation and the results are always second rate. Cutting edge British humour is often misunderstood, but that's part of the charm. Some of the BBC's offerings have been truly entertaining.
Tom, London

Turkish humour is the best. The only problem is we do not have any international channel to distribute them contrary to Britons.
Cenk Yildiz, Luxembourg

Don't let anything of these survey results change British characteristics. You are a beacon in terms of character and humour - keep it up !
Alex Veris, Belgium

I think British humour is one of the most special, intelligent and dark humour of our age. It started with Monty Python, and nowadays shows like The League of Gentlemen and The Green Wing carry on this wonderful satire. I hope we never lose our ability to laugh!
Megan Curl, Brighton, UK

British humour is the greatest in the world. Our peculiar social behaviours and attitudes only lend themselves to this, because unlike most of the world we aren't afraid to use it in our comedy. We have a liberal and highly critical comic talent which is allowed to grow in Britain. Who else has made The Young Ones, Bottom, Faulty Towers, Alan Partridge, The Office, Peep Show? It is the innate subversion of our national idiosyncratic nature and values which makes it as good as it is. The Italians, as much as anyone see themselves as slightly superior and only the fact we keep to those 'outdated' customs enables us to retain a depth which they often lack, as we can tell by the many famous Italian comics which have reached global status for humour which is a grand total of..... errr... still cant think of....even one.
William Lewis, Sheffield, England

Peter Kay - Enough said!
Neil Thomas, Antrim

The British sense of humour is definitely different to that of most people abroad. I don't think many foreigners would find Blackadder funny for example, but I'm not amused by The Simpsons or South Park. We have a very basic and simple sense of humour here. In many ways, slapstick still rules. Other nations are far more sophisticated in what they laugh at.
A, Essex

Best in the world, we are the only nation to use intelligent humour and we can laugh at ourselves, just look at Little Britain for an example.
P Prescott, Bristol, UK

Whoever wrote this article certainly has a sense of humour. I've never seen the list of great cities go "Chicago, Mumbai, Milan and King's Lynn" before.
Michael Hall, Eccles, UK (ex Suffolk)

There's no point anybody else trying to understand our humour as it's unique to us and that's probably how it'll always be
Dave Elliott, Billingham, England
British humour is by far the funniest in the world. Very dry at times, but you only have to look at the TV shows etc. by British people. To me, they are so much funnier than any other nations' programming. I know a lot of Americans don't 'get' our humour which is why a lot of the shows they import over there aren't going to go down well. There's no point anybody else trying to understand our humour as it's unique to us and that's probably how it'll always be.
Dave Elliott, Billingham, England

Second to none, from the likes of Rowan Atkinson in Blackadder to Monty Python's flying circus, when it comes to humour, Britannia rules the (air) waves.
Ken, Surrey

British humour is great! It's much deeper than American humour, which is sometimes so obvious, it's really not at all funny. Wit, sarcasm and ironies of life are the basis of British comedy, and they are so funny! I love it! Taking the mickey out of people is just a way of life, doesn't matter what is different about you, it has potential to be funny. People seem to be far too sensitive that others are taking a proper dig at them, but often it doesn't reflect someone's real views, but is oh so comical!
Helen, Fordingbridge, Hants, UK

I wouldn't know about such things, because I'm a lady you know.
Emily, Seaside

The British have the best sense of humour, you only have to look at the success of the likes of Monty Python, Benny Hill and Eddie Izzard. It is so varied and I think that is because we are so good at taking the Michael out of ourselves. Which other nation can really match our elite?
Jim Humphreys, Bury

I think that we have created our own sense of humour that the rest of the world need time to catch up on. An example would be Edgar Wright's and Simon Pegg's film, 'Shaun of The Dead', many of the American test audiences didn't get the Cornetto joke or the scene with Nick Frost winding the camera. But I think we need to accept humour from other countries as well which is made possible by things like the Edinburgh Festival and the Fringe.
Holly Hodgart, Blairgowrie, Scotland

We are more able than most nations to take the mickey out of ourselves
Jay, Coventry, UK
Brits have a great sense of humour which can sometimes be rather difficult to pick up on. This is epitomised by the fact that the truly great British comic movies become cult hits around the world while Hollywood-style comedies tend to become Saturday afternoon flicks. We are more able than most nations to take the mickey out of ourselves and the image of being snobbish and 'stiff upper lipped' will start to wane as time goes by.

I'm not sure why British politeness should be a negative issue though. I've been to a few European countries and I'm amazed at just how rude and intolerant some of our continental cousins can be! Rudeness is more off putting than a simple polite greeting in my opinion.
Jay, Coventry, UK

Oh dear. Do we really need to be shown, once again, the dangers of trying to sum up an entire nation of people in just a few character traits? Yes, we've produced lots of clever, intelligent humour, but we've also produced Bernard Manning, Jim Davidson and Last of the Summer Wine. And what about the Italians, criticising us for being tied to "outdated traditions and customs"? Er... hello? Catholicism?
Adrian Clark, Sutton, UK

With my British penchant for 'clever humour', I am highly amused at the notion of Italians labelling the British as sporting hooligans. With their fine track record of riots, violence, and the recent assault on a referee which cost Roma any chance of qualifying from their Champion's League group, they are surely in a fine position to accuse others of such unreservedness.
Gareth Rippingale, UK

I have travelled the world and seen some weird and wonderful things, but nothing compares to our weird and wonderful sense of humour! Most other comedies in the world follow a formula and that is something we do not. We want to see something different everytime whether it is Alan Partridge or Little Britain or some SAD boss in a Office!
Orson Cornick, Godalming, Surrey

Oh yes, we have a sense of humour, but usually at the expense of anyone who doesn't speak English of wasn't born in England. And if anyone doesn't appreciate it we usually beat the living daylights out of them. What a laugh.
James Styles, Tankerton England

I think the British sense of humour is unique. Yet when the Americans understand or love one of our "unique" sit-coms, why do they want to remake it and tailor it for the wider American consumption? And why are they then surprised that it flopped? British humour is what it is and it cannot be "translated".
On the wider issue of politeness etc, why did the survey team not ask more Asian countries like Japan or China for their input. Since the Japanese are by far the most polite race and by comparison we are very rude and curt.
John Kecsmar, Isle of Wight, UK

I find British comedians to generally be very funny, but yet to meet a funny British person face to face...and have been here for 3 years!
Emma, UK

If Emma has yet to meet a funny British person then I suggest you pass my e-mail address on to her. My repertoire of "Doctor Doctor" jokes, not to mention sight gags involving water-squirting flowers and other tomfoolery, has caused many a cultivated guffaw in the dinner-party circuit over the years.
Brendan, London, UK

Humour is one of Britain's best invisible exports and covers a multitude of sins.
MZ, Portugal

England produced both Charlie Chaplin and Monty Python - what else is there to say? I don't think anyone will ever be able to surpass them.
Brian Hawks, Munich, Germany

We are most definitely funny, our humour carries well to most parts of the world. But I do admit in more formal situation we do tend to be more reserved and that can hamper people's opinions.
Gil, London

I've always thought that a sense of humour was the ability to laugh at oneself. In that sense, the British have a great sense of humour.
David Jacob, London, UK

British humour is brilliant, best in the world! Just take a look at programmes such as Little Britain, Have I got news for you, Dead ringers etc! Enough said!
Matthew Smith, Leeds, England

Do the Americans get irony?
27 Jan 04 |  Magazine
Do we know each other?
27 Jun 03 |  Europe
What makes you British?
21 Nov 02 |  Race

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