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Musing on the 'extraordinary' talents of the British

By Brian Holden - posted Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Three guitar-strumming boys from Liverpool got together in 1960. Their ages were 16, 15 and 14. Together they developed a unique musical harmony. They did more than harmonise brilliantly. They became three of the best popular song writers in recent world history.

It would seem that there was something supernatural behind the lifelines of John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison intersecting at the right time in the right place. There has to be another explanation. That explanation is that each above-average talented individual developed the other so that there was an explosion of talent . They 'fed off' each other. A suggestion from one opened a door in the mind of the other.

But, into their subconscious were seeping the novel musical sounds emerging in America and Europe. That was not the only overseas musical influence. The much earlier skiffle music originating in New Orleans was essential in the development of the Beatles harmony. So, to what extent were the Beatles a British gift to the world?


Britain's genius of geniuses was William Shakespeare. He was so outstanding in his field that many believe that the world will never again see the like of him. (History has not recorded the crucial inspiration he got from Christopher Marlow, Ben Johnson and who knows who else?) Every thought and feeling Shakespeare had was orchestrated by his DNA. If the DNA in the cells of 'England's peculiar glory' was sourced from all over Europe - from the Romans to the Danes - where, then, lay the basis for national pride?

What of the revolutionary physics of Isaac Newton? There is no science characteristic of any nation because scientists have continually communicated over the known world since paper was invented. It is a fair suspicion that the contemporary work of German Gottfried Leibnitz and the previous work of Italian Galileo Galilei significantly assisted Isaac Newton in nudging Albert Einstein out of the number one spot in the list of the greatest scientists in history.

Nevertheless, there is something special about the British culture which caused Shakespeare and Newton and the Beatles to be the right men at the right place. Surely the British culture can be grounds for pride? Maybe not.

The fact that Britain is a group of islands, and yet very close to Europe, has (from about the time of Henry VIII) overwhelmingly contributed to a culture a little more open to change than elsewhere in the world. There would have been no industrial revolution born in Britain if it was not surrounded by water. If the British cannot be given credit for the water, then they cannot be given credit for the industrial revolution. It just happened there.

As Britain is surrounded by water, shipping became central to British thinking. That, with a few lucky breaks that the French did not get, led to an English-speaking America. And just as the three boys from Liverpool merged to form a critical mass from which emerged something unexpected, the extraordinarily rich natural environment that is the land mass of North America together with the Protestant work ethic (contributed to from several countries), enabled the most innovative culture in history to emerge.

As this English-speaking culture went on to dominate the 20th century, it would seem that Britain's most notable 'contribution' to the world is the United States of America.


Nation is an historically recent concept. For example; before 1861 there was no Italian nation and before 1871 there was no German nation. Kingdoms merged to become nation states with civil governments as it became necessary to unify large populations to counter real or imagined treats. Most nations are less than a century old.

The reality is that there is one human species and only one planet upon which to live. One day we will be finally forced by circumstances to recognise that the concept of nation (which is assumed to be a more sophisticated concept than tribe) is a primitive concept because its basis is still primitive tribalism - from which it follows that national pride is a primitive emotion. But the throng of flag-wavers before Buckingham Palace on 6 June last who, with moist eyes sang Land of Hope and Glory, could no more understand thatthan they could the geometry of curved space.

Next month comes the Olympics. This is a state-organised event planned for under the 'Give them circuses and bread' policy handed down to all modern government by ancient Rome. The British government has promised it will be an event that every one of its citizens will be proud of.

Not "every". There are some who can see through baloney.

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About the Author

Brian Holden has been retired since 1988. He advises that if you can keep physically and mentally active, retirement can be the best time of your life.

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