How do we try to construct an identity as a nation to our visiting guests? We present a short film, courtesy of ‘England Your England’ which follows a group of Chinese tourists as we view Britain from their perspective, discovering the sights, culture and history that defines Britishness in the minds of international tourists.
The bus stopped, short of the corner, again. I had told the driver several times that he had to keep going. Now the routemaster was irretrievably embroiled in central Edinburgh’s one way system. The legions of tourists stared, dead eyed out of giant windows. What would it be today? Chinese, Italian, American. It made little to no difference to me any more. The bus stops at the lights. Cars behind are understandably aggrieved as traffic grinds to a standstill. I have to help everyone off and get them to the start of the tour. I climb aboard the bus.
“Right everyone, we need to hurry so grab your bags and we will meet by the door of the old church”
There is a see of blank faces. Clearly nobody speaks English. The translator mumbles something. Everyone nods in unison before slowly filing out of the bus.
“Welcome tae Scotland”, the guide drawls as the tourists wander around oblivious.
The guide’s name is Jeremy and he comes from Tunbridge Wells but every hour on the hour from 10:00 until 17:00 he is transformed into Scotland incarnate. Some of the tourists acknowledge him, the rest are taking it in turns having there photo taken with a guy dressed as Yoda. Amidst the storied streets of this ancient metropolis this is what they find the most interesting, a Star Wars costume and a cheap harness.
I have worked with Jeremy for ages and I know his script, a bunch of semi mythical bollocks and a stop at a “historical” pub where all the clients are tourists paying £4 a pint for a genuine British pint. The beer is Kronenbourg and the pub opened in 1998. Jeremy charges £20 a head for this privilege. Such is the veneer of the tourist trade.
It is funny when you think of tourism as a whole. Heaps of folks travel thousands of miles to experience a culture different to their own. The spanner in the works is that the culture they experience is nothing like the actual culture of the place at all. We see an idealised, rose tinted Britain, one of beefeaters and dukes playing cricket on the village green while some bloke in a kilt belts out Mull of Kintyre. The irony to this all is that behind all this Union Jack bunting is the reality of Britain, and the miserable servitude that lies therein. We the people don’t really experience our portrayal of “British” culture. We just get swept under the rug. I guess this is why we hate tourists so much. Jealousy.
It is this pulse of “presented Britishness” that is particularly evident in “Visions of Albion”. As we follow a group of Chinese tourists around the UK the first thing that springs to my mind is how little like the UK the whole trip was. If it wasn’t for interminable spells on various motorways you could be forgiven for thinking that you were in some kind of twee pre-war themed amusement park.
All the while the next tour is getting ready to leave. Jeremy shifts uncomfortably, he is a little bit drunk and wants to go home. As this tour leaves I watch the huddled masses follow their shepherd aimlessly. Two younger members of the herd then leave the group, apparently fascinated by something that Jeremy has not mentioned. The poser flicks the “peace” sign as her friend photographs her, capturing the moment in time. She was in front of a KFC. My phone rings. The next bus is inbound.
“Visions of Albion came from an idea I had while on holiday in Cape Town. I’d spent a day checking out some of the must see spots only to be shadowed by a coach load of tourists who got off the bus wherever I was and would spent 10 minutes taking photos before piling back on the bus. I thought how this might apply to Britain and found exactly the same things happening at home.” (Matt Hopkins, Director)
England Your England (EYE) is an ongoing documentary series created by filmmaker Matt Hopkins. The series showcases powerful stories from real people across the UK. The project aims to present the diversity of personal stories that define us as individuals, communities and as a nation.
You can watch more videos and read more about the project here