Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Agrégation anglais 2021 La BBC et l'audiovisuel public 1922-1995 Post 49: the birth of television

 When we think of the BBC before the Second World War, we tend to think "radio", and when we think of the corporation after 1945 we think "television". But this is very much an oversimplification. For the whole of the 1950s, radio was more influential than television. And before 1939, there was the amazing adventure of the first experiments and broadcasts in television. This documentary from 1984 looks at television in the 1930s. You can skip the first few minutes, but the rest is very interesting (the image quality gets better after 20 minutes or so).

Just click here :


Monday, December 28, 2020

Suggested translation "La naissance d'un pont"


At the beginning, he got to know[1] the North of Yakutia[2] and Mirny, where he worked three years. In Mirny they had to open up a diamond mine which was under a dirty grey crust of ice. The land was a hopeless[3] tundra disfigured by piles of old sick coal, and prison camps, a wasteland bathed in nights which gave you frostbite,[4] lacerated, eleven months of the year, by blizzards strong enough[5] to cut your skull apart, and underneath it were, still sleeping, the scattered limbs and beautifully curved giant horns of furry rhinoceroses, woolly beluga whales and frozen[6] reindeer.[7] He would picture all this to himself in the evening, sat at the hotel bar in front of a glass of strong clear liquor, always the same scheming whore caressing him endlessly, while trying to talk him into a wedding in Europe in exchange for  loyal services ; but he never laid a hand on her, he never could : he would rather have nothing rather than screw this woman who did not desire him ; he stuck to his guns on that.


Anyway, these diamonds in Mirny,[8] they had to dig down to get at them, to break up the permafrost  using dynamite, then drill out a Dante-esque hole, as wide as the town itself – they could have thrown headfirst in the hole the fifty storey housing blocks  which were soon to grow up around there – then, with a head flashlight, they had to climb down into the orifice, attack the walls with a pick axe, dig out the soil, sort the underground galleries into a tree structure, going sideways far out into the hardest and darkest distant parts. Then they had to shore up the corridors and put down the rails, pass an electric current through the mud, burrow into the soil, scratch away at the loose stones and sieve through the entrails, searching for that splendid sparkle. That went on for three years.[9]

Once his contract had run out, he went back to France on a not very democratic Tupolev plane. His seat in Economy Class sagged dreadfully ; a coil[10] of metal wires threaded its way under the cloth of the chair back, breaking through it here and there leaving a wire which hurt your back.[11] He had a few more contracts then, and found himself as site manager in Dubai, having to raise[12][13] a luxury hotel out of the sand, a palace as vertical as an obelisque but as secular as a coconut tree, and having to work in glass this time, glass and steel, with lifts like bubbles sliding along gilded tubes, and marble from Carrare for the circular lobby in which a fountain gurgled out a sound of petrodollar luxury amidst polished green plants, animal-hide sofas and air-conditioning.




A woolly rhinoceros


[1] Because of the preterite tense in French, one cannot translate as « knew » (= connaissait). It must be some verb or verb expression which can happen at a specific time.

[2] « North Yakutia »  is not good, sinc eit suggests it is the name of the country, like North Korea.

[3] Someone found « despair-inducing » , which is very good. « Disheartening » is ok.

[4] « Frostbitten night » is possible.

[5] The narrator says that the wind *could* cut into your skull. This is obviously hyperbole, so you must not use a structure which says that skulls were actually cut into.

[6] Not « iced » which is generally for cold drinks.

[7] Seasonal reference https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j11rwc6Sf4o

[8] If you are interested in diamond mining, see here https://beyond4cs.com/faq/diamond-origins/how-they-are-mined/


[9] Sentences with verbs are vastly preferred in English.

[10] « clump » was good.

[11] Remember anglophones are less precise : « j’ai mal aux reins » : I have a backache.

[12] A good time to revise the difference between to rise, to raise and to arise, and to remember that the difference between a rise and a raise is not the same as the difference between to rise and to raise. Essential short exercise here : http://random-idea-english.blogspot.fr/2010/11/confusing-words-quiz-verbs-rise-raise.html


[13] Someone suggested « conjure up » which is excellent.

M1 MEEF - Third wave feminism

 In class (and on video) I had time to look over struggles for women's rights which occurred from 1860- 1918 (which we often call first wave), and the mass movements of the 1970s (often referred to as second wave). But I did not have time to look at the 21st century. Today there are no mass movements or national conferences of the women's liberation movement in general. There are, however, active networks and much activity. This video for 2016 gives one possible view of the history of women's liberation. [their Youtube channel has 150 or so subscribers, so as you can see we are talking of a pressure group, not a mass organization]


December 2020 M1 MEEF Homework assignments

I have received assignments from the following people (apologies if I have misspelt your name or mixed up your first name and your surname). If your work is not here, it just might be in my spam folder, so send me an email. Correcting these assignments will take a long time, but you will eventually see on this blog a long set of comments.

Ait Ichou




























Happy holidays

 Thank you for all your homework assignments, mock exam scripts etc. Many students, in their emails, wished me and my family all the best for Christmas and the New Year. Thank you very much - there were far too many for me to answer you individually, so I will have to be satisfied with collectively wishing everyone happy holidays and a positive - and hopefully less challenging - 2021.

A bit of British culture which people often find interesting: normally you wish people "Happy New Year" on January 1st only (or perhaps before). If you do not see someone in 2021 until the 10th of January, it is too late. Unlike in French. I think this is because in UK English we are wishing people, not a  happy 2021, but a happy New Year's Day celebration.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

The history of the BBC video chapter 8


You will find here video chapter number 8, which continues with the story of the BBC before 1945, and indeed takes us up to the end of the Second World War. It looks at new styles of programme, the effects of the war on censorship and on music programming, as well as at the beginnings of such phenomena as political vetting, and audience research.

Just click here


I wish you happy (and cautious) holidays.

Thème agrégation 6 janvier

 On the 6th January we will be going through the translation I gave you for the mock exam: the piece about Adelaïde's heart. If you did not have time in the December rush to take this mock exam, make sure you study the passage and try to translate it before the class. We will go back to the passages in the booklet afterwards. If you no longer have the passage used for the mock exam, send me an email. If you concentrated on the Agrégation interne mock exam, and so did not translate the final paragraph, try this paragraph before the class. 

Sunday, December 20, 2020

video BBC 7c

 You will find here chapter 7c of the BBC  history series. Again, for students in Rouen, this goes over a period we looked over in live class. The next videos, however, will move forward through the thirties, forties and so on.


This week’s front pages in the UK


Agrégation BBC 1922-1995 post 48: the first Science Fiction on BBC TV

 In 1938. This short article explains 


Saturday, December 19, 2020

Concours blanc agrégation

 For the text commentary, I received so far 4 scripts  - from Charlotte, Kelly, Robin and Aurore. If anyone else sent one, please send it again :=)

Agrégation - political figures in the UK

 "How many well-known political figures in  UK history are you supposed to be familiar with?" asked one agrégation student. The question is imposisble to answer. Naturally almost  all the 20th century and 21st century prime ministers for a start. But what about other personalities? Since this is a competitive exam, I suppose the real answer is " afew more than most of the other candidates" or "the more the better". However, this last answer is not very useful when you have many subjects to prepare. Let us say that it is a significant advantage to know who Tony Benn was, if he should come up. In the 1960s and 1970s one of the main leaders of the left wing of the Labour Party, minister of technology for several years, an activist who hopes that the Labour government would enact very radical measures of nationalization and decide a very substantial increase in spending on public services. Here is an obituary in French from one of his supporters


BBC - question for today

 Why did Margaret Thatcher, and other Prime Ministers who were very unhappy with the BBC never abolish the corporation ? 

Friday, December 18, 2020

L3 Popular culture since 1945. Final elements on Popular music


L3 Final elements on Popular Music

You will find here my last video chapter  for this course, which takes another few genres of popular music to look at how genres work.



If you want to know more about the history of British popular music, there has been a series of documentaries about different musical genres, which you can find at the links below (these are not requirements for this course). They contain a certain amount of fantalk, but also much useful information

Folk Britannia


Progrock Britannia

Prog Rock Britannia 1 - YouTube

Blues Britannia

Blues Britannia - YouTube

Punk Britannia. There is more than one episode (three I think), but episode one is here


Reggae Britannia. There are several episodes. Episode one is here :

Reggae Britannia Documentary Part 1 - YouTube

Synth Britannia

Synth Britannia - YouTube

Rap Britannia

Rap Britannia - The UK State Of Rhyme (1Xtra Story) - YouTube


Agrégation BBC Rouen last live class recording and slides

 You will find here the Mp3 recording of this week's class

Just click here

And you will find here  the slides we saw

Just click here

I wish everyone a Happy Christmas: be extremely careful.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Agrégation 2021 La BBC et le service public de l'audiovisuel: post 47 La BBC et la propagande

 Qu'est-ce que la propagande, et comment savoir si la BBc en fait ou pas? Cet article,  disponible gratuitement, de Renée Dickason aide à comprendre ce sujet. Il prend l'exemple de la guerre des Malouines, et celui de la Guerre du Golfe.


Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Popular music, racism and diversity

Students preparing the CAPES (in connection with the subject of diversity) and L3 students following my class on popular culture may be interested in these two articles, both in French, by a distinguished scholar.

Chansons antiracistes au Royaume-Uni

Festivals de musique, à Notting Hill et ailleurs.

M1 MEEF WEEK 12 RECORDING AND SLIDES: Uk women's liberation movement, 1970s

You will find here a recording of the class on the UK women's liberation movement of the 1970s.

And also the slides we saw on this subject

There will be one more post in this course, over the next few days.
Thank you for your cooperation, and have a good (and safe) end of year break.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Week 12 Popular culture in Britain - recording and slides

 Congratulations on surviving the semester, and very best wishes for a good (and cautious) holiday break. 

You will  find here the MP3 recording of the final class, which spoke of some examples of musical genres and how they work in terms of values, aesthetic or activities. I dealt briefly with Big Band, Skiffle and early Rock.

Just click here

You will find the slides we saw here

Just click here

No doubt on Friday, there will  be a final video which I will make about some example genres from the 1970s, and a final series of links for those who want to look further into the history of British popular music .

Agrégation 2021 La BBC et le service public de l'audiovisuel post 46: Popular programmes and intellectual programmes


The BBC was always trying to maintain a balance between "popular" "light" "entertainment" content and more "highbrow content" which might not be as popular, but which the BBC leadership felt was good for people. This debate has often been carried on in a seterotyped manner, and there are a number of examples of intellectually challenging content which turned out to be very widely listened to.


A good example from the 1940s is The Brains Trust. It dealt with serious questions of art, science and philosophy, yet drew millions of listeners. Up to a third of the Uk population tuned in, and the programme received three to four thousand letters a week.


An episode from 1945, filmed for a US  channel, is here:



Monday, December 14, 2020

Colloque en ligne la BBC et la Fiction 14/15 janvier 2021

 Agrégatifs: réservez les dates si possible.

Si vous pouvez vous libérer, inscrivez-vous rapidement, car le nombre de places est limité.


Université de Rouen

La BBC et la fiction. The BBC and fiction



Deux wébinaires en ligne/ Two online seminars

Organisation : Florence Cabaret et John Mullen

Equipe de recherche ERIAC http://eriac.univ-rouen.fr/


Much discussion of television, and of the BBC, has focused on its relation to political power and the methods which allow establishment view of the world to be reinforced in documentary and news programmes without stooping to straightforward and unsubtle propaganda. Our conference would like to look at another aspect of the BBC – its relationship with fiction (a notion which contributors are encouraged to interrogate and problematize).

Les recherches sur la télévision, et en particulier sur la BBC, ont souvent tendance à s'intéresser aux relations que la BBC entretient avec le pouvoir politique, ou bien aux processus qui contribuent à renforcer les conceptions officielles du monde telles qu'elles apparaissent dans ses programmes documentaires ou ses programmes d'information, sans que, pour autant, on puisse qualifier ni les uns ni les autres de propagande explicite et grossière. Au cours de ce colloque, nous aimerions nous pencher sur une autre facette de la BBC afin d'interroger ses relations à la fiction (notion qu'il serait d'ailleurs pertinent d'examiner et de problématiser dans chacune des interventions).

Vous êtes cordialement invités à participer à cet évènement en ligne.

Inscrivez-vous auprès de john.mullen@univ-rouen.fr, en précisant si vous voulez assister à la session de jeudi ou celle de vendredi, ou les deux. Le nombre de places peut être limité. Les inscrits recevront le lien approprié par mail quelques jours avant.





jeudi 14 janvier après-midi (14h30-17h) BBC Radio


Mohamed Chamekh,  "The BBC and Entertainment: the case of the music hall"

Suzanne Bray, A “Mismatch of Expectations”: The BBC, the Detection Club and the Stresses and Strains of Behind the Screen (1930) and The Scoop (1931)

Anne Fuchs, BBC fiction. From ITMA to Goodness Gracious Me : how wartime radio gave birth to TV sitcoms and after


vendredi 15 janvier matin (10h-12h30) BBC TV

 1- Pierre Costecalde, "Pobol Y Cwm, soap opera en gallois produit par la BBC en 1974 pour la chaine S4C : les raisons d’une réussite et d’une longévité exceptionnelles" .

2-  Joy Leman, “TV Drama in Britain and France in the 1950s and 1960s “.

3-  Barbara Fontyn, "La question de l’avortement dans Up the Junction de Ken Loach : quand la réalité rejoint la fiction".




Classes in the last week before the break: week 12


Friday, December 11, 2020

L3 homework assignment


Dear L3 students,

Thank you for all your homework assignments. You can see a list of the ones I received, above and below. If you have sent your work but you cannot see it  do not worry – it is probably in my spam folder. Just send it again. I wrote individually to one or two students with particular requests. If you have particular problems, send me an email.

Thank you to all those who asked after my health and my family’s in this difficult period (I could not reply to each person). We are all well, and my mother, in England has an appointment on Tuesday to be vaccinated !

For the homework assignment, it will obviously take a while for me to get through. I will be posting here on the blog comments about common mistakes, of content, of structure and of language – rather than sending you indiviually a list of your individual mistakes.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

BBC Class for Rouen, week eleven


BBC classes week eleven Rouen


You will find here the MP3 recording of this week’s live class. We did not have slides this week.


The journal presented in this class is available free online here :


It is up to each of you to decide  which articles are your top priority.


There is a video chapter here.


 I have numbered it 7b, because it is not really one in the series of video chapters for you in Rouen. It is a (somewhat briefer) version of my class on the BBC in the 1920s.

Next week last live class. There are  a number of video chapters still to come. 

In the concours blanc next week you may or may not have a subject on the BBC.

In the two one-hour classes in January on méthodologie de la dissertation, we will look at how to construct a dissertation on the subject "The BBC and competition", so make sure you prepare beforehand. Try to write a plan of such a piece of work. If you wish you may write a whole dissertation beforehand and send it to me, but I know you are busy people.

In the following months there will be a few hours of preparation for the orals, on the questions of the BBC (mostly commentary).



Wednesday, December 09, 2020

M1 MEEF week eleven. More on diversity


M1 MEEF week eleven

You will find here the MP3 recording of the first class on the history of women’s rights.


And the slides are here



Here is the last video chapter (chapter 14) of my videos on migration and inclusion (very important)



And here is a video lecture about the recent « Windrush generation » scandal, explaining how institutional racism was involved.




L3 popular culture: The videos for week eleven, and a recording of the live class



I have received a number of homework  assignments and look forward to receiving the rest soon.

You will find here the recording of our live class from last Tuesday


and the slides are here  http://www.jcmullen.fr/PPL3music2.pdf

This week’s videos are in French, and come from a conference on popular music held in Rouen a couple of years back.

One researcher looks at the question of the meaning of singing along at concerts


And another looks in detail at progressive rock




diversity on the the television in the UK

 This week this podcast came out on this subject

BBC Radio 4 - The Media Show, June Sarpong: What is diversity?

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

L3 popular music

 Videos soon, but here are some of the songs


Different ways of treating a song

Belle of Belfast City

Kirsty MacColl


With the dancing 


Loch Lomond

Ella Roberts


Run rig


Matty Groves

Fair port Convention 


Child 81


The Pogues and the Dubliners together:



This will be of interest to many other students, but in particular to MEEF  students. One of the themes on the programme is, as you know "Inclusion and diversity", and this is an account of one huge scandal about immigration and racism a couple of years ago. Try to tune in.

Nous avons le plaisir de vous informer que nous accueillerons Amelia Gentleman (The Guardian) pour une conférence Zoom autour de son ouvrage "The Windrush Betrayal : Exposing the Hostile Environment" (London : Guardian Faber publishing, 2019), le 5 janvier 2021 de 17h00 à 19h00. 
Amelia Gentleman a révélé et couvert tout le scandale Windrush pour le "Guardian". Son travail est à l'origine d'une profonde crise politique au sein de gouvernement conservateur de Theresa May. 

En outre, cette affaire à ce jour est loin d’être finie, voir : https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/nov/22/windrush-victim-refused-british-citizenship-despite-wrongful-passport-confiscation?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

Amelia Gentleman sera interrogée par :

Cédric Courtois (Université de Lille, CECILLE EA4074) ; Aude De Mézerac-Zanetti (Université de Lille, CECILLE EA4074), Olivier Esteves (Université de Lille, CERAPS (UMR 8026)) ; Clémence Fourton (IEP Lille, CECILLE EA4074).    

Ensuite elle répondra aux questions des étudiants de 3ème année de LEA (Université de Lille) et à celles du public.

Voici le lien Zoom pour la conférence : https://univ-lille-fr.zoom.us/j/95853446775?pwd=U3VaSEpXZ3I3Yjc3bGV5S3c3eDRWQT09
Code secret : 611645

Bien cordialement.

Olivier Esteves, Professor in British Studies.

L3 Homework assignment

 Marking: the classroom test you would normally have done has been replaced with a homework assignment :
Write a structured essay on the following subject
How have different British artists and British institutions attempted to ensure that visual art is not only for the elite ?
Write 1000 - 1300 words, and send it by email to myself (john.mullen AT THE ADDRESS univ-rouen.fr )by next Friday, 11 December at 9am.

Monday, December 07, 2020

L3 examen janvier

 L'examen de janvier sera composé d'une dissertation, concernant ou bien vos cours de civilisation britannique ou bien vos cours de civilisation américaine. Vous serez informés des sujets le matin du lundi 11 janvier 9h.

Vous devrez rendre le travail le lendemain avant 12h.

Le jour venu, pour voir si vous avez un sujet "britannique", vous devez vous rendre ici:


Je serai disponible par mail en cas de difficultés techniques.


Saturday, December 05, 2020

Agrégation BBC video chapter 7

 The video chapters will continue for some time. This is the eighth one (chapter 7 - don't ask). There will be 18 altogether. I will be able to take into account, in the final ones, your needs, as shown in your answers in the mock exam.

Anyway, here is chapter seven


UK Coronavirus news


Thursday, December 03, 2020


MEEF : full comments on the documents we were looking at in class (Stuart Hall/ Gordon Brown/ Blue Plaques)


Comments on CAPES exercise Inclusion/ diversité

The exam subject I am speaking of can be found here:


This is an exercise I gave to students in 2019. I am presenting here a long series of comments (far more information than any candidate at the CAPES would ever use), based on the assignments I received. Both the information about British history, and the comments on method, will help you with many other subjects you might find on the exam.

There are many different ways of writing a good synthetic commentary on these documents.

In the first semester, we have concentrated on revising British history and society. Most of you still need to read this book: http://www.ophrys.fr/fr/catalogue-detail/2119/le-royaume-uni-au-xxie-siecle-mutations-d-un-modele.html

We have not spent a lot of time on the structure and method of the specific CAPES exercise. You will be doing a lot more of this in the second semester.

This exercise is fairly typical of a  CAPES paper. The documents are not easy ones: the contexts, the objectives and the links between them you may find hard to identify and explain. But candidates who have a good shot at it, show some knowledge and some reasoning power in good English do get quite good marks.

As I mentioned, there are a large number of ways of doing this exercise. This is why I am not giving you a “corrigé”, but a series of questions you should be asking yourself and common mistakes.

Theme. It seems to me to be pretty clear that the theme of this collection of documents is “diversité et inclusion”

The jury report from 2018 reminded candidates that it is not enough to mention the theme only in the introduction and the conclusion. It should be mentioned three or four times during the work, which will be easy if the theme is well-integrated. In the present dossier, this should not cause huge problems. Hall is very clear that the way heritage has been understood has excluded Black people. Brown is suggesting that pride in (alleged) national characteristics built up over centuries is essential for including people in a national identity despite their differences. The Blue Plaque campaign is saying, “let us celebrate great Britons from the pas” and opens up the question of the representativity of our “heroes”.

Key question (problématique)

What kind of key question might structure a comparison of these documents? There are many possibilities, but it is important not to choose a question which is too vague or abstract (or is meaningless!) The 2017 jury report explains in so many words “précisons que le jury ne dispose pas d’une problématique type qu’il s’attend à retrouver dans toutes les bonnes copies”.


The report also complained “trop de problématiques ne tenaient pas compte de la spécificité des documents”. So, for example if you tried a key question “How far is Britain multicultural?”, this is not good because it is much too general. These three documents all try to intervene in how we consider our society and what we can or should be proud of.


For the key question, I would be tempted with something along the lines of “How can the past used to bring the people of Britain together?” (If you are careful not to get sugary!) Someone tried to structure around “How is Britain’s past portrayed as fractured or homogeneous?” which was not bad. Someone else tried « How is the modern struggle of defining what it means to be British expressed in this dossier? », which was fine.

I would recommend choosing a key question which is not too complicated. A real danger is choosing one which is too abstract or meaningless.

Do not be intimidated by this long series of comments on the exercise: if you got only part of these elements that would be more than enough.

Take time to read the Jury Reports from the CAPES. These will intimidate you, but also include useful information. You will find them on the SAES website.

Saesfrance.org Click through Concours, CAPES, CAPES externe, Rapports.


The questions you always need to ask yourself for each document, before you begin to write your commentary, are the following.


WHO? (is expressing themselves)

TO WHOM? (are they trying to communicate)

WHEN? (What is important about the fact that it was at this time and not another?)

WHAT? (is the essential content of the document? Also, what do they NOT say which we might expect them to say?)

WHY? (are they saying all this: what is their objective?)

HOW? (do they try to reach their objective? Irony? Mockery? Rhetorical devices?)

WHAT HAPPENED AFTER? (If the document promises, or predicts or warns, did these elements come true?)

HOW TYPICAL IS THE DOCUMENT? (Is it an innovative declaration of a new movement, or one more cliché from that time period, or what?)

WHAT DIFFERENCE DID IT MAKE? (Where does the document fit in to longer historical processes?)


In any exercise for the CAPES you are unlikely to find something to say on each of the above questions for each document, but the list gives you an idea of where you should be looking, and may help avoid the temptation to write an abstract essay about people feeling British, instead of looking at what these three examples of expression or discussion of identity are trying to achieve.

You should ask yourself each of these questions about each of the documents. For some of the questions there is little or nothing to say in connection to one or more of the documents, but you should check.

Taking these in turn, then, and looking at the elements which students often tended to omit. (I do not deal with all the questions, but with those which seem to me to be most fruitful for this particular exercise).

WHO? is expressing themselves?

It was important to say that Stuart Hall was (he died in 2014) a Black intellectual. Jamaican-British, he became influential at a time when there were even fewer well-known Black intellectuals in Britain than there are today. This is important not just because he talks of ethnic groups being marginalized, but because the last paragraph, for example, cannot be understood if we do not take into account Hall’s ethnicity. He speaks of “our folks” who “were British” but cannot be English. He is speaking of Black people from the colonies (whether Jamaica or not). At the time of the British Empire all citizens of the Empire were called “British”. But in more recent times, those Black people from the colonies who came to live in England came to realize that they would never be treated just like everyone else.


Gordon Brown

He was Chancellor of the Exchequer. No points for that, since it is marked on the exam paper. Who is he, in a longer historical perspective? He was Tony Blair’s number two, and would succeed him as Prime Minister and leader of the Labour Party in 2007. From the point of view of a view of Britishness, and from the point of view of politics in general, the Labour Party was in transformation. The “old” Left values of supporting trade unions, internationalism and nationalization were being partly put aside in favour of a new “third way” Labour party giving more space to individualism and to the market. In this context, Brown’s speech is proposing a form of left-wing patriotism rather different from previous forms of patriotism. 

Document C: Who is expressing themselves? – public authorities and public organizations such as the London county council (the regional government then) and English Heritage, an organization which tries to defend “English Cultural Heritage”. Much of the work of this organization is concerned with preserving castles, stately homes and such symbols of past riches and splendour of the elite.


TO WHOM? are they trying to communicate?

Most students said nothing at all about this!

Stuart Hall’s speech is given at an Arts Council conference. The Arts Council is a national organization, mostly government-funded, whose aim is to encourage artistic endeavour. Therefore, Stuart Hall is talking to people who will be organizing art galleries or music festivals or other such cultural events for cultural and educational objectives. They are naturally interested in ideas about what British heritage is, since part of their job is to preserve it and spread knowledge about it.

Gordon Brown is talking to the British Council, an international organization which supports the presence of British culture (and the teaching of the English Language) across the world.

Document C. The people being addressed are the passers-by, who did not come there for historical or cultural information, but are in receipt of it anyway. This is a programme which believes in populating everyday public space with cultural heroes and heroines.


WHEN? (What is important about the fact that it was at this time and not another).

This question was ignored by many students. However, particularly in the case of Brown, it is very important to understand the objective of his intervention

Stuart Hall’s speech might well have been very similar if he had given it ten years earlier or ten years later. Nevertheless, it is important that by the time he gives this speech he is a well-known figure and an established authority both in cultural studies and on racism.

Gordon Brown’s speech is given at a time of thorough transformation of the values defended by the leadership of the Labour Party. It is almost a full year before the next election, so is not influenced by directly electoral concerns. As one student pointed out, this speech took place two years before Gordon Brown suggested that a national day to celebrate Britishness should be established (at present there are separate days for the English, the Welsh, the Scottish and the Irish – Saint George’s day, Saint David’s day, Saint Andrew’s day[1] and Saint Patrick’s day.)

The coming to office of Tony Blair happened in the context of the transformation of the Labour Party. Blair even rebranded the party “New Labour”. This change of name was intended to both help win elections, and signal a change in the values defended by the Labour Party. No longer were, for example, the defence of trade unions and of policies of nationalization to be important in the party’s programme. In the question of British identity and dealing with racism and relations between different ethnic communities, there were also to be changes.

After the terrorist attacks on the USA, and jihadist terror attacks elsewhere, for example in Spain in 2004, emphasis around the world had been placed on the danger of such attacks. The London attacks of 2005, which killed 56 people and injured hundreds were yet to take place, and yet already a change in emphasis around community relations was taking place in New Labour circles.

In the 1960s and 1970s the Labour movement and Labour party had gradually come around to a position of fighting racist discrimination, and the modest laws (Race Relations Acts) of 1965 and 1976 against racism were enacted by Labour governments. In the 1980s, Labour local governments around the country were putting multiculturalism into practice by helping to fund community centres based round different ethnicities, and celebration of different cultures in schools was becoming common. Even today it is not unusual to see a school celebrating Diwali, Eid or Hannukah as well as Christmas. So, we can say that Brown’s speech comes at a moment when the Labour leadership is changing its discourse about immigration and the multicultural society.

Document C. The blue plaques are not all from the same date. Nevertheless, the number of them has risen enormously over the last thirty years or so, and recent selections have reflected some of the successes of anti-racist and women’s movements in that a slightly greater diversity is slowly being introduced into the plaques.


WHAT? (is the essential content of the document. Also, what do they NOT say which we might expect them to say?)

Document A

Some homeworks were too vague about Hall’s arguments, simply saying that he was against the idea that British Heritage was homogeneous and unproblematic. Hall uses a small number of clear arguments, and it is best to summarize them. They include the following (but you may not write in lists):


1 The achievements of liberty are not due to a British heritage. They were the subject of fierce fighting between British people.


2 There have always been many ways of being British, and a lot of them have been subject to discrimination and marginalization.


3 The British Empire, built on slavery, was not an external, accidental phenomenon, it was woven into British everyday life.


4 Black people will only really feel at home if ideas of British heritage are rethought to include them.


Document B

Pride in being British has traditionally been seen as a Conservative priority in Britain. Brown’s speech is an attempt to move away from traditional left antiracist discourse and towards a type of left patriotism. The emphasis is no longer on how to stop prejudice and racism, but on how to strengthen the feeling of belonging of different groups. It is fascinating that Brown should quote a conservative philosopher, Roger Scruton. This speech shows then a move away from traditional radical left views of country (ideas such as “the working class has no country”, “workers of the world unite” in the famous phrase of Karl Marx). Instead, Brown is looking for pride in national character and national tradition, although he does not want “British values” to be understood in a narrow traditionalist sense”.

He presents British Heritage as an overwhelming positive object, using the expression “Golden Thread” to speak of the continuity of value he believes is shown in British history.

The views he is putting forward are a novel mix characteristic of New Labour. One can easily imagine Stuart Hall opposing them. When Brown speaks of four reform acts, Hall might point out that each of them was hard fought for, not produced as an automatic development of British values. The slow introductions of the Acts of 1832 and 1867 in particular were accompanied by huge popular riots, while the long 35 years between the first and second Acts were the time of Chartism, a huge radical working-class movement which terrified the elite. And of course, the reform which gave women the right to vote only came after at least fifty years of radical mobilization. Hall would no doubt consider that Brown did not have the right to claim these reforms as somehow “natural” to the British character. This is what Hall means when he writes that social achievements “were struggled for by some of the English and bitterly resisted by others”.


Brown’s speech is not given in a directly political context. It is given to the British Council, and agency tasked by government to promote British culture around the world. This is a context where it is not expected that the minister will promise particular actions or defend particular policies, but will rather expound a more general philosophy.


WHY? (are they saying all this: what is their objective?)

This is probably the most important of the questions. It is essential to be able to express concisely but accurately the objective and main content of the three elements in the dossier. This takes time and thought. It is essential to speak about the objective in so many words. Even a clumsy attempt at explaining the objective is better than ignoring the objective.


So, it is rather risky to begin talking about the allusions and reference straight away, because what we are most interested in is why those references and allusions have been chosen by somebody (Hall, Brown and English Heritage, for example) in order to reach their objective. Hall wants people to leave the hall thinking that a lot of heritage talk is missing out large chunks of historical truth and that this has to be fixed if Black people are going to have a stronger feeling of belonging in the UK. Brown wants people to leave the hall thinking that national pride and talk of national character and tradition should not be left to the right wing but can be taken on by the left, in its modernist, New Labour form.

Stuart Hall is expressing a radical opposition to a traditional view of British tradition which he calls “the Heritage” (notice the capital letter).

Gordon Brown (at a particular political juncture) is declaring that he does believe in key national values and even in a national character, and tries to define what it might be.

The third document you will have found more difficult, because of course there is nothing stated. The plaques are not accompanied by an explanation of why they are being put up – what the objective is. The English heritage website has a section about blue plaques which you can look at, but even there the objective is not clearly presented – it is considered to be a “common sense” objective. This means you have to yourself imagine what the objective and effect of these plaques might be.

The Blue Plaque programme is not entering directly into a political debate about the nature of British identity or British tradition. It is illustrating a practical and popular attempt to place national or local pride in a public space. It shows national pride in practice rather than discussing it in theory.


WHAT DIFFERENCE DID IT MAKE? (Where does the document fit in to longer historical processes)

Gordon Brown’s speech is not purely theoretical in nature. It was while Gordon Brown was Prime Minister that new conditions were imposed for those who wished to acquire UK nationality. They were from now to be obliged to take a (multiple choice) test to show they had a fair level of knowledge of “British Culture” (no matter how hard that may be to define). This was an important change and an important political symbol, since the introduction of the test might be taken to mean that the government agreed with those (generally on the right or even in racist organizations) that the problem was not so much discrimination against immigrants as the lack of desire to integrate on the part of immigrants…

Following years will show continued weakening of government commitment to multiculturalism. Gordon Brown’s idea of a day to celebrate Britishness, however, will be abandoned


Document C

 The selection of plaques is wide. Popular writers, military and political “heroes”, great scientists of the past. The selection has always a political element, and the organization which places the Blue Plaques has recently been concerned that there were not enough women on the plaques.  One can easily imagine that non-white Britons are also little present, despite the one example given in document C of Claudia Jones, left-wing activist and “Mother” of the Notting Hill Carnival. It is perhaps to be noted that this plaque has been placed by some smaller community-based organization “the Nubian Jak Community Trust” and not by more prestigious actors such as English Heritage or the London County Council.


Mistakes and Omissions

Everybody makes mistakes and omissions, but which ones are dangerous? I would say for this exercise, it would be dangerous not to understand that documents A and B were clearly in opposition to each other. Stuart Hall would not have applauded Brown’s speech, and Gordon Brown would not have written an approving preface to Hall’s book.

Students tend to like “happy endings” and so will often minimize disagreements in the dossiers. Try not to do this: if two documents give completely different views, remember to say so. Most of history is not made up of consensus, but of contradiction.



Critical distance

The 2017 jury report emphasize that candidates are expected to be able to show a critical distance. Candidates have to be careful “à ne pas prendre au pied de la lettre les arguments présentés par les textes”. There are two important aspects to this (if we take the example of the document by Gordon Brown).

The first is to remember to use hedging expressions. Do not give the impression that you automatically agree with (for example) Brown. So do not write:

*Gordon Brown explains the essential characteristics of the British people.[2] or

* Gordon Brown underlines the fact that British people have three essential qualities.

These sentences mean that you agree with Brown. Write instead:

Gordon Brown considers that British people have three essential qualities.

Gordon Brown claims to present the essential characteristics of the British people.

On the other hand, Gordon Brown is an experienced politician who has thought about these subjects for a long time. So, although it is quite appropriate to suggest that his comments could be criticized, and in particular that one could imagine Stuart Hall disagreeing with him, you should not give the impression that you think that Brown (or indeed Hall) is foolish or idiotic!

Another example: you should not write in your introduction *“To be British is to be in accordance with British values”. If you write this, you are saying that Gordon Brown is right, and that “British values” are a real thing. Now, he may be right, but you are not allowed to begin by assuming he is.



If you had done this exercise in exam conditions, you may well have found that some of the references you did not know. In that case, make sure you show that you know some of them. It is not required to explain every reference, or write a biography of every person mentioned on the plaque. Very often, one sentence will be enough to show you know what is important about the reference in this case. “The Act of Settlement which made sure the monarch would never again be a Catholic” for example.

The Notting Hill Carnival is one of the biggest Caribbean carnivals in the world; it is held in London every August. A renowned scholar wrote a very useful short analysis of the carnival, which you can find here:



The Act of Settlement 1701

After the Civil war of the mid-seventeenth century and the restoration of the monarchy with reduced powers in 1760, parliament continued to show that it, and not the monarch, was the decisive source of power. It did this in a number of laws, including the Act of Settlement, which declared that a Catholic could not inherit the throne of England, or of Ireland. (Catholicism at the time was seen as a traditionalist political positioning, tending more to ever increasing power for the monarch and incompatible with parliamentary sovereignty).

The Act of Union 1801

This law made Ireland part of the United Kingdom. Previously Ireland had the same monarch as Britain but was not the same state. Ireland had a separate parliament before 1801.


The partition 1922

After the Anglo-Irish war, which broke out just after the First World War, a compromise was found which meant that a line was drawn around six counties in the North, which contained most of the Irish protestants and which also contained the two richest industrial cities (both these facts were due to a specific programme of colonizing the North over the centuries by English and Scottish settlers, including many who had a strong anti-catholic traditions). This ended the war, but, it seems reasonable to suggest, did not end the problem, in that the 1960s to 90s saw a low level civil war which killed thousands and injured far more, and even today, the question of the border between the two Irelands has immensely complicated the process of the UK’s leaving the European Union.


Runnymede 1215

This place and date refer to the Magna Carta, a constitutional document limiting the absolute power of the King, which was drawn up under pressure from the barons of the time. It was not much respected in the following century, but became important as a symbol and as a text. The principle that people may not be arrested without reason, for example, is expressed in the document. Constitutions from different countries have often used sentences or paragraphs from the Magna Carta, even as recently as the 1960s in the case of newly independent British colonies.


Four Great Reform Acts


The Reform Acts of 1832, 1867, 1884 are obviously referred to. The fourth one mentioned could be the Act of 1918, which gave the right to vote to the remaining men who did not yet have it, and also to women over 30. Or it could be a reference to the 1928 Act which gave women the right to vote on the same basis as men had – that is, being over 21 years of age.


Roger Scruton

Roger Scruton is an English conservative philosopher. His most notable works included The Meaning of Conservatism (1980) and How to Be a Conservative (2014)

P L Travers

Pamela Travers, born in Australia but spent most of her working life in Britain. Author of the Mary Poppins books, beginning in the 1930s, about a nanny with magical powers. The last book was written in the 1980s. The 1964 Disney film adaptation, which recently saw a sequel made, is better known than the books.


Ian Fleming

Author of the (passably racist) novels which the Bond films were based on. Gave rise to one of the most successful series of films in the world, and one of the best-sellers of British cinema history.


William Bligh

William Bligh was a ship captain from the 18th century. He became well-known when a mutiny (not so unusual in the 18th century) due to his alleged cruelty expelled him from his ship. He survived and was able to take revenge of some of the mutineers, some of whom were hanged. Later in his career he was a governor of New South Wales in Australia, and there are statues of him in Sydney. He was deposed by a rebellion. In Britain, however, he is most well-known because of a version (not excessively historically accurate) of the mutiny story which is told in a classic film “Mutiny on the Bounty” (1935 with Clark Gable and a later remake in 1962, with Marlon Brando).


Claudia Jones

Black activist, organized the predecessor of the Notting Hill Carnival. This was organized as one response to racist attacks on Black people in Notting Hill. The idea that Caribbean culture should be visible on the streets of London was, in the late 1950s an important step forward, although it took many years before the authorities respected the carnival.


Sir Winston Churchill

Is too well-known for you to explain who he is.


Sir Isaac Newton

Tremendously important scientist from the 17th/18th century. Made fundamental advances in optics and in mechanics, most notably the understanding that the same force, gravity, which makes objects fall to earth also makes satellites and planets orbit.


The first flying bomb

Flying bombs were a weapon used at the end of the First World War which were able to fly automatically without a pilot to their targets. After the “Battle of Britain” in the early stages of the war had been won by the Royal Air force (largely due to superior radar), it was very difficult for German forces to bomb London by aircraft.


A few standard mistakes in argument. (If you recognize your mistake, do not worry- many other people made worse mistakes!)

First of all, a positive point: almost no one starting writing about “lexical fields”. This is good because as a general rule, in a *civilisation* commentary, this idea is used to introduce banal comments at best.


Missing out one of the three documents

If you analyse only two of the three documents, you will lose a lot of points. One of the documents is often considerably more difficult to link to the theme than others. This is not an accident; it is a test. It is far better to make a clumsy attempt at analysing the third document than to miss it out, since missing it out is interpreted as a refusal of the exam. It is not necessary for you to have exactly the same amount of space spent on each document, but there should be a reasonable balance: every document needs several paragraphs.



You never gain any marks from paraphrasing it. So, if you write “Hall describes English people as being “incapable of incorporating ‘Irishness’ into ‘Britishness’” you have gained no marks, since you have simply repeated what Hall said and have not shown any knowledge. A paragraph like the following would have gained you a point.

“Hall claims that the British have been ‘incapable of incorporating ‘Irishness’ into ‘Britishness’. He may be referring to the fact that Catholics (the majority of the Irish) did not have the right to vote in elections until well into the nineteenth century, and anti-Irish racism was very common in England throughout the twentieth century.”



It is not generally a great problem if the corrector can see which way your opinion lies, but this is not the aim of the exercise. Dismissing the arguments of any one of the documents is not a good idea. So, sentences such as “What he depicts is unrealistic.” (referring to Gordon Brown) are risky. And you should not write “one of the two documents is accurate”, even if this is your opinion.


Centrality of the objective of the document

I mentioned this above but want to underline it again. Several students worked very hard indeed at this homework assignment and got a disappointing mark because of this. Unlike in the literary commentary, the discourses you are studying here are not the only centre of the exercise. At the centre of the exercise is what they show about a series of (in this case historical) processes, and how they try to intervene in these processes.

This is one of the reasons why you should put the *objective* of each document very prominently in your answers. Of course, it is much easier to summarize what the writers or speakers are saying than to explain why they are saying it, but there are far more points available for explaining why. From the very beginning, speak of the objective.

“The first document is a speech by Stuart Hall, the British-Jamaican sociologist and analyst, arguing for a radical new view of British heritage.” “The second document is a speech by Gordon Brown, later to be Labour Prime Minister of the UK, presenting a new government view of aspects of British identity.” “The third document is a collection of photos of ‘blue plaques’, markers placed in the streets by public authorities with an educational and celebratory objective”.

Try to be concrete. If you speak on “multiculturalism” but you do not give any specific example of what activities would be encouraged by multiculturalism, your argument will not appear very solid. You need to be clear on the difference between “a multicultural society” which is simply a society with quite a few cultures, and “multiculturalism”, which is a particular idea about the best way of making a multicultural society work by encouraging the expression of minority cultures. Multiculturalism is different from assimilationism. Those who do not wish to choose so sharply might say they are in favour of integration.

Multiculturalism was on the rise as an idea in Britain from 1975 to say 2000. It is still a crucial element of British society, but has come under attack, and recent governments from Gordon Brown and David Cameron on, have suggested they do not want to be associated with the idea. Cameron in particular will put forward the idea of “community cohesion”.


Remember what is happening: you are studying three documents, which have been chosen out of thousands of possibilities. The collection of documents is not a manifesto or a speech in itself. Occasionally, inappropriate attempts were made by students to bring a coherence which does not need to be present. It is fine for the documents to contradict each other, partly or wholly. Contradictory phenomena and discourses are what history is made of, and the question of what Britishness is good for people (and indeed which people) is not one you are supposed to solve on the day of the exam. One example: one student (in an otherwise very good piece of work) wrote “This set of documents acknowledges that British identity needs to be constantly revised to include more diversity”. This is not right. The set of documents cannot acknowledge something, because it is a collection of disparate voices.

I think this is part of a desire I often see in student’s work to look for a “happy ending”, to find that, although the documents disagree, they will come together and work it out in the end. This is to be avoided. Similarly, students often understate the tension, conflict and contradiction involved in the documents and indeed in the historical processes.

Statistics on Blue Plaques

People found the third document the most difficult to integrate into their analysis. The plaques represented illustrate the Blue Plaque campaign, and some opinion about the reasons for the campaign and the effects of the campaign are what will allow you to integrate this document. I had shared with you articles on this subject.

Because the plaques you see in the illustration are a random sample, and not a representative sample, you may *not* use a statistical approach (“30% are women” “15% are not white” etc). If I gave you a collection of all the plaques in one town, you would be justified in doing this, but not with a representative sample. Otherwise, it is as if I look out of my window and see five people, two of them with dogs, and then I write “40% of French people have dog”: it is bad mathematics.

Language problems (Remember the asterisk * means that what is immediately after it is incorrect.

The British

Naturally, you will not confuse “the English” and “the British”, even if in everyday French “les Anglais” or “le premier ministre anglais” are common expressions.

What if there is just one of them?:

“Pas tous les britanniques sont d’accord.” cannot be expressed by *Not every British agrees. You need to say, “Not every British person agrees”.

Notice that this kind of adjective-used-as-a-noun has particular grammatical characteristics. For example, it cannot be used in s “Saxon genitive” structure. You cannot write *”because of the British’s fear of losing their cultural identity”. You must write “the fear of the British of losing...” or, better, “the fear which the British have of losing...”


Connaître/know with personification

There is a particular way of using “connaître” in French with a non-human subject. Notre pays connaît une grave crise. L’économie a connu un nouveau bouleversement. This cannot be done with the verb “to know” in English.

We have to write “Our country is going through a grave crisis”. “The economy has seen fresh upheaval...”


Sentences with only infinitives

In French, sentences with infinitives are not unusual. “Comment réussir à maintenir une identité britannique?” is fine. You may not do this in English. So do not write *How to maintain a British identity?

This is not so easy to translate into English, since you have to make choices. How can people maintain a British identity? How can the British maintain their identity?



Most of you know that “actual” is not a translation of “actuel”. But this fact does not solve the problem of how to translate “actuel” when it occurs, whether it be in a document you need to translate or in the thought that first comes into your head in French.

Only occasionally can it be translated by a single adjective

Le premier ministre actuel: the current Prime Minister

La crise actuelle: the present crisis/the current crisis.

What would you do with a sentence like “Cette  question est d’une grande actualité”? Best is to go for a paraphrase. “This question is very much in the news.”

As for the general more or less political sense; “mon frère ne s’intéresse vraiment pas à l’actualité”, you can translate by “My brother is really not interested in current affairs”. A “current affairs” programme on the television is one which deals with questions which are in the news this week or this month.

Saxon genitive

A politician’s argument, the party members’ choice. So far, so good. Many students use this structure too much: that is to say in situations where it is not allowed (*the 1997’s election, *the economy’s crisis). There are no excellent explanations online, so look it up in the Grammaire Explicative de la Langue Anglaise, which you keep by your bedside.



Remember that we use “an” before a vowel SOUND. This does not always correspond to a written vowel. So, these are incorrect:

*An union

*An US president

*A HP agreement


Critic/criticism/criticize/critique: what is the difference between these words?

I will leave you to look this one up in a dictionary. It is often a source of error. This page will help https://www.espressoenglish.net/difference-between-criticize-criticism-critique-critic-and-critical/



Some students got mixed up between these verbs, and the corresponding nouns also cause problems at times. This page will help: https://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/grammar/learnit/learnitv242.shtml


Une question clivante

This is a useful expression. In English, this will have to be “a divisive question”. Although the verb “to cleave” does exist, it is little used metaphorically and the -ing form is never used in this kind of expression.



If you are not actually talking about a casino (“the chips are down”), “enjeux” cannot generally be translated by “stakes”.

“Voici les enjeux de la grève.” translates fairly well as “This is what is at stake in this strike”.



This word is over-used by students. It suggests that a person is universally known. Elvis Presley was famous; Stuart Hall is not. If I ask my mother who Stuart Hall is, she has no idea. Now, it is true that Stuart Hall is an important sociologist, who made a big difference to his field of study. He is a well-known sociologist, or perhaps an influential sociologist.



In some forms of writing in French, it is common to put surnames all in capitals (in block capitals as we say in English). Stuart HALL, Gordon BROWN. We do not do this in English.



Note that the written form before someone’s surname is always “Mr”.  Mr Brown, Mr Kilgallen etc. The only time we write “mister” out in full; is when we are writing a dialogue with that very informal use of “mister” as a form of address.

“Can you help me, mister? I need some money for my fare.”

“Tu pourrais pas m’aider, mec? J’ai besoin d’argent pour acheter un billet.”


Historic present

In French it is not unusual to recount historical events in the present tense. “Les deux parlements votent l’Union anglo-écossaise en 1707”. This is extremely rare in English and you should stay with the preterite. “The two parlements enacted the Union between England and Scotland in 1707”.


Note also

La guerre débute en 1914 et durera quatre ans.

The war began in 1914 and was to last for four years.



In business reports in particular, it is quite common to use lists, marked out with bullet points.

“There are three principal markets:

·       The Chinese market, particularly in the South of the country

·       The South American market

·       The European market”


We do not use lists in English in university work, and you should not do so in your exam.


In business reports in English, and in some modern journalism, it is not unusual to see a paragraph with only one sentence in it. However, you should not do this in university work. At least three sentences in any paragraph.



It can sometimes be difficult to choose between “this” and “that”. Remember one rule – the element we have just introduced is generally “this”. “The government has just established a new committee to develop policy on unicorns. This committee will meet for the first time in January”. To come back to the present exercise. “The third document shows a collection of the well-known ‘blue plaques’ of London. These plaques (not *those plaques) serve to link people from the past with buildings of the present.



Several students used contractions. Don’t use contractions! I mean, do not use contractions! Do not use contractions in your writing unless you are transcribing a dialogue. You need an extremely good reason not to use contractions in speaking, and you need an extremely good reason to use contractions in writing. University writing has no contractions at all. If you see contractions in my comments on your work, this is different. Comments are in a much more informal style than the work you give in.


[1] Although it sometimes seems that the day of Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns, and the annual “Burns’ night” every January are more important than Saint Andrew’s day

[2] Note that the implication, in French, of the verb « expliquer » may not be the implication, in English, of the word « explain ».