Cool Britannia was a period of increased pride in the culture of the United Kingdom throughout most of the 1990s inspired by 1960s pop culture. A change of government from many years of Conservative rule to "New Labour" under Tony Blair and the success of Britpop and musical acts such as the Spice Girls led to a renewed feeling of optimism in the United Kingdom following the tumultuous years of the 1970s and 1980s. It is a pun on the title of the British patriotic song "Rule, Britannia!".
Origins of the term
The phrase "Cool Britannia" was first used in 1967 as a song title by the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band. The phrase "Cool Britannia" reappeared in early 1996 as a registered trade mark for one of Ben & Jerry's ice-creams, and then again in the media and in advertising, seeming to capture the cultural renaissance of London at the time (as celebrated in a 1996 Newsweek magazine cover headlined "London Rules". The election of Blair's Labour government in 1997 on a platform of modernisation, with Blair as a relatively young Prime Minister, gave the idea fresh currency.
There is something of a parallel with the term "Swinging London" for the boom in art, fashion and popular music during the early years of Harold Wilson's Labour government. Such a parallel was apt as, like Blair, Wilson was considered a relatively young Prime Minister, his administration ended an extended period of Conservative governments (tarnished in the latter period by scandal), and his early tenure coincided with a period of economic prosperity. Furthermore, many of the creative industries labelled as Cool Britannia were avowedly inspired by the music, fashion and art of the 1960s.
To the extent that it had any real meaning, "Cool Britannia" referred to the transient fashionable London scene, with the club scene including clubs such as the Ministry of Sound and the underground megatripolis at Heaven, 1990s bands such as Blur and Oasis, fashion designers, the Young British Artists and magazines. Cool Britannia also summed up the mood in Britain during the mid-1990s Britpop movement, when there was a resurgence of distinctive British rock and pop music from bands such as Oasis, Blur, Suede, Supergrass, Pulp, The Verve and Elastica, as well as the Spice Girls. The renewal in British pride (reinforced by the strong and uninterrupted growth of the British economy from 1993), was symbolised in iconic imagery such as Noel Gallagher's Union Flag guitar and Geri Halliwell's skimpy Union Jack dress, worn at the 1997 Brit Awards. The Euro 96 football tournament, hosted in England, is also considered an event that encouraged a resurgence of patriotism, particularly in England. John Major who was prime minister at the time famously took credit (Nov. 1996).
In March 1997 Vanity Fair published a special edition on Cool Britannia with Liam Gallagher and Patsy Kensit on the cover with the title 'London Swings! Again!'. Figures in the issues included Alexander McQueen, Damien Hirst, Graham Coxon and the editorial staff of Loaded. By 1998 The Economist was commenting that "many people are already sick of the phrase," and senior Labour politicians, such as Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, seemed embarrassed by its usage. By 2000 - after the decline of Britpop as a tangible genre- it was being used mainly in a mocking or ironic way.
- Stryker McGuire (2009-03-29). "This time I've come to bury Cool Britannia". The Observer. Retrieved 2012-04-06.
- J. Ayto, Movers and Shakers: a Chronology of Words that Shaped our Age (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), ISBN 0-19-861452-7, p. 233.
- "London Rules".
- "London rules clubs".
- Independent '96
- Leaders: Cool Britannia. The Economist. London: Mar 14, 1998. Vol. 346, Iss. 8059
- "Is it Cool Cymru - again? - Wales News - News". WalesOnline. 2006-05-25. Retrieved 2012-04-06.
- Martin, Iain (2007-11-30). "'Cool Caledonia' sells Scotland short". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2012-05-03.
- Whatever happened to Cool Britannia ? The UK after eight years of Blair Thirty British, US, French and Canadian scholars assess Blair's policies and style after two terms, in May 2005. Links to papers and video.