Britain Is Only London
"London isn't the world, Clarice. It just thinks it is."
Ah, Great Britain. Mother of America. Land of the... Big Red Buses.
In Hollywood, any characters visiting Britain will stop in one place: Central London. They'll catch a ride on those cool red buses, try to make the Guards at the palace laugh, get into a debate about whether it's fries or chips, and at some point meet the Royal Family. The Establishing Shot will show Westminster Palace, Tower Bridge, The London Eye, or all of the above to a brief Standard Snippet of "Rule Britannia", just in case you weren't clear on the location. If the makers think they're being subtle, it will feature a red phone box, a red Routemaster Bus driving by (very rare in real life), and a red-and-blue London Transport sign for one of London's major interchange stations like Liverpool Street or Kings Cross.
This, despite the real-life London being 607 sq miles in area, the characters will never leave Central London (around 24 square miles), if they even make it more than half a mile from the river. And London is just one city in England, which is itself just one of three countries that make up Great Britain, the largest island in the United Kingdom, which includes Northern Ireland and lots of other islands. Of course, Hollywood England is a tiny place. It's an island, for trope's sake! While there may be a bit more to it than just London, it's not a whole lot more. If Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland cross their fingers and hope really hard, they might just make an appearance in the form of Scotireland.
Of course Hollywood England has only two accents; the "What-Ho, Old Bean" chinless twit one and the "Gorblimey Guvnah" Dick Van Dyke one. Unless it's a pirate movie set about two hundred years ago, in which case there's only the Bristol accent of Robert Newton; "Ahrr, Jim Lad!" See I Am Very British for examples.
But unless they come into play, the only other place in Britain is basically just a giant field outside London that is home to some sheep, a few cows, some supernatural monsters, a village, a couple of English manors, a castle or two and Stonehenge. Most British towns and cities are also handicapped by not having photogenic skylines and by lending their names to some more famous American cousins. So Joe American not only doesn't recognize Bristol, Birmingham, Newark, Darlington, Cleveland, Richmond, Boston, Plymouth, Scarborough, Lancaster or Dover in the same way that Joe English recognizes, say, Seattle from Frasier, but doesn't know they are the original owners of those names. Which is not even to mention the states, (New) York, (New) Jersey, (New) Hampshire, all named from British origins.
This one is fairly understandable when you consider that the vast majority of UK film and television is made in or around London (not to mention the fact that some 12% of the UK's population live in Greater London and this figure increases to 20% if you include the whole of London's metropolitan area. By comparison, less than 7 percent of Americans live in the New York City area). The Beeb (and various film councils and whathaveyou) are making a serious effort to change this, handing Doctor Who duties to the capable BBC Wales (although most stories set in the UK in its first three series were London-based) and bringing BBC Scotland's locally-popular sitcom Still Game to the rest of the country. ITV even got told off by Ofcom for not producing 50% of their shows outside London.
Compare Big Applesauce, SoCalization, Canada Does Not Exist, Tokyo Is the Center of the Universe, Freestate Amsterdam. France gets a very similar treatment with Gay Paree. A strange variation occurs in Irish media, with a huge number of productions set in Dublin. In New Zealand, the country's largest city, Auckland, tends to be used this way, if natural scenery isn't involved. Contrast Aliens in Cardiff.
For a brief education to personally avert this trope, see Other British Towns and Cities.
- Averted in Mobile Suit Gundam 00, the important bit of British action took place in Scotland.
- For the most part, it's averted in Hellsing. Until the Big Bad Millennium fully enters the series, we have action taking place in an undisclosed British suburb, an abandoned factory and warehouse in Badrick, Ireland, outside the town of Cheddar (actual places), the Hellsing Organization, Britain's National Gallery, a hotel in Rio de Janiero, and an undisclosed suburb of Brazil. Even when they reveal themselves fully, the fight afterward takes place in presumably the English Channel on a British ship taken over by Millennium. London is their main target and the last five manga volumes/OVAs pretty much take place there; clearly, this is not a case of generalization.
- Nice Death Note subversion; the British characters all come from Winchester, and while the viewer isn't hammered over the head with it, a few visuals and spoken references seem to relate to the famous cathedral there. (Some animator, evidently confusing Winchester with Westminster, managed to shove in a shot of Big Ben anyway, but still.)
- In Soul Eater, Maka, Soul, Tsubaki and Black Star fight Free for the first time on what appears to be Tower Bridge (although it looks nothing like it, so it might be Albert Bridge or another suspension bridge in London. Either way the geography's somewhat messed up).
- Averted in Mahou Sensei Negima: while there is a brief period of time that Negi and co. are in London, they end up traveling to Wales. Some of their classmates do manage to find the first group from just wandering around London, but that's normal for Sakurako.
- An issue of Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew features a half-page shot of various giant egg-yolks that were attacking various cities around the world being dispersed of by the Bunny From Beyond. One of the cities under attack was "Loondon" (Earth-C's London), depicted by a shot of a guard standing in front of (Earth-C's) Buckingham Palace watching an attacking egg-yolk get disintegrated.
- Millie the Model's pal Toni seemed to think Liverpool was just a short bus ride away from Buckingham Palace, as shown by this panel.
- This attitude is satirised in the comic strip The Critics in Viz. The Critics are completely ignorant of the UK outside of London, to the extent they sometimes don't seem aware it exists at all. Even when they are aware, they believe large cities such as Liverpool or Newcastle are small villages, and are very snobby and condescending about them despite admitting to knowing nothing about them.
- After being attacked by a lycanthrope on the Yorkshire Moors, David Kessler is inexplicably transported to a hospital 300 km to the south, thereby becoming An American Werewolf in London. (An American Werewolf Oop North might not have been as easy to sell, even in Britain). They try and handwave it by implying he's suspected of having some weird and exotic disease that the nearest A&E wasn't capable of dealing with, but the process of getting him there is completely glossed over.
- A sequence set in London in The Mummy Returns opens with an establishing shot that features Big Ben, Tower Bridge, and St. Paul's Cathedral all within a few blocks of each other. Anyone who's actually visited those places can tell you the problem there.
- It's apparently due to this trope that the Amanda Bynes comedy What a Girl Wants has Colin Firth's character owning a country estate in downtown London. Roger Ebert's review of the film contains a priceless quote in which he commented that that kind of real estate would have to be "worth more than Rhode Island".
- Across the Universe's England-based scenes were set in (and for the most part filmed in) Liverpool, but then it is a movie musical centered around Beatles songs, so it isn't a bold choice of setting.
- National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets has a sequence take place in London. It's justified by the plot, but the ensuing car chase makes no sense to anyone who's actually been there, or with any idea how bridges work (You can start a car chase going south on Westminster Bridge, but you will end up in Lambeth, not The City. And without crossing another bridge the whole time, you cannot finish that car chase by going south on Blackfriars Bridge.)
- Trainspotting Has a montage of 'typical' London featuring pearly kings & queens, red buses, pigions in Trafalger Square etc used when Renton moves to London. It's so over the top that it's probably a subversion of this trope.
- Averted by Thomas the Tank Engine. Two engines, Donald and Douglas are Scottish, and the writer assures people to see the trains in Wales. Of course, the writer is British, but still.
- The stories take place on the fictional island of Sodor too.
- Apparently, Sodor is actually in the Irish Sea, close enough to Cumbria to be linked to Barrow-in-Furness by rail ferry.
- Early "talking book" recordings of The Railway Series included a variety of engine accents: Gordon ends up coming from the North, James from Wales and Toby from the West Country.
- The stories take place on the fictional island of Sodor too.
- Sort of subverted in the English author Robert Rankin's comedy novels such as Raiders of the Lost Car Park and Nostradamus Ate My Hamster. All of them technically take place in Greater London except it's Brentford - one of the most boring, bypass-overshadowed suburbs in all of England. Of course it's also where all the aliens land, the seat of the hidden king of the world, a virtual reality utopia, the only place in the world you can find the Perfect Pint (at the Flying Swan) and the real location of the Garden of Eden.
- Except for The Brightonomicon, which is set in Brighton. Naturally, the narrator had come to Brighton from Brentford.
- Subverted in Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series. In the first few chapters, Thursday leaves London and returns to her hometown of Swindon, which remains the centre of events in the Outworld (real world) thereafter. In Something Rotten she visits the vast headquarters of the Goliath Corporation on the Isle of Man.
- Played with/discussed in The Amulet of Samarkand, when the magicians running the government whine about being forced to attend a conference "in some ghastly place, outside of London, can you imagine?"
- Averted in the Last Watch—the action takes place in Edinburgh. Of course, that's mostly tourist Edinburgh, but it's justified by the fact that Anton was following the case of a tourist.
- This trope is invoked, embraced and gloried in by the Rivers of London series whose second book starts with the sentence - 'It is a sad fact of modern life that if one drives long enough, sooner or later you must leave London behind.'
Live Action TV
- Unfortunately even British writers can fall into this - 6 out of the 13 episodes of series 3 of Doctor Who take place in London; 5 of them in present day London. Which wouldn't be so bad if the characters didn't have the whole of time and space to travel in.
- Series 2 had over half its episodes set in London (four present-day, two in a parallel present-day, one in 2012 and one in 1953).
- Steven Moffat was particularly irritated by this trope's use in Doctor Who, which is why "The Eleventh Hour" takes place in a small English village and Amy is from Scotland, and why his first season only has two episodes set in London (the second also in two other parts of Britain), another with the TARDIS briefly flying over London and a third with a brief, if important, scene with two characters from the first. (Respectively: "Victory of the Daleks", "The Big Bang", "The Eleventh Hour" and "The Pandorica Opens".)
- The first new series lampshaded this by having a hostile alien become mayor of Cardiff; when asked how she's getting away with it, since she's in many ways Obviously Evil, she goes on about how nobody in London would notice if Wales fell into the sea, then catches herself and realizes she's Going Native. (She probably has a point.)
- Averted in the Doctor Who spinoff series Torchwood. Instead of London, the series is set in Cardiff, Wales. (This is partly because most of the filming for both Doctor Who and Torchwood is done in Cardiff anyways.). This makes Torchwood the trope namer for Aliens in Cardiff.
- Its third series splits its time between Cardiff and London (this is in part due to Her Majesty's Government's involvement), while its internationally-set fourth series, Miracle Day, has its British scenes in Swansea, a nearby "overflow camp" and a house somewhere in rural Wales.
- Averted by Lost, which features several British characters from outside of London: Charlie and Naomi are from Manchester, Desmond is from Glasgow, and Charlotte was born in Essex and raised in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire. Penny is from London though. Flashback scenes have been set in a variety of places around Britain, and in season four these were even filmed on location in at least two episodes.
- Friends hung a lampshade on this with the character of Emily whose (British) uncle said she was from London, then corrected it to "Well, Shropshire...but you know..."
- Lampshaded on The Kevin Bishop Show. One of the characters is a camp American who opens a sketch by confirming where an English woman's from. She explicitly states she's not from London, and of course he starts ranting about how he loves London. A likely inspiration is Truth in Television - see bottom of page.
- Averted to some extent by Frasier. Daphne Moon is from Manchester, rather than London, and at least sounds like she's from somewhere in the north of England.
- Averted on The Beverly Hillbillies of all places. They visit a castle in Kent, England in a few episodes.
- Also averted on Married... with Children where the family goes to Upper and Lower Uncton, after the obligatory visit to London.
- Played very straight on Law and Order UK, which despite the explicit mention of the UK in it's title, has had every episode set in London. What's especially bad is that the show's working title was Law and Order: London, making you wonder why the producers didn't stick with it, given what's turned out to be it's setting.
- In the British sci-fi comedy series Nebulous lampshades this when the Big Bad (played by David Tennant) is asked why aliens only invade London. His response? "Isn't it obvious? For tax reasons!"
- Command & Conquer Red Alert 2: Yuri's Revenge has one mission in England. Take a wild guess where. Justified up to a point, what with London being the seat of the British government.
- Red Alert 3 at least places the mission outside of London, but the accent part is in full force for the allied commanders that are from Britain.
- Although averted less than you would think, as the mission is set in Brighton, which is known by some as 'London-By-The-Sea' for good reason.
- In the opening Scrin level in Tiberium Wars, the player has to run interference by destroying a major European city. Guess where.
- Averted in the new C&C 4 trailer, which puts the last remaining shred of the GDI forces in Manchester.
- Red Alert 3 at least places the mission outside of London, but the accent part is in full force for the allied commanders that are from Britain.
- Averted in Metal Gear Solid. Major Zero and Strangelove are from Exeter and Manchester respectively, although both play the accent part straight.
- Despite being created by Scots, the only Grand Theft Auto games set in the UK are the two London expansions (London, 1969 and London, 1961) of Grand Theft Auto Classic. Later games are all set in America but reference other parts of Britain in dialogue.
- In Mass Effect 3 the Reapers attack Earth. take one guess where they land. New York? Nope. The answer is pretty clearly this trope.
- And it featured some of the usual sights, like Big Ben, and even the odd telephone box. Now, unless they're there for tourist purposes, I can't imagine them having real purpose a couple of centuries into the future.
- Jem played this trope straight in the "Beauty & The Rock Promoter" episode. Subverted in "Britrock", which had the climax take place at a lord's mansion in Essex.
- Monkey Dust had a memorable sketch about 'Curtis Land', a version of Britain based on the romantic comedies of Richard Curtis, actually a walled compound protected by massive barbed wire fences, searchlight towers and armed guards, where everyone is either posh or a Cockney, living in unrealistically well appointed flats with no visible means of support, obtained by carting off or killing all the coloured people.
- In an episode of Phineas and Ferb, we open on an establishing shot of the family in the back of a taxi cab in England somewhere, and Lawrence, the (British) father, hangs his head out the window, to say, "Ah, London, there's Big Ben, the White Cliffs of Dover, Buckingham Palace, Stonehenge..." Phineas sticks his head out the window and comments, "London's gotten a lot smaller since we were here last..." Cut to a shot of all those landmarks in the same scene. This is made even more bizarre as the voice of Lawrence is none other than Richard O Brien, of Rocky Horror fame.
- Family Guy. One episode has Peter's favourite bar replaced by an English pub ("British" and "English" are used interchangeably and the pub has the Union Flag on the wall); all the new pub-goers are toffs or Cockneys. A subplot of the episode is a My Fair Lady parody in which Stewie attempts to change the accent of a Cockney child so she can become toff-esque. Three episodes have featured London: "Patriot Games", which sees Peter transferred to a London American football team; "Road to Europe", where Stewie and Brian visit the set of a BBC programme; and "Road to Germany", where Stewie drives a submarine into London and remarks that he's reached England.
- One episode featured Andy Capp as a guest character for a quick joke. Both he and his wife speak with Cockney accents. This is actually a common mistake when Andy Capp is referenced in non-British media (it features Northerners, y'see...).
Truth In Television
- Beyonce once greeted a crowd in Brighton (which, for those less familiar with UK geography, is about 40 miles from the capital) by shouting out "Hello, London!". Sadly, the microphone didn't pick up their response.
- Similarly, Britney Spears greeted Manchester as London.
- Lady Gaga, at T in the Park (Scotland's biggest music festival) greeted the crowd with "Hello, London"... Twice. Considering how many Scots, um, dislike being mistaken for the English, this was met poorly.
- Liam Gallagher famously made fun of artists not knowing where they are by opening an Oasis concert at Wembley Stadium in 2000 sarcastically shouting "Hello, Manchester!". Gallagher, a Manchester and UK native, was of course well aware that he was in London.
- Most American media will refer to British newspapers as "the London papers". While this is accurate in the sense that their offices are indeed in London, it creates the impression that they only circulate in the city limits (only three do). This may be more to do with Britain being smaller than America, and national newspapers therefore being a lot more feasible.
- It is worth noting that many of the major American newspapers are named for the cities they are published in (ie: the New York Times), with at least one national paper named for a particular street (Wall Street Journal) which might also have something to do with this.
- In an amusing inversion, Dolly Parton once greeted a crowd by saying "Hello Rotherham!" only to be informed by a member of the crowd that she was in London.
- Zack Snyder, on Alan Moore's premature disapproval of the Watchmen movie, said "Worst case scenario - Alan puts the movie on his DVD player on a cold Sunday in London and watches and says, 'Yeah, that doesn't suck too bad.'" Alan Moore, a Northampton resident, called him out on it.
- British Airways has concentrated basically all of their long haul flights in London, prompting detractors to refer to them as London Airways.
- As far as air travel goes this is a self-reinforcing trope: London is the world's busiest air traffic hub, so that's where it logically follows all airlines should try to focus their business in the UK, to the detriment of other cities. Meanwhile, nobody is willing to build extra runways and terminals in the northern half of the country because nobody flies from there.
- Also a common mistake by Londoners is to forget they are not in London, as happened on Question Time in 2011
Jon Gaunt: Let's remember at this very moment tonight, Britain's bravest coppers are being celebrated at a hotel here in London. Let's remember the kind of work these men and women do on the streets... what's so funny?
- And the irony is that Jon Gaunt is from Coventry. Although this does highlight a subtrope in which the rest of the country endows the status of Londoner on people they dislike; for example Tony and Cherie Blair (Scotland and Manchester/Liverpool respectively) a trend brought to its apotheosis by Alex Salmond, Scottish First Minister, who uses the word London to include anyone who is not actually a member of the Scottish Nationalist Party.
- three, if you don't count Christmas Invasion; works out at over half regardless