British Stuffiness

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
"No hugs, dear. I'm British. We only show affection to dogs and horses."
Jocelyn Dashwood (Eileen Atkins), What a Girl Wants

The American media often presents people from England to be overly stuffy, to the point of being uptight and unable to cope with changes from the way they believe things should be. This trope is probably due to the fact that the majority of well-known Hollywood movies set in the UK (Mary Poppins, My Fair Lady, etc.) are also set in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, when stoicism and reserve were promoted as manly virtues under the philosophy of the posh schools which educated the British élite. Another, though, has to be the result of the American Revolution.

Americans, as a part of a culture, are actively encouraged to emote to the point that the lack of active emotional content in one's speech and mannerisms is considered quite rude or even anti-social. Thus, the more reserved culture of the British can often seem falsely painted by Americans, who are more used to their own more emotive culture. Likewise, to Brits—especially older Brits—the typical American emotional response is bipolar at best and maliciously, sneeringly rude at worst.

Of course, one need only watch modern British television to see this trope averted. Not only averted, but in many cases, inverted. In a recent[when?] interview between Piers Morgan and Anderson Cooper promoting the former's new[when?] talk show, both of them mentioned that although Americans tend to see the British as having impeccable manners, both were surprised to notice that it's not the case anymore, and Piers actually said that it was the exact opposite.

However, stoicism in the face of danger and hardship is part of the British culture. The British sense of humour can also form a stumbling block; in many cases, it tends to work on ironic Understatement and dry, snarky wit which can easily fly under the radar if people aren't used to it.

Contrast Evil Brit, who is often Wicked Cultured and hence more open-minded. Whereas the Stuffy Brit may be a protagonist, but is portrayed as merely temperamentally handicapped. Not to be confused with the Mean Brit, who is snarky and gregarious.

When up against an American for his love's affections in an American work of fiction, expect him to be a Jerkass suitor (assuming she won't Lie Back and Think of England), because All Girls Want Bad Boys. But in the end he'll Just Want Her To Be Happy. For the more positive variant, see Stiff Upper Lip.

It's worth noting that to many American artists, America itself is Britain to France or Italy's America. The world is strange, don't ya know?

Examples of British Stuffiness include:

Anime and Manga

  • Excalibur from Soul Eater (who's at the very least From United King[1]) has a list of 1000 conditions anyone who wants to wield him must follow. As such, there are two known people who could put up with this madness. One of them finally got rid of him because he couldn't put up with his constant sneezing. The other was King Arthur himself. Lord only knows how he did it.
  • The character representing England in Axis Powers Hetalia is not necessarily "stuffy" as such, but does display a disapproving and often despairing attitude towards his compatriots, with his neurosis usually triggered in reaction to their behavior. He is otherwise a knowledgeable and amiable chap, if a bit irritable. He does at least try to be a gentleman. It just doesn't work out with his real personality. However, the English dub plays this straight, making the character speak with a stereotypical (RP) English accent, and he sounds much "stuffier there.

Comic Books

  • Batman's butler Alfred often comes across as a Stuffy Brit, which carries over to most adaptations. The most prominent exception is Batman Begins, where he's given a British army sergeant's accent and backstory. In the comics he also had plenty of backstory: at one point it was that he was an SOE agent/saboteur for England during WWII and had a kid with a beautiful French Resistance named Mademoiselle Marie, but that's been dropped because of timeline considerations.
  • From Adventures In The Rifle Brigade, Capt. Darcy is the typical stuffy British officer type, or at least tries to keep the front up. Best example, he does his best to maintain a stiff upper lip among all his men, while the German halftrack in which they are currently riding is raped by an elephant.
  • Superman: True Brit, an Elseworlds comic where Superman lands in Great Britain, is absolutely loaded with examples and subversions.
  • Asterix in Britain. The Britons are utterly stiff except in the presence of ball games or young bards who look suspiciously like The Beatles.
    • Arguably subverted in the cases of some of them -- for example, the Badass Normal British gardener. (Approximate dialogue.)

Centurion: Briton! You dare challenge the greatness and authority of Rome?!
Gardener: My garden may be smaller than your Rome, but my pilum is harder than your sternum!


  • Last of the Mohicans: Steven Waddington is contrasted with his free-livin' Amerindian compatriots as Redcoat Maj. Heyward in the American frontier, already a fatal occupation. "with that priggy nose of his!" as one reviewer put it.
  • Commodore Norrington experiences similar problems in Pirates of the Caribbean, and handles them in a similar manner At Worlds End.
  • In Tim Burton's version of Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, he casts James Fox, the stuffiest British person in the world, in the role of Mr. Salt.
  • The second decade of Hugh Grant's career, between his dramatic roles and his Evil Brit roles.
  • The whole premise of What a Girl Wants: Amanda Bynes vs. British Stuffiness. Incidentally, the above page quote from this film was reportedly ad-libbed by Eileen Atkins. Ironically, Bynes was known for her squeaky clean and chaste image. In an interview, she also admitted that Britain is "not as different as we portray it in the film."
  • The upcoming film Wild Child is looking like a rip-off of What A Girl Wants in which the British Stuffiness will be even worse.
  • Jarvis, the impeccably polite AI that runs everything important in Tony Stark's house in Iron Man sometimes lapses into this.
  • In the James Bond film canon, Q is a rather cranky version of this trope. Also, the original M was quite gruff, with only a few flashes of paternal affection toward Bond. Bond, of course, is the exact opposite of this trope.
    • Well, Bond is sexually uninhibited, at least, but in the movies he never cries or shows much emotion, and in the novels he's much less openly emotional than the Black or American characters (although he does weep on two occasions).
    • While not stuffy, he is definitely less openly emotional... compare him to American counterparts such as Jack Bauer.
  • The ultimate example of British stuffiness is the climactic dinner party sequence in 1968's Carry On Up the Khyber.
    • More like aplomb.
  • The Queen is basically about British Reserve encountering the modern age.
  • An American Werewolf in London has more than a little of this. Especially the impossible-to-insult policeman. The xenophobic villagers are also worth recognising, as is their 'opening-up' via humour (if we decide to like you, we'll make fun of you).
  • In Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, when Death comes to a dinner party to take away the guests, the British host firmly but calmly reprimands him for his bad manners. When the Grim Reaper reveals they were all killed by tainted salmon, all the host's wife can say is "I'm most dreadfully embarassed".
  • While it is an American/British co-production, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day has an air of this about it. The eponymous Miss Pettigrew is an uptight, strait-laced Vicar's daughter, and her counterpoint is the wild American Delysia Lafosse. Most of the other British characters are also fairly flighty, though, and Delysia's free-spirited nature isn't entirely admirable. It was averted in the original novel, where Delysia is English.
  • All British people in A Fish Called Wanda, with the exception of George and Ken. Archie does warm up though.
  • In Mel Brooks' Dracula: Dead and Loving It, Jonathan Harker attempts to fend off the lustful advances of new vampire Lucy by politely reminding her, "We're British." However, his reserve crumbles utterly when she presents her breasts (which, she reminds him, are also British).


  • Vernon Dursley from the Harry Potter series is a prime example, via his portrayal of a member of the aspiring middle classes. Thus feeding the American media, but not a product of it.
    • Vernon may be stuffy and concerned with appearance, but he is very much not reserved, and is implied to be telling raunchy jokes in mixed company with his 12-year old son around.
    • The second film also adds Robert Hardy as Cornelius Fudge, who works him much stuffier than in the book.
    • Ron in the third book reacts like that when Hermione dramatically falls into his arms in a gesture of reconciliation. The poor guy doesn't know what to do. Finally, he nervously strokes her hair.
      • That's probably more an awkward teenager thing, than stuffy Brit.
  • Aziraphale from Good Omens has cultivated a strong aura of this, in spite of being an angel and therefore not British at all. (Fanon likes to state that he was always like this, and that he actually introduced the concept to Earth.) However, Aziraphale has trouble living up to the above-it-all aspects of this stereotype, and he tends to come off as extremely sensitive and worried on top of being extremely British. As well as... er... something else.
  • Directly referenced in the American Girl book "Happy Birthday, Molly!" when Molly's mother explains to her why the English girl who is visiting is so quiet. Her explanation is that "English children are taught to be reserved--very polite and quiet." Since the girl was one of the Blitz Evacuees watching London be bombed may have something to do with her quietness. Molly's mother also invokes the stereotype at first, and one of Molly's friends also expects Emily to curtsey because that's what English girls do, according to her stereotypes.
  • The Aubrey-Maturin novels are great subverters of this trope. In the Georgian Age (the 18th century through the early 19th century), open displays of emotion were considered much more acceptable in English culture than during the later Victorian and Edwardian eras. In fact, Stephen Maturin gently chides his friend Jack Aubrey on several occasions for being overly emotional, and in his private thoughts and diary entries notes emotionalism as being a weakness of the English psychological makeup. Stiff Upper Lip, though, is in full play, as demonstrated during many sea battle scenes.
    • Victorian emotional and sexual restrictions are thought to be partly reactions to the supposed debauchery of the 18th century. Where at least the upper classes were flaunting their sexual lives. Most monarchs of the House of Hanover are thought to be examples. George I (reigned 1714-1727) was thought to live openly with two mistresses: Ehrengard Melusine von der Schulenburg, Duchess of Kendal and Duchess of Munster, and Sophia Charlotte von Kielmansegg, Countess of Darlington and Countess of Leinster. George II (reigned 1727-1760) was rumoured to have several sexual escapades but only two long-term mistresses: Henrietta Howard, Countess of Suffolk and Amalie von Wallmoden, Countess of Yarmouth. George IV (reigned 1820 - 1830) had at least six notable mistresses. William IV (reigned 1830-1837) spend three decades with his mistress, actress Dorothea Jordan and only got married following her death. The exceptions were George III (reigned 1760-1820) and Victoria (reigned 1837-1901) who were morally conservative, devoted to their spouses and tried to keep sexual scandals as far away from their courts and public view as possible. During her time the upper-classes at least attempted to keep their affairs secret in fear of scandal.
  • Sea Catch in "The White Seal" conveys an astounding upper-class stuffiness despite being a seal.

Live Action TV

  • The A&E version of The Lost World had both Robert Hardy and James Fox, as feuding professors of paleontology, which causes the VHS copy to smell like tea and tweed and pipe tobacco. However, it starred the somewhat more jovial Bob Hoskins as a sort of Adventurer Paleontologist, along with some dinosaurs, which lightened the mood somewhat.
  • Giles, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, was presented very much in this manner to begin with and was contrasted with younger, hipper, computer-literate Jenny Calendar. He lightened up as the series went on. Then Wesley arrived and took on the stuffy role, before he Took a Level in Badass after moving over to Angel.
  • The Ted & Ralph sketches from The Fast Show are a British-made example, combining country-squire Ralph's man-crush on Ted, his gamekeeper, with some genuinely moving British stuffiness. Such as when Ralph tries to ask Ted out: "Do you... like Tina Turner, Ted?"... "I wouldn't know about that sir". Best of all, the scene where Ralph must tell Ted that his wife has died, without breaking the rules of the absurd pub-game, because that would embarrass Ted.
  • Inverted in Frasier, where it was the two main American characters who were stuffy and elitist, while most of the British characters who appeared were cheerfully working-class (albeit with a host of mismatched regional accents).
    • Though, in an interesting example of how entrenched the British/stuffy association is in the US, people have been known to refer to Frasier and Niles's posh inflections as "British accents."
  • Fawlty Towers' Basil Fawlty, played mainly for comedic effect as he tries to be this but his constant run of bad luck leads to less desirable results, especially in "the Wedding Party" episode. "You know something? You disgust me. I know what people like you get up to, and I think it's disgusting!"
  • Like most British television, Doctor Who blows this away, especially hiring such energetic and expressive actors like David Tennant and Catherine Tate, but they did play with it in "The Idiot's Lantern."
    • Lampshaded in "The Unicorn and the Wasp." When Donna wonders about how everyone involved is going to deal with the weirdness of the episode, the Doctor says, "They'll never speak of it again, they're too British."
    • Somewhat Enforced by Executive Meddling during Peter Davison's tenure, with the whole No Hugging, No Kissing thing.
  • Often lampshaded by Max on The Nanny when he uses this as an excuse for why he is unable to show his feelings. He and his entire family are perfect examples of this, with the exception of his brother Nigel, who has been shown to be very passionate and exuberant, although he was considered the black sheep of the family, and supposed to be the exception that proves the rule.
  • One place that this seems to be inverted, however, is talk shows. On American shows like Letterman or Leno, the host is usually behind a big desk, and everything sounds a little formal (barring certain circumstances like the guest and host being longtime friends, or the guest just being a little wacky, then things will usually go a little off the rails.) On British shows like Graham Norton, the set is made up like someone's living room, there's usually drinks available, and everything seems a little more informal and chatty.

Video Games

  • Mostly averted, especially in beat 'em ups, where the British female characters, including Cammy from Street Fighter, Ivy from the Soul Calibur series, Christie from Dead or Alive and of course Lara Croft, are all easily amongst the most fanservicey. All of them tend to be fairly no-nonsense in demeanor however, and speak with the applicable RP accent, so perhaps not a complete aversion of this trope.
    • However, when it comes to the men, Brits Dudley and Eagle (both Street Fighter) fit the bill perfectly.
  • Whether or not Miles Edgeworth is an example of this is the subject of much debate in the Ace Attorney fandom.
    • His behaviour and speech patterns fit the bill, even his accent. Despite being an American that spend his teen years in Germany. Also, he can get quite emotional, but usually keeps it under raps (unless it's sheer exasperation.
  • Subverted in Metal Gear Solid 3, where Zero at first seems cold and snarky like this trope, but as time goes on he's shown to be really quite emotional ( shown especially in him eventually becoming a Stalker with a Crush in Metal Gear Solid 4 and Peace Walker), and kind of a Cloudcuckoolander. The last part's probably based on the other stereotype of the British sense of humour.

Web Comics

Web Original

"Fortunately, being English, and therefore utterly repulsed by the slightest sexual urge in myself and everyone around me, I am immune from any callous attempt to touch my heart via my wrinkly undercarriage, and Bayonetta looks about as sexy to me as a pencil stuck through a couple of grapes."

Western Animation

  • The Flintstones: When Fred Flintstone attempted to pass himself off as uppercrust and well-mannered, he affected a British accent.
  • One episode of Danny Phantom where the Fentons had the usual stiff British butler.
  • Owen Burnett, Xanatos' butler on Gargoyles. This was totally on purpose, though, since Puck copied his alter ego from another, equally-wooden, majordomo.
    • Was Owen supposed to be British?
      • All butlers are British except in Japanese media.
      • Except, apparently, for Mr. Vogel, the inspiration for Owen. Stiff as a board and half as emotive, but definitely American. He comes off more like a member of the Secret Service than a butler.
  • Bizarrely enough, in Thunderbirds (which is a British made programme), many of the British characters were quite stereotypically uppercrust, like Lady Penelope.
    • "I say, open this door at once; we're British!", Sir Jeremy Hodge, The Perils of Penelope, a brilliantly bad example.
    • Parker, Lady Penelope's driver and manservant may be a subversion. He affects what he may believe is a 'posh' accent, but only indicates his London cockney origins. He's based upon a real man the Thunderbirds production members met running a pub.
    • Jeff Tracy wears morning dress and affects a British accent to go to an airshow in one episode. 'Oh, bang on; jolly good show!' Wonderfully wrong. Penny is too pleased to correct him.
      • Not so bizarre when you consider Thunderbirds was an expensive show to make - Lord Grade, as with so many shows he commissioned, saw first showing in Britain as irrelevant compared with lucrative resale to the USA, and insisted it be made primarily with the American market in mind. Therefore all the action heroes speak with American accents and the British characters were tailored to American expectations - toffs and Dick van Dyke cockneys. The Muppet Show was a later example: the guest star was nearly always an American celebrity, often virtually unknown in Britain.
  • The Boondocks: "Sir, Sir! There is no need to be rude! I paid good money for this crack, and it is all burnt up, look!"
    • Somewhat averted with the ruthless British, uh, candy barons.
  • Mr Herriman, from Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends has never been to Britain, but has a British accent from pure stuffiness.
  • Sarah from Liberty's Kids is initially like this.
  • Samuel the camel from Willas Wild Life.
  • Uncle Waldo from The Aristocats, when he explains to Thomas O'Malley about his obsession with Sherry wine.
  • Mr. Pricklepants from Toy Story 3, who even quotes Shakespeare.
  • Family Guy's use of "high-class British porn".

British Man: You know my dear, we could have sex right now.
British Woman: Oh really dear?
British Man: Yes. But let's not. *Goes back to reading his novel*

  1. I'm looking for him! I'm going to California!