Stiff Upper Lip

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Keep Calm And Carry On.

"Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way."

Pink Floyd, "Time"

"London is the only city on earth where people attempt to fight The War on Terror using boredom."

Bullets are whistling, shells are exploding, panicked soldiers dash here and there splattered with mud and blood, the air is thick with shouted commands and the rich stench of death! And yet our hero is smoking a pipe, sipping his tea, and doing a Times Crossword Puzzle, for he is an imperturbable Englishman.

He is easily confused with The Stoic, but an Imperturbable Englishman adds style to his stoicism by his exaggerated contempt for danger and hardship. Not only does he cope with them: he cheerily dismisses them. No matter the disaster, he always keeps his composure.

This is known as having a Stiff Upper Lip: "Keep a stiff upper lip, chaps!", "Buck up! Stiff upper lip and all that!", etcetera. Ironically, the term "stiff upper lip" is actually American in origin. In Britain today, the phrase is only used ironically to invoke the trope, but the concept is very real: witness the "Keep Calm and Carry On" poster, a more laconic version of the picture on this page which adorns many British office walls.

In terms of Dialogue, Understatement is key; this is why the RAF Ace Pilot is the poster child for Major Injury Underreaction. Stress is met with Dissonant Serenity, grief with Angst? What Angst?, and unbridled joy with a curt "Jolly good".

Compare Trying Not to Cry, This Is No Time to Panic, Quintessential British Gentleman, Upper Class Wit, The Jeeves. This is what someone who has or pretends to have Nerves of Steel would supposedly look like from the outside. Often crosses over with A Spot of Tea, as stopping everything to make a cup of tea and consider the situation when faced by danger is both Funny, Badass, and, as seen below happens surprisingly often in real life.

When this trait is portrayed as an (often romantic) defect, see British Stuffiness. Lie Back and Think of England arises when this trait gets in the way of a relationship.

Examples of Stiff Upper Lip include:

Anime and Manga

  • General (or Admiral) Johann Abraham Revil, from the original Mobile Suit Gundam. Made the "Zeon is Exhausted!" speech that bolstered the Earth Federation's morale and caused them to reject the terms of surrender they were presented (prior to the beginning of the main series). He was looked to as a source of inspiration and confidence by many in the military, and was one of the few who never gave up on the White Base. Side-materials confirm that he had British ancestry, invoking this trope.

Comic Books

  • The Britons in Asterix in Britain would stop fighting for five o'clock tea. Except tea hadn't been introduced yet, so they just sipped hot water.
    • And their reaction to Caesar applying his tactical genius and attacking at five o'clock? "I say. They really aren't gentlemen!"
    • Anticlimax even asks Asterix to "Be brave and keep a stiff upper lip" when the Romans capture Obelix.
  • In the Lucky Luke album The Tenderfoot, British gentleman Waldo Badminton inherits a Western farm. Keeping a Stiff Upper Lip through the various tribulations the locals put him through, the story ends with a duel. The Big Bad shoots first... but seems to miss, and when Waldo calmly trains his gun on him he gives up in terror. Then it is revealed Waldo was hit and is in great pain, but didn't want to show it and make a fuss.
    • Actually, he was shot in the arm and unable to lift the weapon. His calmness psyched the villain into a Villainous Breakdown.
  • In the Judge Dredd storyline, Judgement Day, when the various megacities around the world are being overrun with zombies, the British judges report in as "surrounded but defiant." The Irish chief judge, upon hearing this states, "Typical Brit. They're having the Bejaysus knocked out of them like the rest of us."
  • Paul Cornell's Captain Britain. For instance his Crowning Moment of Awesome when Britain is invaded by Skrulls:

Skrull: You think that is bravery? Tiny things! Within the Skrull Empire you will know grandeur. You will know pride and determination and...
Captain Britain: I think you'll find we know already. We just don't like to make a fuss.

  • But taken to the point of Deconstructive Parody with the Knight in Cornell's Knight and Squire. In #4, his costume becomes sentient and starts acting out his subconcious feelings. American superheroes with this problem typically solve it by acknowledging these feelings and getting them into the open where they can be dealt with. The Knight solves it by repressing them even further.
  • The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen deconstructs this; at one point during |the Martian invasion Nemo comments that he has to admire the stoic bravery of the British in the face of invasion. Quatermain contemptuously counters that it's nothing of the sort, it's just everyone is denying the gravity of the situation until it's too late.


  • Force 10 From Navarone Film of the Book. The team has detonated explosives inside a dam in attempt to breach it. The situation is desperate: if they fail, thousands of Partisans will be slaughtered by the Nazis. Sergeant Miller (British) and Sergeant Weaver (American) are waiting to see what happens.

Weaver: Nothing! We've been through all this, and nothing!
Miller: You can't expect an enormous volcano with three tiny bags of explosives. You have to let nature take her course. Give it time, it'll work.

  • Allison Digby Tatham-Warter in A Bridge Too Far always carries an umbrella to prove he was British because he "could never remember the bally password!" This was actually Truth in Television.
  • Carry On Up The Khyber features renowned archetypes. The British rulers in India discover that bloodthirsty Afghan hordes are approaching fast, intending to slaughter them all.

Captain Keene: What do you intend to do, sir?
Sir Sidney: Do? Do? We're British. We won't do anything...

    • The exchange continues with an odder spin on Britishness:

Captain Keene: ...until it's too late.
Sir Sidney: Exactly. That's the first sensible thing you've said all day.

    • They proceed to have a dinner-party under heavy fire (the dining room eventually loses a wall, all the windows, and most of the ceiling). This is all deeply symbolic of the British national spirit and the end of the Raj, donchaknow.
    • Well, it was dinnertime, the party had been planned for simply ages, and the cooks had worked so very hard...
    • At one point, the servants bring in the 'meat course'... which turns out to be the head of a Fakir the characters had befriended earlier, sent to them by the advancing Afghan hordes. What is the Brits' reaction?

Sir Sidney: What is the meaning of this?
Servant: I don't know, your excellency.
Sir Sidney: But I ordered Suckling Pig...
Brother Belcher: It's the Fakir's head! They've killed him!!!
Sir Sidney: Well that's dashed unsporting. It's the closed season for Fakirs.

    • Also parodied in an earlier scene. The Brits have been thrown into an Afghan prison, awaiting horrible torture. Captain Keene tries to rally their spirits.

Brother Belcher: Here we go. He's going to tell us to keep a stiff upper lip!
Keene: Actually I was going to say "Remember we're British".
Everyone: Oh yes...of course...
Keene: And then I was going to say "Keep a stiff upper lip".
Belcher: Well I'm not waiting in here for my lips to stiffen! (starts banging on the cell door) Let me out! You can't do this to me! I'm a man of the cloth!
(Afghan guard charges up to the bars -- we get a close-up of his blackened teeth)
Guard: What do you want, Englesh PEEEEEEEEEEG!
Belcher: Err, I was going to ask you for the name of a good dentist but I don't think I'll bother.

  • Virtually everyone in Battle of the River Plate. Royal Navy sangfroid at its very finest.
  • The Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy: You can see Douglas Adams' mother sitting outside a cafe reading a paper even as the world ends. This was not in the script; she simply had not been told what to do, and chose that.
  • Jasper in Children of Men "Pull my finger."
  • Alec Guinness in The Bridge on the River Kwai, though subverted at the end.
    • An Alternate Character Interpretation though probably not the one intended is that it is not a subversion nor even a zig-zag but a veritable twisting into pretzels. Nicholson was trying to save his men's lifes by giving them a challenge to their pride, and he did. Saito was trying to build a bridge, and he did by baiting Nicholson. The commandos were trying to destroy the bridge and they did. The only one who was clueless about the whole mental chess game was Shears because he had never understood honor in the first place.
  • Shaun's mother in Shaun of the Dead gets bitten by a zombie but doesn't mention it because she doesn't want to be any trouble. It's a total Tear Jerker.
  • A British soldier in the film Sergeant York was this to a tee. All the while Alvin is on his nerves' edge trying to keep cool, this Brit is calmly explaining that you can tell where an artillery - *duck* - shell will hit because - *duck* - the varying pitch indicates - don't worry 'bout that one - whether it will miss you. Even when one of his partners is killed by shrapnel from a nearby blast, he calmly assesses the situation. Alvin appears a bit alarmed by this, naturally.
  • Monty Python's The Meaning of Life parodying the British Empire has plenty of this, naturally:
    • The redcoats are in fierce hand-to-hand combat with Zulus, while inside a tent their officers drinking tea and having a gentlemanly discussion, oblivious to the chaos. They go on to walk straight through the battle, still oblivious. A bullet does hit the mirror of the officer who was John Cleese while he was shaving, but he uses a broken part of the mirror to finish up with no complaint.
    • Subverted when another office is lounging in his tent and does not seem the slightest bit upset that his leg has been eaten by a tiger. It turns out that he expects that it will grow back.
    • In another scene, British soldiers in the trenches of World War One insist on giving their commanding officer several presents, including a large clock and a cake, and become very offended when he suggests that perhaps this isn't the time.
  • The Colour Sergeant in the film Zulu was a serious version, rigidly doing his duty and sticking to the regulation way of doing things at all times, tempered with good leadership, in an admirable display of professionalism. His response to one young private nearly breaking down at why it had to be them in the upcoming fight was a stoic and matter of fact 'Because we're here, lad. No one else'.
  • Parodied/subverted in The Mummy 1999:

Jonathan: Americans. And did I panic? *tosses and catches MacGuffin* I think not. *flare-up from flaming ship* Aah! (as he jumps into the river)

  • Definitely used with Lieutenant Archie Hicox in Inglourious Basterds. Even when he's about to die: he prefers to "go out speaking the King's".
  • Sergeant Wells in Dog Soldiers is a modern sweary version.

"Now you just shut up like a good gentleman, you are scaring my lads."

  • In The King's Speech, this was expected of royalty, so when Edward broke down upon his father's death and was told that he would become king, everyone treated it very seriously and it was a sign that he wasn't fit to rule.
  • Casino Royale 1967 features a scene were the Cosmopolitan Council believes that bombs are being dropped. The American representative rushes to the phone yelling "Get me the President!" while the British representative merely calls his wife and calmly explains that he won't be home for dinner because "it seems a war has broken out."
  • Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall: Spike Milligan's war memoirs feature several (presumably real-life) examples of these, the most memorable being the Major addressing his men at the side of the road when a Messerschmitt flies over at rooftop level. The entire Battery dive into a convenient ditch and as they drag themselves out see the Major still standing, lighting a cigarette, and continuing his speech with the words ""Now of course you realise in this situation that you did the right thing, and I the wrong..."
  • In Which We Serve is full of this being a British wartime film and of course, very terribly British about the whole thing. One of the more memorable scenes shows three women in a house carrying on a quiet conversation while knitting, during an air raid.


  • Phileas Fogg of Around the World in Eighty Days is one of the best examples of this.
  • Arthur Dent from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is an interesting case. Not sure if it's Subversion or Inversion. For mildly "out there" situations he's as freaked out as an American would be, but there are times when it's so bizarre he can actually act somewhat normally. A classic line from the movie comes to mind. "I'm British; I know how to queue."
  • In Alistair MacLean's South by Java Head, a merchant ship escaping the fall of Singapore is strafed by Japanese fighters. The first mate checks to see if any of the passengers are hurt ... and there's Miss Plenderleith, calmly knitting in a cabin with bulletholes through the walls. The mate mutters something about "One lump or two, Vicar?" and decides if the Japanese found out about this, they'd demand an immediate armistice.
  • Lord Wellington in the Sharpe series has this to a tee. At one point, he and another man are calmly assessing the defences of a town, when the French begin firing at them:

Hogan: Perhaps we should retire.
Wellington: Value your life, do you?

    • He gets dazed in Sharpe's Triumph and has to be rescued but the Maharatta's had hit him on the head, which was dashed unsporting of them.
  • In Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age, Carl Hollywood and an old British military man get caught in a rioting city. As they fight their way to freedom, they have an unspoken understanding to keep up a line of nonchalant banter, which preserves their courage.
  • The Redwall hares are all like this, wot wot?
  • In Harry Turtledove's Worldwar series, several sections involve British RAF members attempting to out-understate each other.
  • A stiff upper lip is expected at Greyfriars School. For example, after Vernon-Smith goes into an aggressive, surly temper upon receiving troubling news from home, the narration informs us:

"Whatever might be his private troubles, a fellow was expected to carry on without advertising it to all and sundry. A fellow was expected to keep a stiff upper lip. Vernon Smith's way was not really the Greyfriars way. It showed there was somewhere a streak of inferior quality in Smithy."

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

  • PG Wodehouse's Psmith takes this practically to Fearless Fool levels. Notably, he's unfazed when a gangster kidnaps him, holds a gun against his back, and directs the taxi they're in towards a quiet spot to finish the job. He's just upset that his waistcoat gets creased.

Live Action TV

  • Cambridge Spies gives us this:

King George VI: [After the London Blitz has leveled the East End] "I and the Queen walked down East End today. Trying to boost morale. I saw a man walking his dog. Just an ordinary man. It was the most beautiful thing I have seen in my entire life."

  • The noble Grantham family of Downton Abbey are kings of this. However, many of the servants are just as good at it (Messrs Bates and Carson and Mrs Hughes being particular exemplars, although Mrs Hughes is Scottish).
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus has the sketch about "The Dull Life of a City Stockbroker", where a man is apparently oblivious to the weird things that happen during his morning commute to work.
  • In an episode of the Britcom My Hero (TV), the world was ending and all the patients at the Northolt Health Centre acted like it was just another day, causing Mrs. Raven to comment "peculiar race, the British".
  • How many times has The Doctor responded to universal apocalypse by offering the bad guys a jelly baby??

'Sure it did. I remember it well. VE day was lovingly commuted into VF day. Victimise Fitz. The kids on my street celebrated by kicking me down the road.' His face softened as he looked at her, apparently realising she was feeling uncomfortable. 'I'm sorry. That was meant to be a joke.'
'Was it?'
Fitz put on a Churchill accent. 'In war, you gets your jollies where you can.'

  • When Top Gear went to South America, James May managed to be cool and collected despite being terrified of heights and driving on the deadliest mountain road in the world. So much so that the other presenters didn't realize just how tired he was of them bumping into his car until he expressed himself rather less delicately with the help of a machete.
  • An episode of Mash has the 4077th treat a group of wounded British soldiers. Hawkeye is offended by their commanding officer's callous attitude towards their injuries and his seeming eagerness to send them back off into battle. He later learns that the officer does care for them and he only acts that way to not let them know how bad off they are and to keep their morale up. This is further evidenced that when Hawkeye tells him that his unit's custom of providing tea to troops with abdominal wounds is causing dangerous medical complications, he is deeply troubled at the mistake and immediately agrees to follow the doctor's advice (although he does comment that it would be a lot easier with anything other than tea).
  • In The Nanny, Fran encouraged Jocelyn to call off her upcoming wedding to an upper-class gentleman in favour of her poor but loving chauffeur. When the groom finds out and barely reacts, Fran comments on how well he's taking it, to which he responds in a slightly raised voice: "What's the matter with you? Can't you see I'm heartbroken?"
  • DCS Foyle and his staff pretty much embody this trope.
  • In Sherlock, a bomb goes off just outside Sherlock and John's home, 221b Baker Street, blowing out the windows of the house, and badly damaging it. John, arriving home, sees the badly damaged street and house, rushes inside, terrified that Sherlock might be hurt, and finds Sherlock and Mycroft calmly sitting amongst the debris, drinking tea and having a conversation.
  • Red Dwarf's Ace Rimmer upon being shot in the chest, looks simply annoyed, stating "This is my best top, damn it!"
  • Lane Pryce of Mad Men is completely imperturbable, even when his dad abuses him.
    • Or when he's beating the crap out of Pete Campbell. It's probably one of the most dignified beatdowns ever shown on TV.
  • Helen Magnus of Sanctuary. In season 3, her helicopter is hit by an EM pulse and takes a nosedive into the ocean. Her response? "Oh, dear."
    • John Druitt displays his own Stiff Upper Lip in "End of Nights, Part 2" when he delivers a stoic pre-battle speech to Nikola Tesla. Tesla angrily replies that he's not British, therefore "that tally-ho crap" doesn't work on him.
  • Lennier in Babylon 5 is sometimes a Minbari version of this
    • Marcus Cole can act a little like this at times, and he is of course British, but his personality isn't as dry as Lennier's.
  • William Adama of the reimagined Battlestar Galactica isn't British, but when his ship is under fire from multiple Cylon basestars and almost certain to go down with all hands his only comment to his crew in the CIC is "It's been an honour".
    • This isn't the only time in the series that Adama says it: in Season 4's "The Oath", he tells Saul Tigh the same thing right before their execution by firing squad.
  • Higgins in both versions of Magnum, P.I.. Especially in the reboot where she does a smashing good job of it (in the original most of the Higgin's badassery is offscreen).

Tabletop RPG

  • There's a GURPS Advantage called Unfazeable that fits this trope exactly.
  • In White Wolf's Adventure! (a homage to the Pulp genre) the Badass Normal class can take a feat called Unshakeable, which is this trope and so much more. Not only are you unfazeable in combat, but you can walk through a swamp without getting your clothes dirty, and you can sip your martini during an earthquake and not spill a drop. You're just that refined.
  • In Forgotten Realms one of the knight orders of Ravens Bluff is the Golden Roosters. They are usually viewed as a stepping stone to other orders for adventurers without titles, though many prefer the Roosters' more relaxed attitude. One of their knightly honors is The Golden Cane; it's given for "refusing to let the danger get in the way of traditions". An example is "having tea in the usual time even if the goblins are preparing to attack".


  • The play No Sex Please, We're British.
  • In the musical Crazy for You, the British tourists, Eugene and Patricia Fodor, sing a song titled Stiff Upper Lip to the depressed residents of Deadrock, imploring them to continue their efforts to save the theater. The Fodors fail, but everyone eventually comes around after the real Bela Zangler takes over the show.

Video Games

  • Colonel Windsor of the Anglo Isles of Battalion Wars 2 is like this (you'd never have guessed from the name, would you?), casually waiting till tea time is over to retaliate against or even react to an bombing run that is going on around him as he eats.
  • Professor Layton seems to have a bit of this going on, given how many things seem to go pear-shaped unexpectedly.
    • But in Unwound Future, this collapses spectacularly -- we see him get angry and weep.
    • At the beginning of Last Spectre, Layton receives a letter from an old acquaintance named Clark who speaks properly of a mysterious giant that has been destroying his village and earnestly seeks the professor's help. The first puzzle of the game is to find the secret message in the letter, found in the initial letters of each line: "HELP SOS". A bit more matter of fact, wouldn't you say?
  • Captain "We run when I bloody say we run!" Price from the Call of Duty series.
  • The chat from the British infantry in Napoleon: Total War is full of this kind of thing.
  • In Sonny, one of the passive abilities for the second game's Hydraulic class is titled "Stiff Upper Lip". This improves health and healing received.
  • Browser-based RPG Echo Bazaar's premise is Victorian London having been dragged down to hell by bats. Devils, clay men and tentacle-faced "Rubbery Men" are commonplace. Most of the population aren't too bothered by the situation.

Web Comics

  • Airman Higgs from Girl Genius. Notable in that while Higgs' origin isn't stated in the comic, a sizable chunk of the fandom decided he must be British or of British descent at the very least. After all, even if he is the hidden Jäger General, there's no reason why only people born in Mechanicsburg could swear fealty to the house Heterodyne.
    • Ardsley Wooster (who is definitely British) usually also counts as this (except for that one time with Gil...).
    • This and this posters. "Tea. It keeps things civilized." The latter also appears as a T-shirt.
    • As a joke, from Trelawney Thorpe. She won't deny killing some scallawags now and then, but — before elevenses? Shocking!
  • Lampshaded in this Dork Tower comic strip.
  • Wrong Hands presents: Victorian emoticons.

Web Original

  • The Flying Cloud: "They were most certainly going to die, but they were Englishmen, so he saw no need to whine about it."

Western Animation

  • An episode of The Simpsons which re-told the story of Joan of Arc had her British enemies sitting on their side of the battlefield, sipping tea.
  • In Star Wars: Clone Wars, Chancellor Palpatine is a Brit (IN SPACE!) who insists on drinking tea in his office while Coruscant is under attack, and whose response to General Grievous' entry is "How dare you barge into my office!" This, of course, was all show; Palpatine had arranged for Grievous to kidnap him.
  • A Droopy cartoon built around fox hunting features an English fox who never loses his composure while being pursued - even sipping tea while running. He breaks character with an excited take for just a moment when Droopy tells him a steak dinner is a reward for a fox - which he shares with all his relatives and Droopy at cartoon's end.

Real Life

"Cardigan survived the battle. Although stories circulated afterwards that he was not actually present, he led the charge from the front and, never looking back, did not see what was happening to the troops behind him. He reached the Russian guns, took part in the fight and then returned alone up the valley without bothering to rally or even find out what had happened to the survivors. He afterwards said all he could think about was his rage against Captain Nolan, who he thought had tried to take over the leadership of the charge from him. After cantering back up the valley he considered he had done all that he could and then, with astonishing sang-froid, left the field and went on board his yacht in Balaclava harbour, where he ate a champagne dinner."

  • Interesting Truth in Television example: Harold Macmillan, later British Prime Minister, was reading poetry while lying wounded in no-man's land during World War I.
    • Ancient oriental-type proverb: 'When chased by a tiger onto a ledge on a cliff above a raging torrent, you notice a bush of wild strawberries. What do you do? You reach out and pick a strawberry. Then you slowly eat it, savouring every moment'.
  • A madman escaped from an asylum and broke into the Duke of Wellington's office. He (the madman) announced that he had to kill the Duke. "Does it have to be right now?" Wellington asked. The madman hesitated, and Wellington told him to come back later.
  • After the Earl of Uxbridge lost his leg at Waterloo the following exchange happened between him and Wellington:

Uxbridge: By God, sir, I've lost my leg!
Wellington: By God, sir, so you have!

    • Uxbridge was then taken to an aid post and had the remains of the smashed limb amputated. His sole comment during the procedure was "The knives appear somewhat blunt."
  • The battle of Trafalgar involved "crossing the T", sailing straight towards the flanks of the French and Spanish line in full view of their broadside, in order to get close enough to break up their formation and bring superior British gunnery skill and firepower to bear at close range in a pell-mell battle. During the approach the wind faltered briefly and the 100 gun HMS Royal Sovereign became motionless in front of the combined Franco-Spanish fleet. Legend has it that as his ship was being fired upon by several enemy ships, Collingwood, the Captain turned to his First Officer and said "Hopefully the fair wind will resume, or this may well take all day." And this is after his already CMOA speech "Now, gentlemen, let us do something today which the world may talk of hereafter." And Lord Nelson's England expects that every man will do his duty message. Wooden Ships and Iron Men indeed!
    • Indeed, a freakish coincidence occurred here - Collingwood, as the Royal Sovereign went into action (and thus, as shrapnel, musket balls, chain and bar shot and cannon fire was whipping around him) said: "What wouldn't Nelson give to be here?" At almost exactly the same moment, Nelson, completely unconcerned with the perilous position of Royal Sovereign said: "See how that noble fellow Collingwood carries his ship into action!"
  • When Finnish national hero Marshal Mannerheim was caught in Russia during the Civil War other officers disguised themselves to avoid being lynched by mutineers. He got himself up in a Czarist uniform dripping with gold lace, hired a relay of batmen to serve his needs and rode the train home daring every Bolshevik in Russia to shoot him. It takes more than the collapse of society to make a man of his station carry his own luggage.
  • Further Real Life (albeit probably apocryphal) example: Sir Francis Drake, upon hearing news of the Spanish Armada approaching to invade England, was playing a game of bowls. He waited to finish his game before taking command of the English fleet. He won (the battle - the score of the game of bowls isn't recorded).
    • This is often explained by his knowing that the tide and wind had to change before his fleet would have the advantage (or even a chance). So he waited, and played bowls to keep calm (and invoke the trope) in the meantime.
      • Actually, the winds and tides made it impossible to set sail anyways, so he just sat there and continued on because he could not do anything if he wanted to.

"There is plenty of time to win this game and thrash the Spaniards too!"

  • Another outstanding Real Life example: When British Airways 747 Flight 9 flew through a cloud of volcanic ash over Indonesia, all four engines failed; the pilot's comment has gone down in the history of understatement:

Captain Moody: Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your Captain speaking. We have a small problem. All four engines have stopped. We are doing our damnedest to get it under control. I trust you are not in too much distress.

    • Amazingly enough, they later restarted and the aircraft landed safely. That is, after several attempts during a crash dive, they restarted three engines, and landed safely despite the cockpit windows having been sandblasted by ash and rendered pretty much opaque.
  • Another incident, this time from the Korean War: a British force was eventually forced to retreat, having received no reinforcements and been reduced to throwing tinned rations at the enemy. The commanding officer's report to his American superiors stated that they were in "A bit of a sticky situation". The Americans, failing to recognise a textbook bit of British Understatement, did not send the necessary support.
    • Well, support was finally sent...after they died practically to the last man.
  • After the British ship HMS Coventry was hit by an Argentinian missile during the Falklands War of 1982 and was sinking, the crew awaiting rescue figured they might as well pass the time and started singing "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life".
  • Averted in the days after the death of Princess Diana. It's like the Brits were holding back all that emotion for so many years and it just burst out like a flood.
    • Maybe...though what also happened was long lines of us Brits patiently queuing to sign the condolence books, and keeping a stiff upper-lip at an almost silent (though very moving) funeral ceremony.
  • Keep Buggering On, Mister Churchill, Keep Buggering On.
  • British culture used to be much more uptight and focused on aesops. It has relaxed a lot in the past 50 years though.
    • Same goes for Germany, which had a very long tradition of stoic discipline. After World War II, this attitude was blamed among other things to let the Nazis get away with their crimes without any meaningful resistance from the German people. When your neighbors got rounded up and taken away never to be seen again, you didn't made a fuss about it but continued going to work and school like a good citizen like everything was as usual. During the 60s there was a great shift and actively showing great concern about things became the new proper way of dealing with problems. Which has become kind of a mixed blessing.
  • The page image and "Keep Calm and Carry On" were both posters used during World War II. With an invasion expected any day, the British did pretty well.
    • The interesting thing about the 'Keep Calm and Carry On' phenomenon is that the poster was never actually used during World War II - yet the phenomenon that's swept Britain in recent years since its rediscovery, with all sorts of merchandise appearing [dead link], points to an enduring British cultural empathy with this trope. It was the third in a series (of which the page image was the first), and while "Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution Will Bring Us Victory" and "Freedom Is In Peril" were produced in the hundreds of thousands and displayed nationwide throughout the war, "Keep Calm And Carry On" was reserved for the aftermath of a successful German invasion (as its message implies) and therefore never deployed beyond a few Government office walls. Unlike its then-famous fellows in the series, it was unheard of at the time and almost all copies were pulped in 1945. But when a second-hand bookshop owner in Northumberland found one among a job lot of books from an auction in 2000, he put it up in his shop and it immediately struck a chord with visitors - so the family started making copies, and the public were enraptured by the quintessential British Understatement quality of it and the rest is, er, the extent that it's spawned its own variety of Memetic Mutation. The point is, of course, this simple phrase and design are so absolutely loaded with Stiff Upper Lip, they would have kept Britain's chins up simply through a few pithy words of quiet reassurance even while living amid the result of a Nazi conquest of the nation. If that's not worthy of this trope, heaven knows what is...
  • After the 7/7 London bombings, the website We're Not Afraid popped up, with thousands of images sent in of various Brits displaying the message in various creative and simple ways. Reinforced by people queueing at the bus stop for the route which had been attacked the very next day. Very 'Keep Calm And Carry On'
    • When the London Bombings occurred, the first reaction of many people, doing simple things like buying ice cream, was to pause of a moment and then calmly ask "So... what ice cream do you want?"
    • Also worth noting that compared to the September 11th attacks, America's response to the high terror alert level was to quickly ground all flights and lock down airports nationwide. In comparison, the British response to the London Bombings and the increased terror alert level, was to rapidly clear the scene of debris, promptly re-open the Station and resume full service at full passenger capacity. In roughly two hours. Keep Calm and Carry On indeed.
    • Noted by comedian Dara Ó Briain:

Dara Ó Briain: Oh my god, there's a bomb on the Piccadilly Line. *beat* Well, I can take the Victoria line.

  • The 80s British prank show Beadle's About once staged an elaborate hoax alien invasion in a woman's back garden. How did she respond to a strange alien figure emerging from the wreckage of a UFO in the middle of her flowerbeds? Naturally, she asked the 'alien' whether it would like a cup of tea.
  • Double subversion in Real Life. A fire bomb went off in a cinema in Liverpool during WWII. Naturally, everyone assumed is was the Germans, and ran to the door. One man stood up and said, "Don't worry, it's only the Irish," who were fighting for independence. Everyone waited for the bomb to fizzle out, and continued watching the film
  • The entire life of Lieutenant Colonel Alfred Daniel Wintle embodied this trope. In his first action in WWI, aged 16, he found himself frozen with fear under heavy machine-gun fire. Not knowing what else to do, he stood up, saluted, and sang the national anthem.
    • In a later action he was helping guide a horse puling a gun when he suffered a near-direct hit from a German shell that destroyed his knee, blew off several of his fingers, and blinded him in one eye. His first words on waking in a military hospital? "Is the horse alright?" (It wasn't).
    • He received the Military Cross for almost-single-handedly capturing a village from the Germans and holding it for several hours until relieved. He later claimed to have no recollection of the action but admitted "It does sound the sort of thing I'd do".
    • While in the hospital he saw a young trooper of his regiment dying of Scarlet Fever. He pushed past the doctors to bellow at the unconscious man "Now look here. It's against Kings Regulations for a Dragoon to die in bed. Now I order you to stop dying AT ONCE! And when you do get up, get your bloody hair cut!". The man went on to make a full recovery and indeed outlived Wintle.
    • In WWII he was arrested for attempting to steal a plane (in order to meet the leader of the French Air Force to arrange their defection to Britain in the event of a surrender, and having been refused the official loan of one despite threatening the Squadron Commander - and himself with his service revolver). The poor NCO assigned to escort him to prison (in the Tower of London no less) somehow managed to lose the arrest warrant. Ordering the NCO to wait for him at the station, Wintle returned to HQ to acquire a new warrant. Finding no more senior officer than himself there, he signed his own arrest warrant.
    • After a short spell in the Tower he was assigned to SOE and dropped behind the lines in France, where he was promptly betrayed by his contact and arrested by the Vichy French. In the French military prison he routinely berated his guards for their slovenly appearance and even went on hunger strike in protest at it, refusing to eat for 9 days until they paraded in their best uniforms. When he eventually escaped, half of the garrison promptly deserted, presumably out of worry of what he would do if he ever came back.
    • In civilian life, as well as always carrying a furled umbrella with a note inside saying "This umbrella stolen from AD Wintle" because while he believed no gentleman would ever leave home without an umbrella, no gentleman would ever actually unfurl one either, he became the only person ever to successfully represent himself in a case before the Law Lords. The case in question, which involved a crooked solicitor, an inheritance, and for which he had spent six months in Prison for ambushing said solicitor and forcing him to remove his trousers, which Wintle flew from his private flagpole is actually now enshrined in precedent in England, to the effect that a solicitor may not be a beneficiary of a will he helped to draw up.
  • Vice Admiral David Beatty was in command of the Royal Navy's battle cruiser squadron at the Battle of Jutland in World War I. During this engagement, his squadron lost two battle cruisers, with his own ship very nearly following due to an ammunition fire below deck. His comment after watching two of his ships catastrophically explode was "There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today".
    • He topped that with his next line: "Steer two points closer to the enemy."
  • Captain Edward Coverley Kennedy was commander of the armed merchant cruiser HMS Rawalpindi, which was essentially a passenger liner armed with guns. Such ships were good at fulfilling auxiliary duties that would otherwise tie up regular warships, but no match for any purpose-built warship larger than a frigate or submarine. On November 23, 1939, the ship accidentally ran into the German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, which at the time were the two most powerful warships in the entire German navy and so dangerous that over the course of the war, the Royal Navy devoted considerable resources to destroy them. Hopelessly outgunned and unable to run away, the good captain rejected offers of surrender and decided to fight.
    • His last wireless dispatch back to the base? "We'll fight them both, they'll sink us, and that will be that. Good bye."
  • This can actually be a very useful trope to induce in real-life, it works, as such, it's a shame it's associated with British Stuffiness and seen as out-dated.
    • On the other hand, it doesn't always provoke the same reaction internationally. The example of the ice cream vendor during the 7/7 attacks given above would be read not as stoicism in North America but as an almost sociopathic indifference to the fate of the victims. "Yawn, who gives a damn about the people who died, they probably got what they deserved, now get on with ordering your ice cream and give me your money!!!"
  • After the riots in 2011, many people's first response was to organize city-wide cleanups on Facebook and Twitter, then wake up at 8am the next day to meet and tidy up the affected areas.
  • Legend has it that during the Battle of Britain, the Richmond Golf Club enacted temporary rules concerning the onslaught. The first of these: "Players are asked to collect Bomb and Shrapnel splinters to save these causing damage to the Mowing Machines."
  • Captain Edward John Smith of the RMS Titanic. Famous mostly for his (now considered apocryphal line "Be British" and for going down with his ship.
  • Queen Elizabeth II, naturally, as an archetypal British person, embodies this trope. In 1982 when an intruder (Michael Fagan) broke into Buckingham Palace, she engaged him in conversation until a maid walked in and said (allegedly) "Bloody hell, ma'am, what's he doing here!?" He was then escorted off the premises. The Queen was unharmed.
  • In 1908-09, Douglas Mawson and Professor Edgeworth David were part of an Antarctic expedition. Mawson was working in the tent one day when the Professor asked if he was busy. Mawson said yes. A few minutes later, Professor David asked again, explaining apologetically, as Mawson quotes him, "I am so sorry to disturb you, Mawson, but I am down a crevasse and I really don't think I can hold on much longer."
    • Later in that expedition, Mawson himself fell down a crevasse[1]. Another fellow looked in and saw Mawson clinging to a ledge about twenty feet down, with plenty more empty space below him. Essayist Evan S. Connell summarized the exchange that followed:

He had fallen twenty feet and if he slipped from the ledge he would never be seen again.
I say, Mawson, are you all right?
Well, the question was logical and the response was clear, so perhaps one shouldn't wonder at it.

  • When Harold Godwinson was approached with a demand from tribute by the King of Norway his response was "six feet of English ground or as he is so tall, perhaps a bit more".
  • By contrast, Alfred the Great lost his nerve a bit. After all he didn't remember to watch the cakes
  • In The Fatal Shore Robert Hughes described an eighteenth century English noble who got drunk and killed his servant. As fortunately even in those times an Englishman did not have some magic excuse from the law simply for having a colorful ancestry he naturally had to pay the penalty. So he did so in style, getting himself up in evening dress and walking to the gallows amid a crowd cheering the awesomeness of it.
  • When the D-Day invasion came, naturally the House of Commons was filled to capacity to hear what Churchill would say about it. But the first items on the agenda were not the invasion-but copious amounts of governmental busywork.
  • Dorothy L. Sayers was once caught in a bomb shelter in World War 2. So she spent her time translating Dante. perhaps not so incongruous at that.
  • Violette Szabo who was a great British war heroine and by the way, a gorgeous hunk by all accounts, was in Paris on a mission for the SOE. While the Germans were eagerly looking for her she finished her mission. On the way out she stopped by a store and bought presents for her daughter. Because, well, what are you supposed to do in Paris anyway?
  • Major Patrick Leigh of the SOE and a mixed party of British and Resistance operatives in World War Two were on a hostile extraction of the German military governor of Crete. They ambushed his car, and knocked out the driver then took it through twenty-two roadblocks on the way to the escape boat beached at a rendezvous. Along the point they passed Mount Ida, the mythical birthplace of Zeus wherein Leigh and the prisoner fell to discussing classical poetry before being evacuated to Egypt.

  1. This doesn't indicate clumsiness or stupidity; crevasses are sometimes "roofed over" and concealed by ice or snow too thin to hold a man's weight: Nature's Trap Door.