Five Great American Things The British Ruined

The exchange of ideas between our two proud nations over the last fifty or so years has been a wondrous thing to behold. Our leaders may talk of the “special relationship” between American and Britain in strictly political terms, but actually it’s the cultural back-and-forth which has really been the most fruitful proof that for all that we are very different peoples, we’re countries of a like mind.

However, it’s not all been plain sailing. So here are five things that the US did first and best, which the UK then attempted to copy, with diminishing returns.

1: Line Dancing

There are a lot of Brits out there who like nothing more than to pop on a cowboy hat and a plaid shirt (although we would probably say checked or tartan) and commence to bootscootin’. And it’s a fine and noble pursuit. But something gets a little lost in translation when your average British provincial accent attempts to wind its way around the act of hollering “yee-HAW!” What works in Tennessee doesn’t necessarily still work in Droitwich, even if it’s essentially the same thing. As any Memphis morris dancer will be only too quick to tell you.

2: Rock ‘N’ Rollers (’50s Division)

You had Elvis: a beautiful-looking man, a fireball of sexual frenzy, and an astonishing singer. We had Cliff Richard: a slightly girlyfaced fella, a clean-living, chaste sort of man, and a medium-quality vocalist. No disrespect to Sir Cliff, but it’s not quite the same thing. Granted, Cliff’s had the better career if you take the long view, but still, had rock ‘n’ roll started in London, it wouldn’t have lasted a year.

NB: 10 years ago UK hip hop would be on this list, but we’re quite good at that now.

3: Burger Bars

When the first Wimpy Bars opened in London, they were a strange mix of olde worlde tea room and plastic immediacy. Instead of ordering at the counter, you’d be served at the table, and your food would arrive on proper crockery too, none of this paper-wrapped nonsense. They served the food you could read about in your comics, but it was somehow different, more wholesome, which is scarcely the point. They were, of course, impossibly exciting for anyone who’d never been over the pond before. But for the lucky few that had, something was decidedly off.

4: Talk Shows

Jerry Springer ended his shows, no matter how sensational the topic under discussion, with a moral, a way to bring everything back to where it was before the shouting and kicking started. Oprah gave away cars and let her sofa be used as a trampoline by Tom Cruise. We’ve got the mean-faced, mean-voiced, mean-minded Jeremy Kyle, who brings out his guests so that he can mock them, belittle them, and then after the cameras go off, kill them and eat them.

OK, not the last two. But you wouldn’t put it past him.

5: Curb Your Enthusiasm

Bit of a specific case, this one. Now we all know that success loves company, that if someone has a good idea for a hit comedy about a grumpy man who keeps getting into embarrassing scrapes, someone else will have a good idea about a grumpy man who keeps getting into embarrassing scrapes too. What’s particularly interesting about Jack Dee’s Lead Balloon, is the fact that, despite the snarky suggestion from some quarters that it’s heavily influenced by Larry David’s mighty Curb, no-one acknowledges the debt both shows owe to our old friend One Foot In The Grave. Just take the audience laughter off Victor Meldrew, put some twiddly mandolin music on and they’re practically the same.

See also: Five Great American Things The British Improved.

Have you experience of something American that the British can’t copy? Tell us here.

Fraser McAlpine

Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 13 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Music.

He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.

Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic

See more posts by Fraser McAlpine