When Chariots of Fire screenwriter Colin Welland won his Oscar in 1981, his acceptance speech began with him somewhat obnoxiously and ungraciously proclaiming: “The British are coming!”
Unlike Paul Revere, this wasn’t intended as a dire warning to fellow Americans, but was rather a British boast about perceived creative superiority over the transatlantic cousins.
Ultimately, the renaissance of British cinema that Welland envisaged did not materialize, but though that particular “British invasion” did not in the end occur, the US has since . . . oh, let’s say since 1812 . . . endured a number of British invasions: from Dickens’s arrival in Boston in 1842, to Oscar Wilde’s statement to a US customs officer that he had nothing to declare but his genius (which I would certainly not advise anyone that they should try to use that line in JFK), to the Beatles’ first performance on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 (considered the beginning of the British Invasion in music).
If David Carr’s recent column in the New York Times, entitled “British Invasion Reshuffles U.S. Media,” is correct, then we may be in the grip of another one. The genesis for this piece has been John Oliver‘s recent, perfectly competent portrayal of a bamboozled substitute teacher on The Daily Show.
Carr’s contention is that at the moment “everywhere you look in the United States media landscape, you find people from [Britain]”:
Piers Morgan came from Britain to take over for Larry King, the Wall Street Journal is edited by Gerard Baker, a British newspaper veteran, and the chief executive of the New York Times is Mark Thompson, who spent his career at the BBC. Anna Wintour has edited Vogue for more than two decades and, more recently, Joanna Coles took over Cosmopolitan, which defines a certain version of American womanhood.
NBC News recently looked to the mother country for leadership and found Deborah Turness, the former editor of Britain’s ITV News. ABC’s entertainment group is headed by Paul Lee, also formerly of the BBC, and Colin Myler, a Fleet Street alum, edits the New York Daily News.
The list goes on, but the point is made: when it comes to choosing someone to steer prominent American media properties, the answer is often delivered in a proper British accent.
But, as the title of this post asks, the British better at being international creatives than their American counterparts? Are we more fearless?
The examples that Carr puts forward are compelling, even if we may have to suspend our imagination and hope our stomachs do not turn too much in allowing Piers Morgan to be considered a “creative.”
However, I am unconvinced in a post-Leveson world that there is inherently anything better or more attractive about British media operators when set alongside their American counterparts.
Of course, that does not alter that it is inarguable that New York media finds itself with a number of prominent Brits.
Carr hits on one of the main reasons for this — London:
“Los Angeles, New York and Washington all have their domains, while in Britain, there is only London, a place where entertainment, politics and news media all live in the same petri dish.”
In an increasingly international world, a world in which the super elite can be found in a select number of super cities, it is only to be expected that large New York media empires would be selecting from a fairly small pool. They’ll look to New York and London — the two major English-speaking super cities.
It is perhaps a complete misconception that for the purposes of this question we think in terms of America and Britain, as if to make out an otherness between each party, when they share status as super city elites.
The true “other” would be the newspaper man from Minnesota or the TV station manager from Louisville. I know from my own anecdotal experience of MBA grads from top US business schools that the majority that I know are in New York or London. This is just the new normal — it is hardly surprising that it is reflected in New York’s media executives.
It is also noticeable to anyone who has spent any time in the UK that while a struggling, gasping industry, print media is more alive in the UK at present than it is in the US.
The result of this is that they are a large number of British candidates that would be attractive to US companies in the position to headhunt a new executive.
A final factor is the attraction of “success” in the US for Brits. I don’t say this lightly, but take a look at Piers Morgan’s twitter account . . . I know, I know . . . awful, isn’t it? However, a quick look through a random selection of Morgan’s twitter will soon reveal a man who enjoys boasting — or if I’m being more generous, teasing — other British celebrities who have no profile in the US.
Success in the US seems greater, somehow. There is a pull there that is irresistible. There is romance to it. “If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere.” What do all the many American CEOs heading boardrooms in London get to sing to themselves?
STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, an interview with our featured author of the month, Rosie Whitehouse.
If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!