The American media often presents people from England to be overly stuffy and conservative, 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 set in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, when stoicism and reserve were enforced as honourable virtues by the posh boarding schools which had just become popular among the country's elite. Society had come to perceive the upcoming generations as being too mollycoddled a result of the Edwardian and Victorian love of children and domesticity, and a culture of doting fatherhood. Thus, boarding schools were made as disciplinarian and emotionless as possible to desensitize boys and test them whether they are worthy of inheriting and perpetuating The Empire. Another, though, has to be the result of the cultural divide that has occurred since The American Revolution.
Americans, as a part of an extroverted culture of freedom of expression, are actively encouraged to express to the point that the lack of active emotional content in one's speech and mannerisms is considered quite bizarre or even psychologically dysfunctional. Thus, the more reserved and introverted culture of the British can make its people come off as acting 'fearful' or just plain robotic to Americans, who are used to their own more hammy culture. Likewise, to Brits —especially older Brits— the typical American emotional response is needlessly exaggerated at best and offensively shameless at worst.
Of course, one need only watch modern British television, with its abundance of emotion and ham, to see this trope averted. Not only averted, but in many cases, inverted. However, rationality in the face of adversityis a British virtue. 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 that 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 there's something of a continuum of National Stereotypes involved with this trope. Americans themselves may be portrayed as the stuffy ones when contrasted with anyone from the Mediterranean or the Middle East. For the British, the "comically uptight" stereotype often goes to the Germans, and once upon a time to the Japanese.
open/close all folders
In an advert for the Aiwa Mini System shown in New Zealand in 1995, some rock music is played so loud that it travels halfway round the globe... and prompts a disgruntled English gent to remark, "Ahem! Could whoever it is over there in New Zealand, with the Aiwa Mini System, please turn it down a bit? Thank you."
A commercial for Red Robin features an American couple trying to get a rise out of a stone-faced British Royal Guard.
In a meta-example, the most complained about adverts on US TV have all either been grossly misleading and/or offensive. The most complained about advert on British TV was one for Kentucky Fried Chicken, which featured people talking with their mouths full. Bloody Americans, coming over here, polluting British children with their mouth-full-talking ways!
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 bitirritable. 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 (apparently), and he sounds much "stuffier'' there.
Carla in the dub of Fairy Tail has a light accent, reflecting her initial personality.
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.
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 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.
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 embarrassed".
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.
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 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.
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 Girls 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.
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." This is likely because the accents of the Anglophonic nations (Australia, New Zealand, Canada, USA) sound more English the more upper-class a character is. All "posh accents" of the Anglosphere sound more similar to original English RP.
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.
Horrible Histories frequently plays this for laughs, although the show's goofy energy, as far from stuffy as possible, always shines through.
Lane Pryce, and just about every other British character on Mad Men - with the exception of Jaguar representative Edwin. Lane tries to approach his fellow ex-pat as a kindred spirit, but fails. It turns out he's just as debauched as Roger or Pete, and his idea of a fun night involves visiting a brothel. This backfires spectacularly when Edwin's wife finds out and Lane is the first to hear of the deal being called off.
Roger: Why would he say anything?!
Lane: BECAUSE HE WAS CAUGHT WITH CHEWING GUM ON HIS PUBIS!
Star Trek: Enterprise had tactical officer Malcolm Reed, who was noticeably more reserved than his mostly American crew mates. The contrast was particularly noticeable when he became good friends with the very emotive Trip Tucker.
Doc Martin: Martin, is almost a caricature of the emotionally repressed Brit. From his stiff as a board posture, to his constant inability to handle emotions (well, postive emotions anyway, he has a better handle on the negative ones).
Death in Paradise has Detective Inspector Richard Poole, who sticks out like a sore thumb amongst the residents of fictional Caribbean island Saint Marie. He is even considered stuffy by the vast majority of the other British characters, who downplay, subvert or even avert this trope more often than they play it straight.
In Anne Of The Thousand Days, the French-educated Anne looks down upon Englishmen as barbaric, lacking in culture, and too secretive on the subject of sex.
Mostly averted, especially in beat 'em ups, where the British female characters, including Cammy from Street Fighter, Ivy from the SoulCalibur 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 spent 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: Snake Eater, 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 Cloud Cuckoo Lander. The last part's probably based on the other stereotype of the British sense of humour.
Played quite straight in Scandinavia and the World with its ownMoe Anthropomorphism for England. The problem is, this is also his attitude to his kids, which is pretty much the reason they're so screwed up (America being the boisterous rebel, Canada being the intelligent yet weak "favourite" of sons, Australia the wacky problem child and New Zealand a sheep).
"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."
During a Let's Play of the adventure game Normality, Gabriel got him to crack up by simply singing a fake Will.i.am lyric.
Yahtzee: It's my oppressive British upbringing. Gabriel: All this intellect, all this analysis, all this critique, brought to its knees by "boobie boobie bum bum." He's literally crying!
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 and just slapped on an accent for better effect.
"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 "Dapper Crackhead" from 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!"