BBC, Warner Bros., Chris Jackson - WPA Pool/Getty Images, Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP
BBC, Warner Bros., Chris Jackson - WPA Pool/Getty Images, Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP
Was it Beatlemania? The unflappable suavity of James Bond? The mystique of Princess Diana? Did Downton Abbey meld upstairs and downstairs in your mind forever? Are you among the millions who wish the wizarding world of Harry Potter was real?
When you pick a direction to go in, is it One Direction? Or maybe your all-time favorite Englishman is William Shakespeare.
Whatever the decade in which you boarded the HMS Anglophile, there's no question that Americans have harbored a long-running fascination with all things British, from the royal family to the music to the tea.
And though the unrequited love affair has waxed and waned here and there since the days of Pax Victoriana, recent turns of events in history, on TV, on stage, on the page and beyond have our obsession running at full throttle once again.
Simon James/GC Images
We don't exactly need Sherlock Holmes on the case to understand the surface appeal: The smart accents. The fashion that isn't just on point, it is the point. The game-changing music. Tennis played on grass. A cuppa with milk. The fact that there's a queen who lives in a palace. And more recently, a boy who lived in a cupboard under the stairs.
Basically, British stuff is the reason the word "delightful" exists. Lord knows why, exactly (that's the reason the word je ne sais quois exists). But it certainly does seem that, despite the United States' origin as a burgeoning nation desperate to get out from under England's thumb, our culture has happily embraced its fingerprints for well over a hundred years.
And yes, it all dates back to the royals.
W & D Downey/Getty Images
Queen Victoria's historic reign—which just made it to the turn of the 20th century—was the fashionable era that really inspired trends across the Atlantic, presumably because it was easier to cross the Atlantic than ever before.
It was during the Victorian era when it first became de rigueur to wear black when in mourning, Charles Dickens novels were all the rage and the Hatter was going Mad. And you know that whole Steampunk trend? Those hipsters are channeling England circa 1860.
It's also not a coincidence that the first known use of the word Anglophilia dates to 1896 (Francophilia beat it into the lexicon by just nine years).
Ever since, British cultural invasions have always been the most welcome kind of invasion, whether it was Vivian Leigh and Alfred Hitchcock in the 1930s and 1940s; Elizabeth Taylor in the 1950s; the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and James Bond in the 1960s; or The Clash in the 1970s. And throughout, Americans have admired Queen Elizabeth II, who made her first state visit here as queen in 1957, traveling to New York and Washington, D.C., and just enjoyed the official celebration of her 90th birthday in the U.K. earlier this month.
Serge Lemoine/Getty Images
But without a doubt it was the ascent of Lady Diana Spencer from nobility to royalty on July 29, 1981, when she married Prince Charles, that created an all new kind of international fixation on Britain's most famous family. Fans were obsessed with her beauty, her clothes, her poise, her two sons and, in her later years, any hint of a scandal. The fascination didn't cease by any means after her death in a car crash in 1997 when she was only 36, making her a tragic figure for the ages.
"Diana had a massive impact on the world, but I think both the U.S. and U.K. were probably her biggest fans," says Seamus Lyte, an international talent and brand agent based in London, noting how Diana's presence caused an increase in tourism and put her go-to designers such as Bruce Oldfield, Catherine Walker and David Emanuel on the map.
And when Diana and Charles divorced, and she was engulfed in scandal, it was Americans who were less critical of the princess.
"They were not blind to the stories of royal rifts and marriage breakdowns; in fact the international press carried royal stories when the U.K. [media] were not allowed to," Lyte tells E! News. "However, the difference is that the U.S. accept the flaws and challenges in others, and are the best cheerleaders of someone who is seen going through adversity to overcome challenges more than any other country I know."
Tim Gragam/Corbis/Chris Jackson/Getty Images
It's fair to say that nothing touched the level of interest in Princess Diana—until Kate Middleton came along. Millions watched on TV as Prince William married his longtime love on April 29, 2011, just as they watched William's parents marry 30 years prior, and they've been watching the Duchess of Cambridge's every stylish move since.
"I believe that both the U.S. and U.K. were still missing the gigantic hole that Diana left when she sadly died. The British and Americans were so fond of William and Harry that we welcomed the beautiful young Catherine with open arms," Lyte says. "We could see a true love story unfold and we all wanted William to have happiness. Their wedding in 2011 proved this a billion times over!"
Meanwhile, with the royal goings-on being our favorite reality show, American audiences have also been gobbling up every other form of British-born entertainment as fast as Britain can make it.
And now, thanks to online streaming, there's more than ever before available for the binge-watching and we can increasingly watch when the original premieres, rather than have to wait for it to get to BBC America or PBS (though our eternal thanks go out to public broadcasting for Sherlock, Downton Abbey, Vicious, Call the Midwife, Inspector Lewis, Endeavor,Mr. Selfridge... we could go on).
BBC, PBS, Toby Melville - WPA Pool/Getty Images, Universal Studios
Along with William, Harry and Kate, Lyte counts David and Victoria Beckham, Simon Cowell and Downton Abbey among the most important pop culture exports of the past 10 years, though forming anything close to a complete list is an impossible task.
You don't have to love British mysteries to have been swept away by J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, or be a Simon Cowell fan to have enjoyed Maggie Smith's acerbity on Downton (though the Dowager Countess and Cowell would probably get along). You don't have to watch any TV to be charmed by Prince Harry.
There's just so much, and just as how the English language is packed with words that have their origins in other tongues, so too has American culture become inextricably linked with the British.
Is there going to be a point where it becomes our culture too? (Aside from when Renée Zellweger seamlessly slipped into the role of one of the U.K.'s most beloved book heroines.) U.K. audiences in turn have appreciated plenty of our exports as well, Elvis Presley having almost as many record sales there as The Beatles. And be it Friends or Breaking Bad (initial cancellation notwithstanding), American TV has always gotten there eventually. They even made a Law & Order: U.K.!
So as the lines continue to blur among the ways we consume TV, films, music, literature and social companionship, will the interpretation of cultural ownership also change?
BBC, David Becker/Getty Images, Fox Searchlight, Miramax Films
Either way, we're certainly happy to borrow in the meantime. (And adapt, though not every U.K. hit has translated. House of Cards, yes, but Gracepoint was an embarrassing version of Broadchurch, despite David Tenant starring in both. And for every ocean-crossing success story like Top Gear there's a Coupling. Remember that adaptation of the beloved British series on NBC? Exactly.)
But thanks to the Internet, we can go straight to the source.
Lyte believes that escapism plays a large role in the global popularity of series such as Downton—and we'd have to agree, that even crime seems more romantic when it's committed in Oxford or Grantchester or solved at 221B Baker Street.
"With the drama series, such as Downton, I think people love to see how it was, and to disappear into another, seemingly less stressful time," Lyte says. "It's a mini break from all our normal lives and pressures. We all want what we do not have. These TV shows allow us to live it for a brief moment."
Well, what we want is an Acorn account.
"British television has now never been bigger," Lyte acknowledges, thanks to online streaming services. "With the help of Amazon, Netflix and Hulu, viewers can watch whatever they like whenever they like, and with the new Hayu app the appetite for continuous episodes and content may finally be satisfied." (If 3,000 episodes of reality TV ranging from Keeping Up With the Kardashians to Britain's Made in Chelsea to Top Chef available on Hayu don't make you full for at least a little while... We're not quite sure what will.)
"I think it can safely be said in Hollywood that the Brits are here," Lyte continues, name-checking Hugh Laurie, Dominic West, Damian Lewis, Tom Hiddleston and Michelle Dockery as a few among many Brits who've ruled in American television and movies (Dockery's working on the upcoming TNT thriller Good Behavior).
Lyte also predicts an exciting new U.S. chapter for U.K. TV and radio presenter Jameela Jamil, who co-stars with Ted Danson and Kristen Bell in the upcoming NBC comedy The Good Place.
Rich Polk/Getty Images for Karen Millen
Of course, not all the good shows started in the U.K.—they like some of our ideas as well.
"I think [American] audiences will love David Emanuel, TLC's host for the first 40 episodes of the U.K. version of Say Yes to the Dress," Lyte predicts of the upcoming adaptation of the addictive American series. Emanuel, a Welsh designer who's had a 30-plus-year relationship with the royals, made Princess Diana's wedding gown, as well as designed for the likes of Madonna, Jane Seymour, Joan Collins and Elizabeth Taylor.
We're guessing Emanuel has some stories—and better yet, some opinions.
And so the interest in what the British are making—be it more Sherlock, a Harry Potter play or a royal baby—has never been higher.
In some circles, recommending a TV show as merely being British couldn't be a more ringing endorsement, and our Instagram follow lists are only getting longer every time we discover some new London shop or All Things British account. At some point we may admit that not everything we're getting from Britain is the absolute best, considering there is no such thing as a culture that doesn't produce plenty of rubbish as well.
But far more often it makes for a brilliant binge.