5 Very British Ways Silly British Laws Are Enforced

Britain has a lot to say about nudity — and royal fish
5 Very British Ways Silly British Laws Are Enforced

Britain is a land where nothing makes sense. For example, for years, all pubs had to lock their doors at 11 p.m. The reason was that back during World War I, late drinking meant factory workers might show up at work drunk the next day, and this would hurt the war effort. Strange as it was to continue this regulation right into the 21st century, stranger still was how they enforced it. Doors would lock at 11 p.m., but if you were already in the pub at the time, you could go on drinking, merrily laughing at the less fortunate stuck on the street. 

For more examples of British silliness, consider how...

The Receiver of Wreck Enforces Possession of the Royal Fish

In Britain, some things just belong to the Crown. The King has a claim on every swan, for example. He has an official swan keeper to handle a few representative birds, and he holds a ceremony on the Monday of the third week of each July. To be strictly accurate, there is no longer a swan keeper, as this office was abolished 30 years. Now, the position of swan keeper is held by two people holding two offices — the Marker of the Swans and the Warden of the Swans.

The Crown also has a claim on Royal Fish, which is a category that covers a few specially prized fish. These include whales, porpoises and sturgeon. Yes, we know, whales and porpoises are mammals, not fish. Nonetheless, they are Royal Fish. Royal decree makes them so. Also, not a great many whales find themselves on the actual shores of England, but if any do, the King can personally claim them. 

King Charles III

Mark Jones

For many years, he was the Prince of Whales. 

When a Royal Fish turns up, it falls upon the Receiver of Wreck to administer the catch. The Receiver is in charge of marine salvage, covering items found in shipwrecks and also Royal Fish. In 2004, for instance, a fisherman named Robert Davies landed a massive 350-pound sturgeon. He offered it to the Queen, through the Receiver of Wreck, and Buckingham Palace gave him permission to dispose of it as he saw fit

So, he sold it at auction for $1,100. Then police came and stopped him, saying that he’d still broken the law for selling a protected species, and the fish ended up at a museum instead. Yes, the King lays claim on many items, but when it comes to stealing property, he’s got nothing on the British Museum.  

TV Detector Vans’ Check to Make Sure No One’s Watching TV Without a License

If you watch TV in the U.K., you must pay an annual license fee. The BBC collects the money, hands it over to the government and the government doles a bit of it back to the BBC to fund them. It’s a very strange system. If you think television should be paid for by the people who use it, we already have a system for that: the free market. Premium networks and streaming services can charge subscribers. On the other hand, if you want publicly funded TV, you can just fund that through a general income tax. There’s no need to charge TV viewers specifically. 

Now, suppose you get your hands on a TV in the U.K. and watch it without paying for a license. How would the government even know? Enter the BBC’s TV detector vans. These vans patrol streets and use oscilloscopes and other doodads to see if TV signals are being accessed inside people’s homes. These vans can even see which channel you’re watching. And since more recent laws say you need to pay the licensing fee even if you watch BBC online, they say the vans can tell what website you’re watching by pointing their aerials at your house!

A 1983 Leyland Sherpa television detector van at the Postal Museum, London

Mike Peel

If you have your hands in your pockets while watching, they can see that too. 

As for what technology could possibly facilitate some of those more unlikely feats of surveillance, well, no one has ever explained that. In fact, despite operating for over 70 years, the vans have never once reported anyone for unauthorized TV access. This revelation has led to wide speculation that maybe the vans don’t actually do anything, other than putting the fear of the law into everyone. “A scared populace is an obedient populace,” as the inspirational old slogan goes. 

Laws Specifically Ban Music with Repetitive Beats

In the 1990s, Britain was having a problem with people throwing raves and doing drugs there. Banning drugs wouldn’t solve the problem, as drugs were already illegal. So, the country took the next logical step and banned raves. Police gained the power to remove people from events where the music’s “wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats.” 

This law was Section 63 (1)(b) of the 1994 Criminal Justice Act. Looking at the history of music, you might feel a little surprised that 1994 of all times was a year for cracking down on dance music. Surely either the previous two decades or the following two decades would offer that stuff in a more potent form. But 1994 was when they passed this law, and it’s still in place now, despite years of marches and clashes with the police.

Labrynth rave

Joe Wieczorek

Here’s one such crazy party. The legendary rave promoter is actually the guy on the right.

Police would approach gatherings blaring suspiciously recurring rhythms, but as this was England, a certain level of documented respectability would scare the cops off. One group of chronic partiers set up shop close to Parliament but fended off police raids by employing a man with a few titles to his name. His driver’s license identified him as “Sir” and “the Right Honorable,” and he drove a Rolls-Royce. When police showed up, and he told them to stick their injunction up their arse, the police had to leave, because they knew better then to interfere with the Right Honorable Sir Brian. 

A Team of Beadles Wear Top Hats and Catch People Behaving Boisterously

Burlington Arcade is an outdoor shopping mall that has operated in London for more than 200 years. You might have your own local “old mall” that’s now home to a bunch of rats and ghosts, but it’s surely much newer than Burlington Arcade, which is still going strong. 

When the place first opened, it was patrolled by “beadles,” members of the regiment of Lord George Cavendish, who built the place. Two centuries later, Burlington Arcade is still patrolled by beadles. They call themselves the “oldest and smallest police force” in the world (an impressive but dubious claim). For over a century, they were all recruited from that same regiment, and they’re still ex-military even today, and are decked out in top hats.

Beadles ban singing, humming, hurrying and “behaving boisterously.” They ban whistling, because pickpockets years ago used whistling as a code. And they ban clucking because women above the arcade used to cluck to lure men into brothels. British crackdowns on sex work, by the way, can also get even nuttier than that…

Nude Performers Must Not Move

Live nudity came to London suddenly in the 1930s, in the form of nude revues at a former cinema, now called the Windmill Theatre. Authorities cracked down on this unwholesome frivolity with a very specific law. It would now be illegal for performers to move whilst in a state of nudity.

The dancers quickly adapted to this. Rather than stripping or dancing, one woman would come to the stage already nude but covered by giant fans held by other clothed performers. Then the others would part the fans to reveal her, and she would stay on the stage, totally still. Such performances were known as tableaux vivants. The nude performer could not even sing, as such resulting powerful movements of the chest would count as licentious motion. 

Windmill Theatre

Windmill Theatre

“If it moves, it’s rude,” said the Lord Chamberlain

Of course, authorities had to ensure that the Windmill was properly complying with these rules. They regularly sent a man to observe the show. His name was George Titman. The Lord Chamberlain’s office also instructed the theater to send him photos of the nude poses so he could formally review them. He inspected them in the privacy of his office, and you can make your own conclusions about whether these inspections involved any licentious movement whilst in a state of nudity.

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