Segments in this Video

Limitless Adventure in the Colonies (02:27)


As the British spread their passion for sport across the Empire, a new hero emerged—that of an explorer aspiring to glory and adhering to the rules of fair play. (Credits)

Early Pioneers of Empire (02:41)

East Africa attracted Victorian adventurers obsessed with claiming new territory. In 1857, Richard Francis Burton and John Hanning Speke arrived from England with the goal of locating the Nile River's origin.

Discovering Lake Victoria (03:01)

19th century British explorers Burton and Speke traveled through 1500 miles of swamp, desert and jungle in East Africa, battling disease and wild animals. In 1858, Burton fell ill with malaria and Speke went on alone to find what he believed was the Nile River's source.

"King Solomon's Mines" (03:48)

Colonial explorers like Richard Francis Burton and John Speke helped create the image of the classic British hero: an explorer searching for knowledge rather than wealth. Sir H. Rider Haggard's popular 1885 novel whet the British public's appetite for adventure and pushed the boundaries of Victorian English propriety.

A Decent Chap (02:10)

Victorian novelist Sir H. Rider Haggard's explorer heroes were athletic, unpretentious, honest and self-reliant—yet ready to follow orders. These values were promoted in British public schools who groomed the Empire's governing class.

Shaping Imperial Character (02:47)

Victorian British public schools taught young men a curriculum heavy in classics. Headmasters used ancient Roman model to create enlightened Christian gentlemen who would spread civilization throughout the colonies.

British Fair Play Ideology (01:24)

Victorian public schools practiced two religions: Christianity and sport. Values of physical courage and team spirit expressed in organized games reflected the values of Empire.

"Vitaï Lampada" (01:59)

The British used sport values of courage and team spirit to build the Empire. Jeremy Paxton recites a verse from Henry Newbolt's famous poem comparing a game of cricket to fighting hostile natives in Africa—inspired by a colonial battle in Sudan.

Siege of Khartoum (03:50)

When Sudan's capital was surrounded by Islamic warriors in 1884, British General and fervent Christian Charles Gordon disobeyed government orders to evacuate, determined defend the Empire at any cost. Public pressure resulted in reinforcements—but it was too late.

An Imperial Tragedy (03:35)

Sudanese Muslim warriors attacked Khartoum after a year-long siege, beheading Gordon and claiming their territory from the British. Jeremy Paxton interviews the Madhi's great grandson, who sees the two heroes as having similar ideological motivations—but Gordon was wrong to impose foreign rule.

Sanctifying the Empire (01:24)

Major-General Gordon's martyrdom while defending Khartoum from the Sudanese justified British rule over foreign lands. The attitude is captured in George W. Joy’s painting "Gordon's Last Stand," where the hero defiantly stares down his attackers.

British Offensive in Sudan (03:29)

After the Siege of Khartoum, General Kitchener marched across the desert from Egypt in 1897, laying a railway to transport arms and troops. Rudyard Kipling wrote of fearless Sudanese warriors who whirled in religious dances—displaying a team spirit similar to that of the colonial English.

Battle of Omdurman (02:31)

Superior British weaponry allowed the Empire to win wars against traditionally equipped natives. General Kitchener used machine guns during the Sudan offensive, mowing down 10,000 dervish warriors in a matter of hours.

Fearless Idealism Wins (02:09)

After capturing Sudan, General Kitchner was awarded his enemy's skull—but Queen Victoria thought the war trophy wasn’t fair play. Although Gordon failed to defend Khartoum, he became a British hero instead of Kitchner, following in the footsteps of imperialists Captain Cook and Sir John Franklin who died "playing the game."

Targeting Armchair Adventurers (02:13)

Tales of imperial heroism inspired the British public into the 20th century. Authors portrayed explorers facing hostile natives and bringing civilization to exotic lands.

Civilizing through Sport (04:26)

The British spread their passion for games such as rugby, cricket and tennis throughout the colonies. Jeremy Paxton visits Hong Kong's race track, a remnant of the Empire. He wins the equivalent of three pounds.

Imperial Racism (02:30)

Sport was supposed to bind colonial subjects to their British masters, but the spirit of fair play would clash with the Empire's interests. The British introduced cricket to Jamaica in the 1830s, where it became a symbol of oppression.

Fair Play Undermines Imperial Rule (03:21)

Jeremy Paxton visits the Kingston Cricket Club. In 1960 Frank Worrell became the first black player to captain the West Indies team, defeating the British. Cricketer Maurice Foster recalls the event as a turning point in colonial relations; in 1962, Jamaica became the first Caribbean island to gain independence.

"Ripping Yarns" (03:30)

As the British Empire crumbled, 1960s popular attitudes made fun of it's symbols and values. Jeremy Paxman interviews the comedy co-writer Michael Palin about portraying the absurdity of colonial rule. "It was a rich vein," says Palin.

Boy Scouts: An Imperial Relic (04:01)

Robert Baden-Powell founded the club in 1907 to enlist ordinary youth to serve the empire. The movement has since developed into an international organization, but it still fosters the "fair play" values of self-reliance and team spirit.

Credits: Playing the Game: Empire—A British Chronicle (00:41)

Credits: Playing the Game: Empire—A British Chronicle

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Playing the Game: Empire—A British Chronicle

Part of the Series : Empire: A British Chronicle
DVD (Chaptered) Price: $169.95
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3-Year Streaming Price: $169.95



Guns and bombs may be the chief weapons of imperialism, but never underestimate the power of leisure; a kingdom’s worth nothing without it! This program measures the global rise of British rule by tracing the growth of a particularly British type of hero—adventurer, gentleman, amateur sportsman, and decent chap—as well as a decidedly British type of obsession: sport, the empire at play. Viewers are taken to East Africa in the footsteps of Victorian explorers in search of the source of the Nile; to Khartoum, to tell the story of General Gordon, a half-crazed visionary who “played the game” to the hilt; to Hong Kong, where the British indulged their passion for horse racing by building a spectacular race course; and to Jamaica, where the greatest imperial game of all—cricket—became a battleground for racial equality. Produced by the Open University. A part of the series Empire: A British Chronicle. (58 minutes)

Length: 59 minutes

Item#: BVL51983

ISBN: 978-0-81608-776-1

Copyright date: ©2012

Closed Captioned

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