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The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (also known as the United Kingdom, the U.K., or Britain) is a country to the north-west of mainland Europe. It comprises the island of Great Britain, the north-east part of the island of Ireland and many small local islands. Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK with a land border, sharing it with the Republic of Ireland. Apart from this land border, the UK is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, the North Sea, the English Channel and the Irish Sea. Great Britain, its largest island is linked to France by the Channel Tunnel.

The United Kingdom is a parliamentary democracy and a constitutional monarchy comprising four constituent countries - England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales - with Elizabeth II as head of state. The Crown Dependencies of the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, formally possessions of the Crown, are not part of the UK but form a federacy with it. The UK has fourteen overseas territories, all remnants of the British Empire, which at its height encompassed almost a quarter of the world's land surface. It is a developed country, with the fifth-largest economy in the world.

The United Kingdom has been influential in the development of cinema, with the Ealing Studios claiming to be the oldest studios in the world. Despite a history of important and successful productions, the industry is characterised by an ongoing debate about its identity, and the influences of American and European cinema. Famous films include the Harry Potter and Ian Fleming's James Bond series which, although now made by American studios, used British source materials, locations, actors and filming crew.

The countries that make up the United Kingdom have provided some of the world's most notable and popular authors, poets and literary figures. The English playwright and poet William Shakespeare is widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language.

In the history of the novel England is particularly well represented. Early English writers included Geoffrey Chaucer, Thomas Malory and Geoffrey of Monmouth. In the 18th century, Samuel Richardson (often credited with inventing the modern novel), and subsequently Henry Fielding, Laurence Sterne and Jane Austen all innovated in the novel form, followed by Thackeray, the Brontė sisters, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, and Anthony Trollope. In the twentieth century, H. G. Wells, D. H. Lawrence, the Modernists Virginia Woolf and Henry Green, E. M. Forster, George Orwell and Graham Greene were prominent. More recently, Ian McEwan, Martin Amis, Alan Hollinghurst, Ben Okri, Will Self, Monica Ali, and Zadie Smith were among those gaining recognition, while children's author J. K. Rowling has seen immense popularity, recalling that of J.R.R. Tolkien.

Scotland has also contributed many notable writers to the UK's literary tradition with writers including Arthur Conan Doyle, Kenneth Grahame and Lewis Grassic Gibbon and has a particularly strong heritage in poetry.

In Romantic literature, Scotland saw Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson's epic adventures and one of the world's most celebrated poets , Robert Burns. Modern Scottish writers like Hugh MacDiarmid and Neil M. Gunn helped develop a distinct modernist and nationalist Scottish voice, sometimes termed the Scottish Renaissance. A more grim outlook is found in Ian Rankin's stories and the psychological horror-comedy of Iain Banks. Other notable authors from Scotland include Muriel Spark, Alasdair Gray, Alan Warner, and Irvine Welsh.

Scotland is also home to UNESCO's first worldwide city of literature - Edinburgh.

Classical music: Notable composers from the United Kingdom have included William Byrd, Henry Purcell, Sir Edward Elgar, Sir Arthur Sullivan (most famous for working with librettist Sir W. S. Gilbert), Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Benjamin Britten, pioneer of modern British opera. London remains one of the major classical music capitals of the world.

Popular music: Prominent among the UK contibutors to the development of rock music in the 1960s were The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Heavy metal, hard rock, punk rock and New Wave were among the variations that followed. In the early 1980s UK bands from the New Romantic scene were prominent. In the 1990s, Britpop bands and electronica music also attained international success. More recent pop acts, including Take That, McFly and the Spice Girls, have ensured the continuation of the UK's contribution to popular music.

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