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New British citizenship test puts emphasis on history, culture and even humour

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LONDON - What does it mean to be British? Monarchs, Margaret Thatcher and Monty Python are all important parts of the nation's heritage, according to a new guide for immigrants introduced Monday.

The government is revising the "Life in the U.K." handbook and test taken by those seeking to become British citizens or settle here permanently.

While the previous version — created under the former Labour government — included some practical questions about daily life, the emphasis is now firmly on British history and culture. There are questions on sports, music and historical figures from William Shakespeare to Winston Churchill.

The Conservative-led government says the new handbook also features "an exploration of Britons' unique sense of humour and satire," alongside an explanation of aspects of cultural life including the national love of gardening, the novels of Jane Austen and the musicals of Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Immigration Minister Mark Harper said the book "focuses on values and principles at the heart of being British." But Don Flynn, director of the Migrants' Rights Network, likened it to a private school entry exam, "which requires complete identification with elite views of British history and culture."

The handbook asks migrants to learn a potted history of Britain from the Stone Age to the present day. Among its facts:

—Britain has been an island nation for some 10,000 years, since the last ice age ended and left a watery English Channel between England and the European mainland.

—Despite its name, the Hundred Years War against France lasted 116 years.

—King Henry VIII "was most famous for breaking away from the Church of Rome and marrying six times."

—No monarch has set foot in the House of Commons since 1642, when Charles I tried unsuccessfully to arrest five lawmakers. After a civil war, he was beheaded.

—Britain's first coffee house was the Hindoostane Coffee House in London, opened by Bengal-born Sake Dean Mahomet in 1810.

—The greatest Briton of all time, according to a 2002 public vote, was Churchill, the prime minister who led the country to victory in World War II.

—"Two well-known pop music groups" of the 1960s were The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

—British inventions of the 20th century include television, radar, the cash-dispensing bank machine and the World Wide Web.

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Sample questions from the U.K. citizenship test: http://bit.ly/SMjbfb

Jill Lawless can be reached at http://Twitter.com/JillLawless

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