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Region man's Anglophilia has resulted in international audience, books
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Region man's Anglophilia has resulted in international audience, books

Jonathan Thomas says he can't explain it.

He was born in Ogden Dunes, lived in Chicago and Valparaiso and now resides in LaPorte. But since the age of 8, the Northwest Indiana native has had a passionate obsession with Great Britain and all things British.

Thomas and his wife Jackie, a Dyer native, founded the websites Anglotopia.net and Londontopia.net that celebrate culture, history, television and travel in the United Kingdom and London, specifically. Last month's coverage of the royal funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh generated record web traffic.

Thomas just regrets the pandemic and travel restrictions didn't allow him to cover it in person himself, as he's done with other major British events, such as the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in 2018.

"I was in Windsor with the Foreign Press Association right across the street," he said. "I saw them with my own eyes during their carriage ride. It was incredible. Britain does these things really well, with every aspect planned to go smoothly, down to the minutest detail. The atmosphere was electric. It was such a positive thing to see young love in a wedding. It was so happy and celebratory." 

He's visited Great Britain around 20 times, and originally founded the Anglotopia.net website in 2007 so they would be able to go on a trip there.

Anglotopia.net recently boosted its news coverage of Britain by signing a deal with the Press Association to carry more syndicated coverage that Thomas curates for his audience, keeping it positive and free of politics. He's also penned the books "Adventures in Anglotopia: The Makings of an Anglophile," "Great Britons: 50 Greatest Brits Who Ever Lived," "101 London Travel Tips Guidebook," and "101 Budget Britain Travel Tips."

Thomas also is working on more travel guides and a memoir of driving across the country on a 1,000-mile trip from the southernmost point to the northernmost point. The next book will be the "101 Cotswolds Travel Tips Guidebook."

"A pivot we made in the past couple years was to start publishing books," he said. "We've accumulated so much travel experience we can put into the 101 tips guidebooks. And we've got 10,000 articles on our website. That's a lot of evergreen content we can compile into books. I always want to be a proper writer and we have a built-in audience to sell books to."

Thomas first went to Great Britain with his mom as a high school graduation present in 2001. He's since traveled all over the country, savoring Sunday roasts at pubs, accruing memorable experiences like seeing a black lab wandering around a pub in the middle of nowhere only to discover the dark reason why it was there.

"Back home, pets don't come into restaurants," he said. "It seemed so cute and friendly but it turned out it had been caught murdering some local chickens and was hanging out there so they could watch it until its owner came back. So the dog we thought was lovely and friendly was really a murderer dog."

He's turned his extensive travels across the pond into articles and books filled with tips of where to go, what to see and how to save money.

"It's very expensive to travel there," he said. "There's also a culture shock. While they speak English, it's a completely foreign country to anything we know. I share how to make the most of your trip, such as how to ride Britain's rail network, our favorite places to stay, free things to do, the best places to buy souvenirs and how to ride the tube."

Anglotopia.net has readers all over the world, with about 70% from America and a large contingent from the United Kingdom.

"It appeals to anyone with an interest in British culture," he said. "Our most popular web post is the top 100 British slang words. Anything with language does well. Back when 'Downton Abbey' was on, that was huge. 'Dr. Who' has always been really popular. We follow a lot of bloggy trends with content and do a lot of lists. We do a bit longer-form articles for cultural and historical subjects, but now I'm trying to save a lot of the good long material for the books I'm writing."

The website strives to contextualize English culture for Americans, such as by explaining the history or the background of a topic.

"When it comes down to it, we have a lot of shared cultural heritage," Thomas said. "A large majority of Americans have English, Scottish or Welsh heritage and America is sort of a continuation of English constitutional history. Britain's kings were our kings. A lot of our traditions are based on their traditions."

The most avid readers of the site are typically Anglophiles who love British culture.

"I'd say British TV is usually the gateway drug," he said. "People like British comedy or historical drama. It's often on PBS. Everybody gets PBS and there's always something from Britain on."

While Thomas doesn't know how his love for England came about, his earliest memories include loving the British movie "Empire of the Sun" when he was it at Willowcreek Middle School in Portage and "Mr. Bean" when he discovered it on PBS.

Some of his all-time favorite British shows and films include "Mr. Bean," "Dr. Who," "Peep Show," "Downton Abbey," "Remains of the Day" and "Master and Commander."

"In Britain, you have the BBC, which is entirely publicly funded because entertainment is seen as a public service," he said. "People want to see costume dramas, which are very popular in Britain. The British have more of a knowledge of their own history and reverence for it. They like to see dramas. They focus on quality and hire great talent. And they often produce fewer episodes, putting quality over quantity. Of course, it's only the good stuff that makes its way over here."

The proliferation of streaming services has exposed more people to British shows, which has helped lead people to Anglotopia.net.

"In recent years Facebook and social media have stolen some of our traffic, so I had to get a proper job for the first time in a decade," he said. "We just hope it will continue to supplement our income to pay for our travels." 

He's also hoping to return to the United Kingdom as soon as this autumn when they plan to reconnect with favorite places after being unable to travel there during the COVID-19 pandemic. While he's been all over the country, he hopes to explore more of Wales and spend more time in Yorkshire on future visits. 

"We're planning a trip but don't know exactly when because there are so many factors that affect travel between the United States," he said. "We haven't been for three years. This is our biggest gap between trips."

Thanks to the website, Thomas is literally living out his dream.

When he was in high school, he bought a photo of Gold Hill, a steep cobbled street in the town of Shaftesbury in Dorset county with a street scene that's been called "one of the most romantic sights in England."

"It's a beautiful English village that I hung on my wall," he said. "During the misery that is high school I knew that no matter how bad things got I would be able to go to that place. We visited, and it was exactly as beautiful and lovely as it seemed. It's kind of a microcosm of the perfect English town with extensive views and more than 1,000 years of history. A few years later we discovered there was a cottage there that's available to rent and we've since stayed many times. I have since slept in that picture."

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Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.

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