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As a largely rural county, Dorset has fewer major cultural institutions than larger or more densely populated areas. Major venues for concerts and theatre include Poole Borough Council's Lighthouse arts centre, Bournemouth's BIC and Pavilion Theatre, Wimborne's Tivoli Theatre, and the Pavilion theatre in Weymouth. Dorset's most famous cultural institution is perhaps the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, founded in 1893 and now one of the country's most celebrated orchestras.
Dorset is not especially famous in sport, though Football League Two A.F.C. Bournemouth, Conference South Dorchester Town F.C., Weymouth F.C., and minor county cricket club Dorset CCC play in the county. Rugby Union is played throughout the county and the Dorset & Wiltshire Rugby Football Union is the constituent body responsible for organising rugby union competitions in the county on behalf of the RFU.Bournemouth RFC compete in the fifth tier of national competition and are the reigning Dorset & Wiltshire RFU Challenge Cup Champions. Swanage & Wareham RFC compete in the sixth tier of national competition. The county is notable for its watersports, however, which take advantage of the sheltered waters of Weymouth Bay and Portland Harbour, and Poole Bay and Poole Harbour.
Dorset is famed in literature for being the native county of author and poet Thomas Hardy, and many of the places he describes in his novels in the fictional Wessex are in Dorset, which he renamed South Wessex. The National Trust owns Thomas Hardy's Cottage, in woodland east of Dorchester, and Max Gate, his former house in Dorchester. Several other writers have called Dorset home, including Douglas Adams (author of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), who lived in Stalbridge for a time; Ian Fleming (James Bond), who boarded at Durnford School, poet William Barnes; John le Carré, author of espionage novels; Tom Sharpe of Wilt fame lives there as does P.D. James (The Children of Men); satirical novelist Thomas Love Peacock; John Fowles (The French Lieutenant's Woman), lived in Lyme Regis before he died in late 2005; T.F. Powys lived in Chaldon Herring for over 20 years and used it as inspiration for the fictitious village of Folly Down in his novel Mr. Weston's Good Wine;John Cowper Powys, his elder and better known brother, who set a number of his most famous novels in Dorset and Somerset; and Robert Louis Stevenson wrote The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde while living in Bournemouth.
Dorset is also the birthplace of artist Sir James Thornhill, musicians John Eliot Gardiner, Eddie Argos, P.J. Harvey, Greg Lake and Robert Fripp, photographer Jane Bown, palaeontologist Mary Anning and archbishops John Morton and William Wake. Explorer Sir Walter Raleigh lived in Dorset for some of his life, while scientist and philosopher Robert Boyle lived in Stalbridge Manor for a time; the naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace was also a resident, and is buried at Broadstone. Dorset is a popular home for celebrities. Those who have moved to or own second homes in Dorset include Madonna and Guy Ritchie, actor Martin Clunes, singer-songwriter Billy Bragg, Jonathan Ross, Oasis singer Noel Gallagher, composer, conductor and musician Peter Moss, and footballer Jamie Redknapp. Many of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's television programmes are filmed at his home, just outside of Bridport. Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, lived in Corfe Mullen and began his career at telecommunications company Plessey in Poole. Classical composer Muzio Clementi lived and worked near Blandford in Dorset.
Dorset County Council is based at County Hall in Dorchester. Following the local council elections in June 2009, 28 Conservatives, 16 Liberal Democrats and one independent councillor sit on the county council. South Dorset is represented in Parliament by Labour MP Jim Knight, though this constituency was Labour's smallest majority and was one of the most fiercely contested seats in the General Election of 2005. In the event, the seat went against the national trend and Mr Knight's majority increased slightly on a swing from the Conservatives. In all other Dorset constituencies, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are the most successful parties: Mid-Dorset and North Poole is represented by the Liberal Democrats, and West Dorset, Christchurch and North Dorset by the Conservatives.
The built up area of Poole and Bournemouth is divided into three constituencies, Bournemouth East, Bournemouth West and Poole, all of which are represented by Conservative MPs. Dorset, the rest of the south west, and Gibraltar are in the South West England constituency of the European Parliament.