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100 Greatest Brits? A Better List.

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Initial post: Jan 14, 2013 6:23:57 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 14, 2013 3:23:22 PM PST
In 2002, BBC conducted a poll asking who were the greatest Britons of all time. Some of the answers given were, I think, a little odd, and some absolutely necessary names (IMO) were excluded, including one who I think belongs in the Top 10, and another who belongs in the Top 20.

Here's the original, sometimes ridiculous list, along with a few critical comments. At the end, I add the names I think probably belong on that list, that were excluded. I am a West Coast American, but my ancestors shared a good chunk of that history, and some of them I respect more than most of the 20th Century celebrities who got added to the list by mere audulatory inertia, apparently. But feel free to tell me what I missed, or what the people who answered the BBC survey missed.

1. Winston Churchill, (1874-1965) - Prime Minister (1940-1945, 1951-1955)
2. Isambard Kingdom Brunel, (1806-1859) - Engineer.
3. Diana, Princess of Wales (1961-1997) - First wife of Charles, Prince of Wales; mother of Prince William; Prince Harry of Wales.
4. Charles Darwin (1809-1882) - Naturalist; the originator of the theory of evolution through natural selection and author of 'On the Origin of Species'.
5. William Shakespeare (1564-1616) - English poet; playwright.
6. Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727) - Mathematician, physicist, astronomer, natural philosopher, and alchemist.
7. Queen Elizabeth I of England (1533-1603) - Monarch (reigned 1558-1603).
8. John Lennon (1940-1980) - Musician with The Beatles.
9. Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson (1758-1805) - Naval commander.
10. Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) - Lord Protector

Churchill? I'd be happy to keep him in the Top Five. But was he really greater than Shakespeare, Darwin, or Queen Elizabeth? Well, maybe . . . there has only been one Hitler in Western history, and Churchill was his greatest foe. I've never heard of Brunel. Skimming the Wikipedia site, I'm still at a loss at how he reached number two. Let's drop him down a few classes. Lady Di was greater than William Shakespeare, Queen Elizabeth, or King Alfred? Was it the hat? Sorry, Di, your nice charitable work and Elton John aside, I frankly still don't get the "Lady Di" phenomena. Lennon is going to have to go, too, I'm afraid. Nice songs, but he should be embarrased, standing on the platform with Shakespeare. Let's replace Di with John Wesley, Lennon with Charles Dickens, and Brunel with . . . oh, I don't know, let's see who else we find downstream.

11. Sir Ernest Shackleton (1874-1922) - Polar explorer
12. Captain James Cook (1728-1779) - Explorer.
13. Robert Baden-Powell, 1st Baron Baden-Powell (1857-1941) - Boy Scouts; Girl Guides founder.
14. Alfred the Great (849?-899) - King of Wessex (reigned 871-899).
15. Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington (1769-1852) - Military commander, statesman; Prime Minister 1828-1830 ; 1834.
16. Margaret Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher (1925-) - Prime Minister (1979-1990).
17. Michael Crawford (1942-) - Actor; singer.
18. Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom (1819-1901) - Monarch (reigned 1837-1901).
19. Sir Paul McCartney (1942-) - Musician with The Beatles.
20. Sir Alexander Fleming (1881-1955) - Biologist, pharmacologist, discoverer of penicillin.

Shackleton's story is amazing, his courage and the survival of his crew heroic, but what did he achieve, really? While I agree with her politics, this seems a bit high for Lady Thatcher, too. And who is Michael Crawford? One slot up on Queen Victoria? And what's with all the Beetles?

Alfred the Great, who did as much as anyone to make England, probably belongs in the Top Ten. Queen Victoria is the only other person here who seems a bit low.

21. Alan Turing (1912-1954) - Pioneer of computing.
22. Michael Faraday (1791-1867) - Scientist.
23. Owain Glyndŵr (1359-1416) - Prince of Wales.
24. Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom (1926-) - Reigning monarch (from 1952).
25. Professor Stephen Hawking (born 1942) - Theoretical physicist.
26. William Tyndale (1494-1536) - English translator of the Bible.
27. Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928) - Suffragette.
28. William Wilberforce (1759-1833) - Humanitarian.
29. David Bowie (1947-) - Musician.
30. Guy Fawkes (1570-1606) - English revolutionary.

Wilberforce, I would move way, way up. Maybe into the Top Five. David Bowie, way, way, down -- no not quite into the bottom five. Off this list, though, along with Guy Fawkes, who is famous mainly for being an incompetent terrorist, and having a fun useless holiday named after him.

31. Leonard Cheshire, Baron Cheshire (1917-1992) - Aviator; charity organiser.
32. Eric Morecambe (1926-1984) - Comedian.
33. David Beckham (1975-) - Footballer.
34. Thomas Paine (1737-1809) - Political philosopher.
35. Boudica (died c.60) - Leader of Celtic resistance to Roman Empire.
36. Sir Steve Redgrave (1962-) - Olympic rower.
37. Saint Thomas More (1478-1535) - English saint, lawyer; politician.
38. William Blake (1757-1827) - Author, poet, painter & printer.
39. John Harrison (1693-1776) - Clock designer.
40. King Henry VIII of England (1491-1547) - Monarch (reigned 1509-1547).

Sorry, no "footballers" on my list. I just don't believe that's possible. Nor rowers, nor comedians, at least not ones I've never heard of. This is just trying to pad the 20th Century, and make it look better than it really was.

If we're going to have Blake, whom I don't mind, shouldn't Chaucer have shown up, yet, or Dickens? Psychodelic is all right, in its way, but funny is better.

Henry VIII was great at what, again?

41. Charles Dickens (1812-1870) - Author.
42. Sir Frank Whittle (1907-1996) - Jet engine inventor.
43. John Peel (1939-2004) - Broadcaster.
44. John Logie Baird (1888-1946) - Television pioneer.
45. Aneurin Bevan (1897-1960) - Labour politician, helped in formation of the National Health Service.
46. Boy George (1961-) - Musician with Culture Club.
47. Sir Douglas Bader (1910-1982) - Aviator & charity campaigner.
48. Sir William Wallace (c.1270-1305) - Guardian of Scotland.
49. Sir Francis Drake (c.1540-1596) - English naval commander.
50. John Wesley (1703-1791) - Methodism founder.

John Wesley, who changed the world (and for the better, overwhelmingly) comes 4 spots after Boy George, who changed what -- his gender? Sorry, George, you fall in behind David Bowie. A broadcaster? A television pioneer? What is that? Off the list.

51. King Arthur - Celtic monarch of legend.
52. Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) - Nurse.
53. T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) (1888-1935) - Soldier & arabist.
54. Robert Falcon Scott (1868-1912) - Polar explorer.
55. Enoch Powell (1912-1998) - Politician.
56. Sir Cliff Richard (1940-) - Musician.
57. Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922) - Telephone pioneer.
58. Freddie Mercury (1946-1991) - Musician with band Queen.
59. Dame Julie Andrews (1935-) - Actress & singer.
60. Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934) - Composer.

I'm tempted to keep Mary Poppins where she is, for fear she flies up with her umbrella and directs bombardments on my position from that looney retired naval commander down the street. But I'm afraid Cliff Richard and Freddie Mercury are going to have to go. Actually, the first three and Bell are the only names here whom I'm sure belong.

61. Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother (1900-2002) - Queen consort.
62. George Harrison (1943-2001) - Musician with The Beatles.
63. Sir David Attenborough (1926-) - Broadcaster.
64. James Connolly (1868-1916) - Scottish born leader of the Irish 1916 rising.
65. George Stephenson (1781-1848) - Railway pioneer.
66. Sir Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977) - Comic actor, film director.
67. Tony Blair (1953-) - Prime Minister (1997-2007).
68. William Caxton (c.1415~1422-c.1492) - English printer.
69. Bobby Moore (1941-1993) - Footballer; Captain of England 1966 World Cup winning team.
70. Jane Austen (1775-1817) - Author.

All right, all right, I'll let you have one Beetle! But just pick one. And no higher than 80th. George Harrison? Come on! Charlie Chaplin I can see. (But not hear.)

What did Tony Blair accomplish, exactly? I liked his debating style, and appreciate the fact that he brought Britain in on the side of the Americans after 9/11. But he's been a bit of a kiss-up to the Muslims ever since. I don't see it.

Jane Austen? Yeah, I can buy that, maybe even more of it.

71. William Booth (1829-1912) - Founder of Salvation Army.
72. King Henry V of England (1387-1422) - Monarch (reigned 1413-1422).
73. Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) - Occultist, writer, social provocateur; founder of Thelema.
74. Robert the Bruce (1274-1329) - King of Scots.
75. Bob Geldof (1951-) - Irish musician, philanthropist.
76. The Unknown Warrior - Soldier of the Great War.
77. Robbie Williams (1974-) - Musician; previous member of Take That.
78. Edward Jenner (1749-1823) - Pioneer of vaccination.
79. David Lloyd George, 1st Earl Lloyd George (1863-1945) - Prime Minister (1916-1922).
80. Charles Babbage (1791-1871) - Computing pioneer; mathematician.

To General Booth, "Friend, move up to a better place!" And to Crowley . . . how did you get in here? Don't close the door on the way out!

I had honestly never heard of Robbie Williams: apparently he's a drug-addicted, chain-smoking, morally perverse singer who's managed to sell 70 million albums. Good for him. Let the money and the songs (if they are any good, which one must assume they are) be their own reward. Make another list for "Britain's 100 biggest party-boy celebrities," and you're a shoo-in. Geldof apparently has done good things with his fame, so I'll let him remain.

81. Geoffrey Chaucer (c.1343-1400) - Medieval author.
82. King Richard III of England (1452-1485) - Monarch (reigned 1483-1485).
83. J.K. Rowling (1965-) - Harry Potter Series author.
84. James Watt (1736-1819) - Steam engine developer.
85. Sir Richard Branson (1950-) - Businessman.
86. Bono (1960-) - Irish musician (Singer for Rock Band U2), philanthropist.
87. John Lydon (Johnny Rotten) (1956-) - Musician.
88. Bernard Law Montgomery, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein (1887-1976) - Military commander.
89. Donald Campbell (1921-1967) - Water speed world record challenger.
90. King Henry II of England (1133-1189) - Monarch (reigned 1154-1189).

Finally Chaucer! I'll assume Rotten (whoever he is) is just here to pad the 20th Century numbers. Montgomery? I have my doubts. And no "water speed challengers" need apply.

Bono, I'm happy to include. The man has good tunes, then parlayed them into doing something good for the world.

Not Branson, though. I've heard things, I'm skeptical.

91. James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879) - Physicist.
92. J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973) - Author; philologist.
93. Sir Walter Raleigh (1552-1618) - English explorer.
94. King Edward I of England (1239-1307) - Monarch (reigned 1272-1307).
95. Sir Barnes Wallis (1887-1979) - Aviation technology pioneer.
96. Richard Burton (1925-1984) - Actor.
97. Tony Benn (1925-) - Politician; formerly 2nd Viscount Stangate.
98. David Livingstone (1813-1873) - Missionary; explorer.
99/ Sir Tim Berners-Lee (1955-) - Internet pioneer; World Wide Web inventor.
100. Marie Stopes (1880-1958) - Birth control promoter.

Of course Tolkien is too low. And we've had enough actors. Tony Benn looks like more padding, as does Marie Stopes.

Wo are we missing?

Britain is not my country, so Brits don't need to take my suggestions too seriously. But my ancestors did share most of the history represented by these names, so I'm going to make a few suggestions, anyway:

John Scotus.
Roger Bacon.
John Bunyan.
John Locke. (Top 20)
John Milton. (You can ever have too many Johns. . . )
Francis Bacon.
Robert Hooke.
George Handel -- don't tell me the 20th Century (or the devil) had all the best music!
Robert Boyle, maybe.
Adam Smith.
William Carey. (Top 10)
Hudson Taylor.
Rudyard Kipling
Mary Slessor.
Timothy Richard.
C. S. Lewis.
Paul Brand.

"How about your list of the greatest Americans?"

Let's wait another 500 years for that. Mary Poppins, after all, was partly about nostalgia for a lost empire. We should at least wait till the end of the second Obama term, by which time the country's slide from glory should be far enough along to inspire great works of wistfulness.

For the full post:

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 14, 2013 7:27:33 AM PST
the signers of the declaration of independence

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 14, 2013 8:48:30 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 14, 2013 8:52:54 AM PST
No Newton, probably the greatest scientist in history, LOL, scratch the list

Leave it to the British to lay claim to a German composer who had his entire musical education on the continent

sorry, obnoxious mood

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 14, 2013 1:24:08 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 14, 2013 1:29:24 PM PST
F. Gleaves says:
Newton was #6 on the BBC 2002 list.

German-born George Frideric Handel was 'West Coast American' David Marshall's pick, having become a British subject in 1827 after arriving in 1812 at the age of 27.

Princess Diana made #3 on the list, topped only by Churchill and the great engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel in #2.

Charles Darwin made it to #4 and Bill Shakespeare was #5.

Horatio Nelson had to settle for #9, after John Lennon #8.

Sir Paul McCartney only made it to #19, but still topped the reigning Queen Elizabeth II, #24.

Her Queen Mother was #61, and George Harrison #62. Ringo didn't make it.

Queen Elizabeth I was the Top Monarch at #7.

And the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell made #10.

James Connolly, leader of the Irish 1916 Easter Rising, was #64.

Full List -

Posted on Jan 14, 2013 1:36:40 PM PST
F. Gleaves, oh yes, I see your point Lady Di #3 ... I think the list may in fact have been made for amusement value.

A similar list of Americans would likely be equally preposterous.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 14, 2013 3:21:42 PM PST
Looks like I didn't make things very clear first time around -- have added complete list, along with some of my comments.

Posted on Jan 14, 2013 3:58:47 PM PST
OldAmazonian says:
Spice Girls

Posted on Jan 15, 2013 5:45:37 PM PST
Terry L says:
William Shakespeare? C'mon. If he were alive today, he'd be writing for All My Children or some other soap opera.

Posted on Jan 15, 2013 6:00:38 PM PST
Hello David,

I am surprised Francis Crick is not on the list. An oversight.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 17, 2013 1:26:19 AM PST
His immense talent would not let him do that!

Posted on Jan 22, 2013 8:03:31 PM PST
Curt Allred says:
I would concur that Alfred the Great belongs in the top ten; however, I feel that is not going far enough. In my opinion, Alfred of Wessex must be given the #1 position as the greatest Brit in history. He was one of those people who dramatically changes history through his life's work. He created the foundation for Britain's greatness. Without Alfred, we would not have any of the other great Brits that followed that are being considered for this list.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 23, 2013 8:15:05 PM PST
Lientje says:
David: 500 DAYS after Obama's term we will be wishing we had him back. I think you are the wrong
person to be leading this discussion about greatness.

Posted on Jan 24, 2013 1:00:17 PM PST
Some comments:

Winston Churchill: I agree he was a very inspiring leader
during the Battle of Britain, but his actions during WWI
helped to lead that catastrophic fiasco. To praise him
for leadership in WWII is somewhat akin to the boy who
kills both his parents, and then begs for mercy because
he is an orphan. After all, without WWI there never would
have been a WWII.

The Unknown Warrior - Soldier of the Great War.

Churchill and The Unknown Warrior should only be on
the list if its a list of Greatest disasters. WWI was a
complete catastrophe - without it there would have
been no Hitler or Stalin in power, to say nothing of
the millions who died in the war for colonies.

Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother
Queen Elizabeth II

People who are do nothing but ceremonies are
on the list? Off with their heads!

Someone I would add:

Vaughn Williams - my favorite British composer

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 24, 2013 4:04:49 PM PST
Curt Allred says:
Prague Spring: I must say that I shockingly found myself agreeing with everything you said! A rare thing on the Amazon History Forum! LOL!!!

Posted on Jan 26, 2013 1:48:25 AM PST
A list that includes Diana Spencer, Henry VIII (an appalling monarch) and a non-existent king (Arthur) as well as a multitude of pop stars, is not serious. That it does not include William I and Henry I is further evidence.
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Initial post:  Jan 14, 2013
Latest post:  Jan 26, 2013

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