Great Britons
November 24, 2002 4:54 PM   Subscribe

Winston Churchill has been voted as the Greatest Briton in a BBC survey. Yes, he gave some great speeches when he needed to, but who gave him the language to make them? Who is missing from the list?
posted by feelinglistless (65 comments total)

 
Ringo
Any of the Goons
Any of the Pythons
John Milton
posted by feelinglistless at 4:57 PM on November 24, 2002


Ranking Princess Diana #3, much less anywhere on the list, is intolerable.
posted by four panels at 5:00 PM on November 24, 2002


I don't see Benny Hill anywhere. Maybe he's been reserved for the Greatest Person in the World list.
posted by Stan Chin at 5:03 PM on November 24, 2002


Ranking Princess Diana #3, much less anywhere on the list, is intolerable.

Yes, especially since only around 10 of the 100 are women. I'm sort of curious as to what, exactly, Diana was great at.
posted by MidasMulligan at 5:05 PM on November 24, 2002


For honesty and perversity: The Unknown Warrior
posted by richardm at 5:05 PM on November 24, 2002


I am glad that someone who you could at least argue was the greatest Briton won. I was half expecting the football player Beckham to tie with Lady Di and John Lennon.


I personally think that Churchill is certainly in the top tier of Britons, if for only his leadership in the summer of 1940. The rest of his career was very uneven, but those few months were sublime.
posted by stupidcomputernickname at 5:09 PM on November 24, 2002


David Beckham?
posted by matteo at 5:10 PM on November 24, 2002


Tangential: Bryan Appleyard's 10 great mind of today in The Sunday Times (reg. req.)
posted by richardm at 5:11 PM on November 24, 2002


How about, uh, Gladstone or Disraeli?

Too many popstars. Bono? Boy George? Bob Geldoff?
posted by Winterfell at 5:18 PM on November 24, 2002


I thought people didn't like Churchill much until the war, and when he led his country through that tough time and then on to victory, that's when people started thinking he was a great guy. Wasn't Churchill like, the Rudolph Guiliani of World War Two?
posted by ZachsMind at 5:19 PM on November 24, 2002


Bono? Boy George? Bob Geldoff?
empire's not what it used to be old chum, wot wot?
posted by quonsar at 5:23 PM on November 24, 2002


Llywelyn ap Gruffydd deserves a nod. He was an excellent warrior and if he hadn't been so impulsive, we wouldn't have the story of Bedd Gelert.

Poor man. The most common illustration of him looks like it was done by Mary Engelbreit after three beers.
posted by Mayor Curley at 5:23 PM on November 24, 2002


Glad to see Fair Eliza so high on the list. It's shameful that Diana Spencer beat her and Shakespeare (my choice for no. 1) on this silly list.

I also have to tip my hat to EIR's daddy as well. He turned into a slightly unstable tyrant toward the end, but when he was young, he was rather amazing.
posted by sir walsingham at 5:24 PM on November 24, 2002


Diana was SUPERB at making everyone understand exactly how much she was misunderstood.

(and I wish I could take credit for that line...)
posted by Vidiot at 5:31 PM on November 24, 2002


Hey, Diana was just as much a genius as Shakespeare! Whoda thunk it?
posted by tweebiscuit at 5:35 PM on November 24, 2002


And Bono's Irish...born in Dublin. I thought "Briton" meant someone from Great Britain.

And Freddie Mercury's there, but Betjeman isn't? sigh.
posted by Vidiot at 5:36 PM on November 24, 2002


Zach: Wasn't Rudolph Guiliani like, the Churchill of New York?

[and another example of Yankee parochialism...(",)]

Winterfell: 2/3 of your popstars are Irish born & bred, the other the son of Irish folk (like me, which is why I'm ambivalent about say, voting for Tudor, Elizabethan and Roundhead conquerors). Not Britons, maybe: but Bono & Geldof have certainly made their marks, in humanitarian fashion as well as music.
posted by dash_slot- at 5:36 PM on November 24, 2002


Didn't Churchill lose the elections immediately after WW2? I guess they didn't think he was so great during his time.
posted by crazy finger at 5:47 PM on November 24, 2002


It's amazing to me that Sir Richard Francis Burton is at #96, when (to pick an example almost at random) Michael Crawford is at #17. Damn stupid list if you ask me. Slightly redeemed, perhaps by, by the appearance of Alan Turing at #21.
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:47 PM on November 24, 2002


Argh, I should have checked more carefully! #96 is the other Richard Burton, as is in "one of the Mr. Liz Taylors." The Sir Richard Burton linked above doesn't make the list at all, to its disgrace.
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:53 PM on November 24, 2002


"How would you characterize the genius of William Shakespeare?"

"Oh, about a 7."
posted by Hildago at 5:53 PM on November 24, 2002


As a physicist I adore this one:

#25 minor contributor to aspects of black hole theory (mostly yet unproven) and shameless self-promoter.

#91 possibly the greatest physicist of all time
posted by jamsterdam at 6:20 PM on November 24, 2002


Where's Lord Kelvin. Or for that matter, just about any other of the very many important british scientist (admittedly, Newton, Darwin, and Hawking did make the list. Max Born and James Chadwick come to mind. Or Rutherford. Or Krebs. Or Crick.
posted by kickingtheground at 6:22 PM on November 24, 2002


I'm surprised they accepted #51: King Arthur; since we may suppose that they threw out a large number of votes for Harry Potter and other fictional characters.

Also, what did the people who voted for Richard III have in mind? His villainous reputation may be the result of propaganda, but I know of little to his credit. Did they suppose that they were voting for Richard "The Lionhearted" I? Or maybe they were voting for Ian McKellen...
posted by George_Spiggott at 6:42 PM on November 24, 2002


Playing devil's advocate, I'd point out to all the nay-sayers that Princess Diana was noted for her numerous contributions to charity work and international aid- in some cases to an extreme so great as to stun the Royal Family for breaking past the image of not supposed to be doing anything. She was, without a doubt, deserving of international praise even before her death... I'll disagree with ranking her #3, but she definitely belongs somewhere on the list.

But then again, so does Rik Mayal. BASTARD!

Honestly, I don't get why everyone's raising a stink about Diana being #3.... did anyone notice Robbie Williams is on the damned list? Three places above the man who invented the computer?
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 6:46 PM on November 24, 2002


And jamsterdam- yeah, Stephen Hawking. What a camera-whoring bitch.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 6:51 PM on November 24, 2002


and I keep thinking of Mojo Nixon's song about Diana...
posted by Vidiot at 6:57 PM on November 24, 2002


'Without press coverage, the royal family would be little more than rich, overdressed people in big houses.'
posted by notbrain at 7:11 PM on November 24, 2002


A few years ago Channel 4 did a massive poll of "the most influential musicians of the millennium", as if the general public was a good arbiter of that credential. To summarise, Robbie Williams was sixth, Johann Sebastian Bach was tenth.

These polls should not happen, because they are dumb. I'm interested in hearing the opinions of people who have studied the subject, not the opinions of people who are going to name the artist of the last single they bought.

Stephen Hawking is proud to be a camera-whoring bitch!
posted by Pretty_Generic at 7:16 PM on November 24, 2002


I'm embarrassed that I didn't know who #2 on the list, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, was.
posted by TimeFactor at 7:35 PM on November 24, 2002


Time, have no shame, neither did I.
posted by Kevs at 7:44 PM on November 24, 2002


where's Cromwell?
posted by amberglow at 8:21 PM on November 24, 2002


#10, amberglow. The top ten are on a separate page from 11-100.
posted by mr_roboto at 9:08 PM on November 24, 2002


Brunel was leading right until the very end, mainly thanks to being the first one to get the soft-soap could-do-no-wrong rah-rah history-lite treatment from the objectionable Jeremy Clarkson. But yeah, Americans tend not to appreciate that there were industrialists before Ford and Edison.

The BBC was repeating Simon Schama's 'A History of Britain' at the same time, and seeing his intelligent, highly-contextualised narrative against the condescending old-school Great (Wo)Men perspective of the Great Britons thing was pretty damning of the latter.

But Churchill winning (although fairly predictable) says something about the times we live in. In saner moments, a couple of years ago, a bunch of British political journalists judged, en masse, that Attlee was the best PM of the 20th century. And that was not a decision made just to be contrary. I just wonder if Blair's going to take that as a cue to go all Churchill up against the striking firemen: the obnoxious reportage of the Murdoch papers so far brings back memories of the British Gazette.
posted by riviera at 9:18 PM on November 24, 2002


Oh, yeah, and Schama covers Churchill properly in the last of the series, alongside best-mate-of-Hitchens-and-Sullivan-no-honestly George Orwell, in a programme entitled The Two Winstons.
posted by riviera at 9:24 PM on November 24, 2002


I heard that the folks at Brunel University were campaigning quite heavily/ballot-stuffing for him; anyone know that for sure?

Not that he doesn't deserve to be named in the top 10...either the Thames Tunnel or the Great Eastern alone would have cemented him in any list of the greatest engineers (or greatest Victorians.)
posted by Vidiot at 9:39 PM on November 24, 2002


Rutherford was a Kiwi.
posted by emf at 10:40 PM on November 24, 2002


I associate Churchill with his one of characteristic "V" and cigar photos.

With Brunel this picture is the one most often associated with him.

I can not imagine more heroic photos/images for either of them.

For most of us(in the T.V. generation) this language of images speaks as loud or louder than any lengthy biography ever could. Their actions are almost icing on the cake of their image. None of the other entries (save Diana) can compete in this regard.
posted by nasim at 2:56 AM on November 25, 2002


kickingtheground: Max Born was German.
On the other hand, arguably the most important British Physicist of the 20th century, P.A.M Dirac, as well as Francis Crick the co-founder of modern genetics, as kickingtheground noticed, didn't make the list. Bertrand Russell is not on it either, and neither are Roger and Francis Bacon... what we have instead is Lady Di and Robby Williams, Cliff Richards and Aleister Crowley...
It's kind of meaningless, this list, isn't it?
posted by talos at 3:04 AM on November 25, 2002


- turner- constable - wordsworth

= meaningless
posted by johnnyboy at 3:13 AM on November 25, 2002


You're right, that is meaningless.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 4:05 AM on November 25, 2002


I don't see Benny Hill anywhere. Maybe he's been reserved for the Greatest Person in the World list.

I don't think Americans were allowed to vote.
posted by Summer at 4:11 AM on November 25, 2002


Would 'Lady' Di and Lennon even be on this list if they hadn't died in such tragic ways? There's something to be said for a premature death as a way of cementing celebrity.
posted by MarkC at 4:24 AM on November 25, 2002


If I meet anyone who voted for Diana, Princess of Wales as the Greatest Briton of All Time, I'm going to give them an unpleasant pinch.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 4:28 AM on November 25, 2002


From the site:
'Diana had her faults, many in fact, however she is in the Top Ten because of those faults. She had no intellectual, engineering, mathematical or scientific skills. She had the one quality that endeared her to the people, her compassion.'

Oh yeah, and she married into a hereditary monarchy, looked nice and died nastily.

The woman did lots of charity work. Can any one of us imagine, if we were in a situation where we were given immense riches and everything we wanted purely in exchange for being a symbol, that we would not do lots of charity work? Even ignoring her personality and personal life completely, Diana was not a Great person. Myself, I'm more impressed with this guy.

To say she was greater than Newton, Darwin and (shudder) Shakespeare, is disgusting.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 4:42 AM on November 25, 2002


Obviously we accept that there are a good block of ludicrous entries in that list - for whatever reason. But it's the people that have been missed out that I'm personally really interested in. I keep looking through the list and thinking - why does this seem so flat? These aren't my heroes...
posted by barbelith at 5:06 AM on November 25, 2002


Too many popstars. Bono? Boy George? Bob Geldoff?

And Bono's Irish...born in Dublin (so was Geldof, btw). I thought "Briton" meant someone from Great Britain.

From the BBC Page:

The definition of a 'Great Briton' for the purposes of the nominations was: anyone who was born in the British Isles, including Ireland; or anyone who lived in the British Isles, including Ireland, and who has played a significant part in the life of the British Isles.

Just as well, 'cos I noticed a good number of Irish candidates there who are always described as being 'British' by our neighbours. Knit-picking, I know, but seemed a bit cheeky given the context.

Anyway, I thank the stars that good sense prevailed and Diana was not to be the Chosen One. That would have been a little emabarrassing in retrospect, I suspect. Churchill seems like being quite a reasonable choice, I suppose.
posted by Doozer at 5:31 AM on November 25, 2002


I associate Churchill with his one of characteristic "V" and cigar photos.

With Brunel this picture is the one most often associated with him.


Common factor: cigars. Hmm. But shouldn't that mean we give the prize to Walter Raleigh, who brought tobacco to Britain?

(Brunel smoked 40 cigars a day. How? They photoshopped the cigar out of his mouth in one shot designed to be used in schools.)
posted by riviera at 5:55 AM on November 25, 2002


Yeah, whoever put Diana up there needs to be shot.

The ten greatest Limeys. God, so many great choices.

Richard F. Burton was a great choice. To add to that I would say Adam Smith, Francis Galton, James Watt, David hume, and about the entire cast of Monty Python.
posted by dgaicun at 6:43 AM on November 25, 2002


Not everybody, is a Churchill admirer. Especially his ideas about chemical weapons are rather raw:
"I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes … It is not necessary to use only the most deadly gases; gases can be used which would cause great inconvenience and would spread a lively terror and yet would leave no serious permanent effects on most of those affected...We cannot, in any circumstances acquiesce to the non-utilisation of any weapons which are available to procure a speedy termination of the disorder which prevails on the frontier."
He was pretty cynical about using them in WWII as well.
posted by talos at 7:08 AM on November 25, 2002


Thatcher at 16, Enoch Powell at 55.

[Shudders]
posted by dmt at 7:17 AM on November 25, 2002


George_Spiggott: King Arthur is, I believe, generally thought to have existed, according to the current scholarship. Obviously his life has been embellished, but then if that were worthy of being disqualified it'd be a pretty short list.

And JK Rowling? You have got to be kidding.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 7:52 AM on November 25, 2002


I was one of those who criticised the presence of both Diana and John Lennon in the Top Ten, though as Rosie Boycott noted during last night's broadcast, denouncing their inclusion, given that it was a result of a public vote, is a bit arrogant.

The whole list is more interesting for its ommissions, though - as noted above and during the broadcast, no artists, precious few authors, philosophers and humanitarians, far too many rock stars, sportsmen, and people too recent to really have had their 'greatness' properly established, and yes, Robbie Williams, Michael Crawford, Julie Andrews and Boy George.

Perhaps the most depressing thing about it all though was the quality of the 'champions' in the debate. Clarkson just acted like a thug, the smug upper-class twit speaking for Newton seemed to think that just being smug and upper-class made him right, Alan Davies and the woman defending Nelson might as well not have been there, and one current and one former Member of Parliament had oratorical rings run round them by a TV reporter and a restaurant critic (Andrew Marr and AA Gill respectively).
posted by jonpollard at 8:10 AM on November 25, 2002


And yes, I know that AA Gill does more than review restaurants, but it made for a snappier summary....
posted by jonpollard at 8:11 AM on November 25, 2002


Can any one of us imagine, if we were in a situation where we were given immense riches and everything we wanted purely in exchange for being a symbol, that we would not do lots of charity work?

I wouldn't. I'd lean toward more trodding for the downtrodden, the acquisition of macrame artwork, establishing a personal army of commando nuns and vampire samurai, and building a giant laser which I'd use to write my name on the moon.

I think it'd been better if they'd disqualified anyone within living memory, or the last three or four decades at least, to allow for some sort of historical perspective.
posted by tolkhan at 8:22 AM on November 25, 2002


The thing about King Arthur is that everything you know about him is wrong. The medieval-period legends -- the whole bit about the Holy Grail, the Knights of the Round Table, Guinevere -- is all from period chansons, adventure stories set to music. It's fairly easy to trace these stories back to even more ancient myths that have their origin as far away as Persia and India.

The real Arthur, however, was probably a British chieftain in the post-Roman era (or perhaps a late Roman general). The trouble is that nobody can agree on which one, and written documentation from the era -- it wasn't called the Dark Ages for nothing -- is incredibly scarce. The Arthur story isn't even really part of the culture until the 11th century, quite some time removed from the 4th century historical origins such as they may have been.
posted by dhartung at 8:49 AM on November 25, 2002


Looks like it wasn't entirely a fair fight.
posted by fvw at 11:14 AM on November 25, 2002


While it is true that neither Max Born nor Rutherford were born in the UK, both did a significant part of their work there, which is enough to make them qualify for the purposes of this list.
posted by kickingtheground at 4:13 PM on November 25, 2002


I can cope with John Locke not being on the list, and that minor pamphleteer Tom Paine made it, but not Edmund Burke or David Hume, but...no Morrissey?
posted by Sonny Jim at 4:42 PM on November 25, 2002


jonpollard: and Andrew Marr is a teensy bit more than a mere "TV reporter"!
posted by cbrody at 7:00 PM on November 25, 2002


Agreed, kickingtheground. I wanted to make sure my Antipodean cousins weren't getting short shrift.
posted by emf at 12:23 AM on November 26, 2002


Personally, I would not have allowed anyone in living memory to be in the list. (Yes, I know you can define "living memory" in a lot of ways). That would have stopped say, Michael Crawford, Robbie Williams, Lennon, and Diana from being in the list. Perhaps Darwin (my choice) might have done better if that were the case.
posted by BigCalm at 1:14 AM on November 26, 2002


cbrody: and Andrew Marr is a teensy bit more than a mere "TV reporter"!

I never said there was anything 'mere' about being a TV reporter :-) - and I certainly wouldn't want to disparage Mr Marr in any way - he's long been one of my favourite commentators, and is arguably the most influential journalist in the UK at the moment. No slight intended - I just went for the snappy soundbite there too....
posted by jonpollard at 4:04 AM on November 26, 2002


Winston Churchill has been voted as the Greatest Briton in a BBC survey. Yes, he gave some great speeches when he needed to, but who gave him the language to make them?

Yes, because before Shakespeare, everyone had to speak French! Come on, he was probably one of the greatest playwrights of all time, and did apparently invent some 1700 words (although I believe there's still some doubt that he wrote all of those plays), but you can scarcely credit him with the creation of the modern English language.

Personally, I'm not even sure the style of Churchill's speeches could be called Shakespearean ... yes, maybe a little Henry V-ish in tone, but more like BBC broadcasting in usage than "O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention, a kingdom for a stage, princes to act, and monarchs to behold the swelling scene!" ...

Not that I'm arguing Churchill should have "won". I really have very little interest in the whole straw poll, but that comment about Shakespeare struck me as just a tad overcooked.
posted by walrus at 6:02 AM on November 26, 2002


Apparently the idea was lifted from German TV, which ran a similar programme a couple of years ago. I can't find any links though - Great Germans, now that's an intimidating idea. I'd love to see that list.
posted by grahamwell at 12:42 PM on November 26, 2002


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