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Great Britons survey

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Britons these days must be as illiterate as Americans. Off the top of my head I compiled a short list of artists and writers who have a better claim to be on a "100 Greatest" list than Bono:

Henry Purcell

Benjamin Britten

Margot Fonteyn

Evelyn Waugh

P.G. Wodehouse

Ralph Vaughn Williams

Lewis Carroll

H.G. Wells

Alexander Pope

George Orwell

J.M.W. Turner

Muriel Spark

W.S. Gilbert

Arthur Sullivan

Anthony Burgess

Samuel Johnson

Thomas Hardy

... not to mention Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, Shelly, Byron, Tennyson, Donne, etc., etc., etc.

I xpect that everybody here at BA can think of many more names to add to the list.

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Thanks, dirac, for posting the original, exceedingly weird, list, and Tancos for supplying a necessary antidote. Really -- no less than a dozen pop singer/rockers on a list of all-time great Britons! And reclaiming Alexander Graham Bell and Tom Paine as Brits! The BBC list is particularly deficient in theater and dance -- no Olivier, no Geilgud, no Frederick Ashton. But, like all such lists, it's fun to contemplate and wring one's hands.

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Well, I'm British and I found this list extraordinary and quite distressing. I think the problem nowadays is that the "popular" press is very, very bad and encourages worship of mediocre so-called "celebrities" - sports people, pop and rock "singers", television personalities. This list doesn't reflect the opinions of educated people, at least I hope not! I suggested Benjamin Britten and Ninette de Valois, but no luck... The only encouraging thing is that Shakespeare and Darwin are always there.

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What was interesting to me was the way some very large figures were left off, while some relatively obscure ones made it -- Maxwell and Pankhurst, for example, but no Gladstone, that sort of thing.

On a positive note, I was pleased to see that William Tyndale made the list.

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Does anybody know how that list was compiled (I couldn't access the linked articles)? Was it an online survey, or a survey by phone? Could people quote any name, or was there a list? How many "great britons" did they have to choose?

This kind of "weird list" reminds of the "top 250 movies" on the Internet Movie Database. Recent movies are over-represented, and for example "Lord of the rings" is #4, just before "Citizen Kane".

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Estelle, about 30,000 BBC viewers voted in the poll, but I don't recall reading anything about exactly how the votes were compiled. The ten who compiled the most votes will be subjects of a one hour show, and viewers will be allowed to vote throughout the series, culminating in the choice of one overall winner. (I checked the link, incidentally, and although I had to try twice, I was able to access the list.)

I would imagine the movie list was compiled by online voting, which would skew it toward viewers who are young and American.

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dirac, sorry for the confusion: I meant that I could access the list, but when clicking on the links on that page to other articles (hoping to find some information about how it was compiled) , I couldn't.

Yes, the movie list is made with online votes, so young American people probably are over-represented.

Alexandra, I remember hearing something like that about Princess Diana's death. It's a bit like when, in polls asking about the 20th century most important invention, people reply "the Internet" or "the television", forgetting things like antibiotics (or the fridge- spending a week without a fridge being quite harder than a week without TV...)

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I'm really upset they left off Herman from Herman's Hermits ...and what about Jack the Ripper?

As my dearly departed Irish Nana said: "The masses are asses, darlin'"

I shudder to think how many notches above Eleanor Roosevelt the low-riding Britney Spears would appear on an American poll.


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Pardon, but I'm still on my high horse over this...

I have petitioned Tony Blair to call a special session of Parliament to have the bloated arrogant Richard Attenborough stricken from the list on the grounds that what he did to Chorus Line ranks only slightly behind the theft of the Elgin Marbles in the history of crimes against art.

Only then will Michael Bennett stop pirouetting in his grave...

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I NEVER thought I would agree with Anne Robinson! And I'd NEVER want Margaret Thatcher in any top ten, but she was certainly a more important influence on modern life than Princess Di!:confused:

It's a pretty stupid survey, really, but getting the biographies on TV of all these people will be interesting.

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Anne Robinson also chose Margot Fonteyn as one of her personal, unofficial Top Ten!

Watermill, I don't think that Richard Attenborough was in the top 100 list. It was his brother, the naturalist David Attenborough, I think.

It is a fairly silly idea, and one can't take it seriously, but nevertheless it's fascinating to see who is chosen. I think Shakespeare should win - he did last time, didn't he?

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I think the problem with the list is that many people will want to appear well-rounded. So, they think, I must include an author, an artist, a politician, a scientist, an engineer ... and if they don't know much about a subject they will go for the obvious choice. Maybe the list would have been better if they had categorised it, so people could answer in their area of expertise. If someone asked me to name an engineer, probably Brunel would be the first (and only) one I can name. Similarly we have Darwin, as the obvious contender for token biologist, and while I don't dispute that his contibution to science was enormous, there are others I might put ahead of him.

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Brunel's sudden move up the rankings can be easily explained. Having got the top ten, the BBC is putting on a series of programmes in which the achievements of one of them are fully covered. Brunel's turn was Tuesday (the first programme, I think, and very interesting) - and during that evening he shot up the list. It's likely that he will drop back down as each of the others is profiled.

After the programme, we were discussing who our number one Briton would be. Eventually we agreed that - however much we enjoyed the work of great authors, composers, dancers and choreographers - it would have to be someone like Brunel, Bazalgette, Stephenson or Fleming, as what they did changed people's lives so dramatically that they are taken more or less for granted these days. However, I reserved the right to keep Ninette de Valois in my top three, and my speedfreak partner reserved the right to Malcolm Campbell.


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I realize now that my initial post expressing surprise about Brunel looked as if I were "pish-tush"ing his accomplishments. I'm not. Quite the contrary. Brunel's contribution to ship construction, intercontinental telegraphy, bridges, tunnels, and just plain buildings makes him an utterly remarkable candidate for an Immortal in anybody's book. I suppose I should have expressed delight at his inclusion on a Top Ten list. It would be a lot like an American recalling John Roebling (who did a lot, but nowhere near Brunel) as one of the all-time Great Americans.

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He was a great engineer of nineteenth-century America who developed improvements in canal design, aqueducts, and bridges. He designed the Brooklyn Bridge, which was carried into execution by his son, Washington Roebling, and, when the younger man was struck down by decompression sickness ("the bends"), his daughter-in-law, Emily Roebling. :)

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