100 Greatest Britons

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100 Greatest Britons was broadcast in 2002 by the BBC. The programme was based on a television poll conducted to determine whom the United Kingdom public considered the greatest British people in history.[1][2] The series, Great Britons, included individual programmes featuring the individuals who featured in the top ten, with viewers having further opportunities to vote after each programme.[3] It concluded with a debate. All of the top 10 were dead by the year of broadcast.

The poll resulted in nominees including Guy Fawkes, who was executed for trying to blow up the Parliament of England; Oliver Cromwell who created a republican England; Richard III, suspected of murdering his nephews; James Connolly, an Irish nationalist and socialist who was executed by the Crown in 1916; and a surprisingly high ranking of 17th for actor and singer Michael Crawford (the second highest-ranked entertainer, after John Lennon). Diana, Princess of Wales, was judged to be a greater historical British figure than William Shakespeare by BBC respondents to the survey.

One of the more controversial figures to be included on the list was occultist Aleister Crowley. His works have had a direct influence on the rise in paganism in the 20th century. He is considered an influence on Gerald Gardner, founder of Gardnerian Wicca. In addition to the Britons, some notable non-British entrants were listed, including two Irish nationals, the philanthropic musicians Bono and Bob Geldof. Furthermore, many candidates were from an era in which Britishness did not exist. The top 19 entries were people of English origin (though The 1st Duke of Wellington and Sir Ernest Shackleton were both born into Anglo-Irish families when what is now the Republic of Ireland was under British rule; Wellington was born in the British-ruled Kingdom of Ireland in 1769, while Shackleton was born in Ireland when all of that country was part of the United Kingdom, a state formed in January 1801). The highest-placed Scottish entry was Sir Alexander Fleming in 20th place, with the highest Welsh entry, Prince Owain Glyndŵr, at number 23.[4] Sixty had lived in the twentieth century. The highest-ranked living person was Margaret Thatcher, placed 16th.[5] Ringo Starr is the only member of The Beatles not on the list. Isambard Kingdom Brunel occupied the top spot in the polls for some time thanks largely to "students from Brunel University who have been campaigning vigorously for the engineer for weeks." However, a late surge in the final week of voting put Churchill top.[6]

The opening and closing ceremonies of the 2012 Summer Olympics featured the two greatest Britons, Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Sir Winston Churchill as main characters, played by Sir Kenneth Branagh and Timothy Spall, each of them reading a monologue from William Shakespeare's The Tempest.[7][8] In addition, the ceremony also contained a personal appearance by Sir Tim Berners-Lee,[9] who was placed 99th on the list.

Top 10 on the list[edit]

Because of the nature of the poll used to select and rank the Britons, the results do not claim to be an objective assessment. They are as follows:

Rank Name Time Frame Image Occupation Notability
1 Sir Winston Churchill (1874–1965) Sir Winston S Churchill.jpg Politician Prime Minister during World War II, historically ranked as one of the greatest British prime ministers.
2 Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806–1859) IKBrunelChains.jpg Engineer Creator of the Great Western Railway, and designer of numerous significant ships, tunnels and bridges.
3 Diana, Princess of Wales (1961–1997) Международная Леонардо-премия 18.jpg Member of the British Royal Family. Philanthropist. First wife of Charles, Prince of Wales (marriage 1981–1996), and mother of Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, and Prince Harry.
4 Charles Darwin (1809–1882) Charles Darwin seated crop.jpg Naturalist Originator of the theory of evolution through natural selection and author of On the Origin of Species.
5 William Shakespeare (1564–1616) Shakespeare.jpg Poet and playwright Thought of by many as the greatest of all English writers.
6 Sir Isaac Newton (1642–1727) GodfreyKneller-IsaacNewton-1689.jpg Physicist, mathematician, astronomer, natural philosopher and biblical scholar Originator of universal gravitation and laws of classical mechanics and laws of motion. His Principia is one of the most influential works in the history of science.
7 Queen Elizabeth I (1533–1603) Darnley stage 3.jpg Queen regnant Popular monarch of England (reigned 1558–1603) who brought a period of relative internal stability. She is associated with the defeat of the Spanish Armada.
8 John Lennon (1940–1980) John Lennon 1964 001 cropped.png Composer, musician, philanthropist, peace activist, artist, and writer. Co-writer with Paul McCartney in The Beatles, the most successful band and music act of all time, and solo musician.
9 Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson (1758–1805) HoratioNelson1.jpg Naval commander Famous for his service in the Royal Navy, particularly during the Napoleonic Wars.
10 Oliver Cromwell (1599–1658) Oliver Cromwell by Samuel Cooper.jpg Military and political leader 1st Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland. Commander of the New Model Army during the English Civil War against King Charles I.

Although the BBC's original ranked list has been removed from their web server and what remains is only an alphabetical list of the Top 100,[10] several other sources[11][12][13] have preserved the original ranked list.

There was some question as to whether the Richard Burton listed at #96 is the actor or the explorer. A BBC press release makes it clear that they intended it to be the actor.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 100 great British heroes—BBC News article, dated Wednesday, 21 August 2002 (contains the top 100, sorted alphabetically)
  2. ^ BBC reveals 100 great British heroes—BBC News article, dated Thursday, 22 August 2002
  3. ^ Ten greatest Britons chosen—BBC News article, dated Sunday, 20 October 2002
  4. ^ Rebel 'plot' to topple greatest Welshman The Independent. Retrieved 26 September 2011
  5. ^ Three lead race to be greatest Briton The Times. Retrieved 26 September 2011
  6. ^ "Churchill leads great Britons poll". Daily Mail. Retrieved 13 March 2013
  7. ^ "Brunel reads from Shakespeare's The Tempest". ITV News. Retrieved 24 August
  8. ^ "Timothy Spall plays Churchill at closing ceremony". BBC News. Retrieved 24 August
  9. ^ "Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee stars in Olympics opening ceremony" ZDNet. Retrieved 10 April 2013
  10. ^ BBC - Press Office - List of top 100 Britons, BBC Press Release, 8 August 2002
  11. ^ 100 Greatest Britons (BBC Poll, 2002) - Alchemipedia, posted 8 December 2009
  12. ^ "Great Britons 1-10". BBC via Wayback Machine. Archived from the original on 2004-02-04. Retrieved 1 August 2012. 
  13. ^ "Great Britons 11-100". BBC via Wayback Machine. Archived from the original on 2002-12-04. Retrieved 1 August 2012. 

External links[edit]