Who's Who (UK)

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Who's Who (2014 edition: ISBN 978-1408-1-8119-5) is an annual British publication of biographies which vary in length (typically a single paragraph or block) now covering about 33,000 living notable Britons.


Who's Who has been published since 1849 by A & C Black.[1]

Originally, it merely provided lists of the names of notable people, for example all Members of Parliament and all bishops. Beginning with the 1897 edition, it listed people alphabetically and provided fuller biographical details.

A full online edition of the work was launched in 2005. However, it continues to be published annually in hard copy.

A history of Who's Who was published to coincide with the 150th edition in 1998.


Subjects include peers, MPs, judges, very senior civil servants, and distinguished writers, actors, lawyers, scientists, researchers, athletes and artists. Some (such as those holding a Professorial Chair at Oxford or Cambridge) are included automatically by virtue of their office; those in less hierarchical occupations are included at the discretion of the editors.

Inclusion in Who's Who, unlike many other publications, has never involved any payment by or to the subject, or even any obligation to buy a copy. Inclusion has always been by perceived prominence in public life or professional achievement. Inclusion has therefore come to carry a considerable level of prestige. The Wall Street Journal has said that an entry in Who's Who "really puts the stamp of eminence on a modern British life", and the Daily Mail has described it as "Britain's most famous reference book".

Once someone is included in Who's Who he or she remains in it for life, so for example MPs are not removed when they leave Parliament. The 7th Earl of Lucan is still listed in the book, even though he has been missing since 1974 and was declared legally dead in 1999.[2]

The publication is dominated by people who are active in British public life, including the members of the Scottish Parliament, Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies, as well as Members of the House of Commons, the chief executives of all UK cities and counties, and foreign ambassadors accredited to London.[3] There is a high proportion of Oxford and Cambridge (Britain's most prestigious universities) graduates among the new entrants.[3]

The entries are compiled from questionnaires returned to the publisher by the featured subjects. Some checks are made by the editors but subjects may say or omit anything they wish. For example, the playwright John Osborne did not acknowledge an estranged daughter in his entry; Carole Jordan does not mention any marriage in her article, although her ex-husband, Richard Peckover, did in his. Paxman has also calculated that only 8% of new entrants in 2008 made any reference to marital breakdown, which is far below the national average.[3]

On the other hand, by asking the people themselves to submit a short biography, this sometimes leads to them including titbits that would not otherwise be known, and allows the subject to show something of his or her character, rather than being a curriculum vitae, especially in the descriptions of "recreations". From conventional references to fishing, reading or opera (which still feature prominently), listed recreations have included "Maintaining rusty old cars" (Alastair Balls),[4] "Anglophobia" (Christopher Murray Grieve)[5] and "Contemplating revenge" (Stephen Chambers).[6]

Sometimes, there is an excess of detail: the prolific romantic novelist Dame Barbara Cartland listed each of her publications, many hundreds of books, together with a list of her other achievements; the result was one of the longest entries in the book's history.

Who Was Who[edit]

When someone dies, their biography is transferred to the volumes of Who Was Who, where they are usually printed as they appeared in the last Who's Who, appended with their date of death.

The first volume of Who Was Who covered deaths between 1897 and 1915, but more recently they have appeared at ten-year intervals, and now appear every five years.[7]

Other uses of the name[edit]

The name has been widely copied, and now there are many publications with "Who's Who" in the title, though they are not from the same publisher. Some of these are considered to be merely Who's Who scams.[8]

The name is also often used metaphorically, as in this example from an AP wire article about Los Angeles cemeteries:

Los Angeles, Spanish for "The City of Angels," has one of the world's greatest collections of cemeteries and memorial parks in the world. A who's who of what was.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Who's Who, UK .
  2. ^ "Lord Lucan 'officially dead'", BBC News Online, 1999-10-27 .
  3. ^ a b c Paxman, Jeremy (1 December 2007). "Who's new in Who's Who?". The Daily Telegraph. 
  4. ^ BALLS, Alastair Gordon. Who's Who 2012 (A & C Black and Oxford University Press). 2012. Retrieved 27 December 2012. 
  5. ^ GRIEVE, Christopher Murray. Who Was Who (A & C Black and Oxford University Press). 1920–2008. 
  6. ^ CHAMBERS, Stephen Lyon. Who's Who 2012 (A & C Black and Oxford University Press). 2012. 
  7. ^ Who was Who series:
    1. 1897–1915, 1988 reprint: ISBN 0-7136-2670-4
    2. 1916–1928, 1992 reprint: ISBN 0-7136-3143-0
    3. 1929–1940, 1967 reprint: ISBN 0-7136-0171-X
    4. 1941–1950, 1980 reprint: ISBN 0-7136-2131-1
    5. 1951–1960, 1984 reprint: ISBN 0-7136-2598-8
    6. 1961–1970, 1979 reprint: ISBN 0-7136-2008-0
    7. 1971–1980, 1989 reprint: ISBN 0-7136-3227-5
    8. 1981–1990: 1991 ISBN 0-7136-3336-0
    9. 1991–1995: 1996 ISBN 0-7136-4496-6
    10. 1996–2000: 2001 ISBN 0-7136-5439-2
    11. 2001–2005: 2006 ISBN 0-7136-7601-9
  8. ^ Vernon, David (2007), "What Price Fame? Be a Very Important Person — all it takes is money", The Skeptic 27 (2), p. 16 .
  9. ^ Warner, Gary A (28 December 2005), "LA cemeteries a who's who of celebrities", USA Today, AP via The Orange County Register, retrieved 27 June 2007 .

External links[edit]