Diamond Elizabethans – 60 people who have changed Britain


The BBC is launching another one of those national lists that will probably become a major talking point this year.  In the last decade we had Great Britons, when Churchill pipped Brunel to be the greatest Briton of all time.  Now Radio 4 is confining itself to the last 60 years.  To mark the Diamond Jubilee, James Naughtie will be profiling the 60 public figures who have made the greatest impact in these islands during The Queen’s reign.

I heard about the list on Start the Week, which I listen to most Monday mornings.  I was having a day off yesterday (even MPs are allowed some time away from work) and went to Hay on Wye for my annual visit to add even more books to my groaning shelves. So with my friend Andrew we spent the return car journey and dinner in Monmouth compiling a list of 60 significant people who stand out in the period since 1952.  Some are fairly obvious.  Some are representative of a particular theme, while not being of much enduring impact in their own right.  We made an attempt to be objective and balanced but above all it is our list, reflecting our interests and prejudices.

The list is in no particular order.  Let me know what you think!  Where the rationale isn’t obvious, I’ve given an explanation…

John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Tim Berners-Lee

Delia Smith  (an appreciation of good food by everyone, not just the well off and the massive expansion of eating out are features of the second Elizabethan Age)

Bobby Charlton (even two Welshmen had to admit a soccer tournament in 1966 was important to some people)

David Beckham  (not for football but for being a Metrosexual or “new man”)

Johnny Wilkinson (for the rugby world cup)

Gareth Edwards (for being the greatest rugby player, pre world cup)

Seb Coe (for being an Olympian who’s bringing us London 2012)

Enid Blyton (originally thought of J K Rowling, but 800 children’s books rather trumps 8)

Andrew Lloyd Webber & Tim Rice

Graham Greene

Laurence Olivier

Judi Dench

Margaret Thatcher

Shirley Bassey (her career spans the entire period)

Tom Jones (preferred to Cliff Richard for a long running male soloist, Welsh prejudice here!)

David Bowie

Jade Goody (for the phenomenon of being famous for being famous)

Eric Morecambe & Ernie Wise

John Cleese

James Dyson

Richard Branson

Richard Rogers

Prince Charles (rather like the Prince Regent under George 111 or Bertie under Queen Victoria, the patient heir and Prince of Wales to a long serving monarch become famous in their own right)

Princess Diana

David Lean (we needed a film director)

David Attenborough (BBC natural history films are world famous…and produced in Bristol)

Roy Jenkins (not a PM but achieved more than most of them)

Louise Brown (a famous child due to her method of arrival in the world and a Bristolian)

David Frost (to represent tv interviewers and satire of politicians)

Tony Blair

Twiggy (for the age of super models)

Edward Heath (to piss off the Eurosceptics)

Joe Calzaghe

Dennis Taylor (snooker to represent popular tv sports and we needed someone from Northern Ireland)

Anthony Burgess

Paul Dacre  (the Daily Mail has been a corrosive force in Britain for rather longer than 60 years but is still influential with some foolish politicians)

Kelvin MacKenzie  (the Sun is the most successful paper to be launched since 1952)

Richard Dawkins  ( unlike the reign of the first Elizabeth, there is no Archbishop or religious reformer in this list.  An atheist is more typical of the period 1952 – 2012)

Steve Jones (who has popularised scientific debate in a less polarising way than Dawkins…and he’s Welsh)

Richard Madeley & Judie Finnigan (for services to daytime tv)

Kelly Holmes  (we were struggling for female sports stars)

Steve Redgrave

Alex Salmond (who even if he doesn’t break up the Union, is still significant for Scotland)

Johnny Rotten (for 1970s punk rock and for “God Save the Queen” in the Silver Jubilee year)

Massive Attack (for alternative music and living in Bristol West)

David Hockney

Anthony Gormley

Barbara Hepworth

Jacob Epstein (Ok, a run of sculptors but quite different styles.  And Espstein’s work in Llandaff and Coventry cathedrals is emblematic of 1950s Britain recovering from war damage)

Myra Hindley  (someone to represent criminal notoriety)

Fred Goodwin (the face of the financial meltdown)

Jimmy Saville (for DJs, children’s TV and charitable fundraising by celebs)

Valerie Singleton (Blue Peter and other serious adult programmes)

Stephen Hawking (for science and over-coming disability)

Ian McKellen (for founding Stonewall as well as acting)

Ian Hislop (for 30 years making us laugh at the rich and powerful)

Alan Bennett

William Roache aka Ken Barlow (for the age of soap operas)

You can read about the BBC’s plans here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/features/the-new-elizabethans/

UPDATE 21st MAY 2012 – The New Elizabethans

Radio 4 have now announced their selection – http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/features/the-new-elizabethans/ which is significantly different to my suggestions, with just 10 in common.

Postscript – 2013. These lists show that people can transfer from famous to infamous when more is revealed about them. So my inclusion of Jimmy Saville was done in all innocence when this list was written in February 2012. maybe Noel Edmunds or someone from Blue Peter would be better now!


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