100 Greatest Britons
was broadcast in 2002 by the BBC
. The programme was the result of a vote
conducted to determine whom the United Kingdom
public considers the greatest British people
have been in history.
The poll resulted in some unlikely (if not controversial) candidates including Guy Fawkes, who was executed for trying to blow up the Parliament of England; King Richard III, suspected of murdering his nephews; James Connolly, an Irish nationalist who was executed by the Crown in 1916; and a surprisingly high ranking for former Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em star Michael Crawford in 17th. In addition to the British natives, some notable non-British entrants were listed as well. These include two Irish nationals, (philanthropic musicians Bono and Bob Geldof); former Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, who was born (to British Indian Parsi parents) in Zanzibar when it was a British colony; and both Alfred the Great and Boudica are from an era where "Britishness" was a concept of the future.
The top 19 entries were exclusively of self-declared English origin (though Sir Ernest Shackleton and Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, were both born into English families settled in Ireland when that country was still part of the UK.). The highest-placed Scottish entry was Alexander Fleming in 20th place, with the highest Welsh entry, Owain Glyndŵr, at number 23. None were from Northern Ireland. Over half (60) had lived in the twentieth century.
The resulting series, Great Britons, included individual programmes on the top ten, with viewers having further opportunities to vote after each programme. It concluded with a debate. All of the top 10 were deceased by the year of broadcast. The highest-ranked living person was Margaret Thatcher, who placed 16th.
The Greatest Britons List
Due to the nature of the poll used to select and rank the Britons, the results do not pretend to be an objective assessment. They are as follows:
(People marked (*) also appeared on the 100 Worst Britons
list compiled by Channel 4.)
- Sir Winston Churchill, (1874–1965), statesman and orator, Prime Minister during Second World War and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature
- Isambard Kingdom Brunel, (1806–1859), engineer, creator of Great Western Railway and other significant works
- Diana, Princess of Wales (1961–1997), first wife of HRH Charles, Prince of Wales (1981–1996) and mother of Princes William and Harry of Wales
- Charles Darwin (1809–1882), naturalist, originator of the theory of evolution through natural selection and author of On the Origin of Species
- William Shakespeare (1564–1616), English poet and playwright, thought of by many as the greatest of all writers in the English language
- Sir Isaac Newton (1643–1727), physicist, mathematician, astronomer, natural philosopher, and alchemist, regarded by many as the greatest figure in the history of science
- Queen Elizabeth I of England (1533–1603), monarch, (reigned 1558–1603)
- John Lennon (1940–1980), musician with The Beatles, philanthropist, peace activist, artist
- Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson (1758–1805), naval commander
- Oliver Cromwell (1599–1658), Lord Protector
- Sir Ernest Shackleton (1874–1922), polar explorer
- Captain James Cook (1728–1779), explorer
- Robert Baden-Powell, 1st Baron Baden-Powell (1857–1941), founder of Boy Scouts and Girl Guides
- Alfred the Great (849?–899), King of Wessex, (reigned 871–899)
- Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington (1769–1852), military commander, statesman and Prime Minister 1828–1830 and 1834
- Margaret Thatcher (*3) (born 1925), Prime Minister (1979–1990)
- Michael Crawford (born 1942), actor and singer
- Queen Victoria (1819–1901), monarch (reigned 1837–1901)
- Sir Paul McCartney (born 1942), musician with The Beatles, philanthropist, activist
- Sir Alexander Fleming (1881–1955), pharmaceutical innovator
- Alan Turing (1912–1954), pioneer of computing
- Michael Faraday (1791–1867), scientist
- Owain Glyndŵr (1359–1416), Prince of Wales
- Queen Elizabeth II (*10) (born 1926), reigning monarch (1952–present)
- Professor Stephen Hawking (born 1942), theoretical physicist
- William Tyndale (1494–1536), English translator of the Bible
- Emmeline Pankhurst (1858–1928), suffragette
- William Wilberforce (1759–1833), humanitarian
- David Bowie (born 1947), musician
- Guy Fawkes (1570–1606), English revolutionary
- Leonard Cheshire, Baron Cheshire (1917–1992), aviator and charity organiser
- Eric Morecambe (1926–1984), comedian
- David Beckham (*91) (born 1975), footballer
- Thomas Paine (1737–1809), political philosopher
- Boudica (died c.60), leader of Celtic resistance to the Roman Empire
- Sir Steve Redgrave (born 1962), Olympic rower
- Saint Thomas More (1478–1535), English saint, lawyer and politician
- William Blake (1757–1827), author/poet, painter and printer
- John Harrison (1693–1776), clock designer
- King Henry VIII of England (1491–1547), monarch (reigned 1509–1547)
- Charles Dickens (1812–1870), author
- Sir Frank Whittle (1907–1996), jet engine inventor
- John Peel (1939–2004), broadcaster
- John Logie Baird (1888–1946), television pioneer
- Aneurin Bevan (1897–1960), politician
- Boy George (born 1961), musician with Culture Club
- Sir Douglas Bader (1910–1982), aviator and charity campaigner
- Sir William Wallace (c.1270–1305), Guardian of Scotland
- Sir Francis Drake (c.1540–1596), English naval commander
- John Wesley (1703–1791), founder of Methodism
- King Arthur, legendary Celtic monarch
- Florence Nightingale (1820–1910), nurse and charity campaigner
- T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) (1888–1935), Arabist and soldier
- Robert Falcon Scott (1868–1912), polar explorer
- Enoch Powell (1912–1998), politician
- Sir Cliff Richard (*29) (born 1940), musician
- Alexander Graham Bell (1847–1922), telephone pioneer, placed 9th in the Canadian version
- Freddie Mercury (1946–1991), musician with Queen
- Dame Julie Andrews (born 1935), actress and singer
- Sir Edward Elgar (1857–1934), composer
- Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother (1900–2002), Queen consort
- George Harrison (1943–2001), musician with The Beatles
- Sir David Attenborough (born 1926), broadcaster
- James Connolly (1868–1916), the Scottish born leader of the Irish 1916 rising
- George Stephenson (1781–1848), railway pioneer
- Sir Charlie Chaplin (1889–1977), comic actor and film director
- Tony Blair (*1) (born 1953), Prime Minister (1997–2007)
- William Caxton (c.1415~1422–c.1492), English printer
- Bobby Moore (1941–1993), footballer and Captain of England 1966 World Cup winning team
- Jane Austen (1775–1817), author
- William Booth (1829–1912), founder of Salvation Army
- King Henry V of England (1387–1422), monarch (reigned 1413–1422)
- Aleister Crowley (1875–1947), occultist, writer, and social provocateur; founder of Thelema
- Robert the Bruce (1274–1329), King of Scots
- Bob Geldof (born 1951), Irish musician
- The Unknown Warrior, soldier of the Great War
- Robbie Williams (*17) (born 1974), musician and former member of Take That
- Edward Jenner (1749–1823), pioneer of vaccination
- David Lloyd George, 1st Earl Lloyd George (1863–1945), Prime Minister (1916–1922)
- Charles Babbage (1791–1871), mathematician and pioneer of computing
- Geoffrey Chaucer (c.1343–1400), English author
- King Richard III of England (1452–1485), monarch (reigned 1483–1485)
- J.K. Rowling (born 1965), author
- James Watt (1736–1819), developer of the steam engine
- Sir Richard Branson (*86) (born 1950), businessman and adventurer
- Bono (born 1960), Irish musician - Singer for Rock Band U2, philanthropist
- John Lydon (Johnny Rotten) (born 1956), musician
- Bernard Law Montgomery, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein (1887–1976), military commander
- Donald Campbell (1921–1967), water speed world record challenger
- King Henry II of England (1133–1189), monarch (reigned 1154–1189)
- James Clerk Maxwell (1831–1879), physicist
- J.R.R. Tolkien (1892–1973), author and philologist
- Sir Walter Raleigh (1552–1618), English explorer
- King Edward I of England (1239–1307), monarch (reigned 1272–1307)
- Sir Barnes Wallis (1887–1979), aviation technology pioneer
- Richard Burton (1925–1984), actor 1
- Tony Benn (born 1925), politician
- David Livingstone (1813–1873), missionary and explorer
- Sir Tim Berners-Lee (born 1955), Internet pioneer and inventor of the World Wide Web
- Marie Stopes (1880–1958), promoter of birth control
Several of these also appear in Channel 4's list of 100 Worst Britons (a tongue in cheek response to this show), due to strongly polarised views on their works, lives or legacies - notably this includes Margaret Thatcher and the current monarch, Elizabeth II. Channel 4 refused to take votes for dead figures, with their broadcast considerably lighter in tone.
1There was some question as to whether the Richard Burton listed is the actor or the explorer. A BBC press release makes it clear that the Burton so honoured is in fact the actor.
Great Britons series
An hour long documentary was filmed on each of the top ten nominees, each of them hosted by a celebrity advocate, who delivered a passionate argument as to why their choice should be voted the greatest Briton of all. The series concluded with a debate on the merits of each selected Briton, bringing all of the advocates together to make a final plea to voters.
NB: Although Fiona Shaw championed Shakespeare in the hour-long documentary reviewing his achievements, she was not able to attend the live studio debate, during which he was instead advocated by the writer and newspaper columnist A. A. Gill.
- Other countries have produced similar shows, see also: Greatest Britons spin-offs
- Germany ran their version on ZDF and called it Unsere Besten (Our Best).
- The CBC ran The Greatest Canadian in 2004.
- KRO (part of the Netherlands Public Broadcasting) ran the De Grootste Nederlander (The Greatest Dutchman).
- The Discovery Channel (in conjunction with AOL) ran The Greatest American in May 2005.
- The South African Broadcasting Corporation ran the Great South Africans.
- In Finland, YLE ran Suuret Suomalaiset (Great Finns).
- In France Le Plus Grand Français (The Greatest Frenchman) ran on France 2.
- In Belgium.: De Grootste Belg and Le plus grand belge.
- A Czech version called The Greatest Czech (Největší Čech) aired in June 2005.
- In Brazil, SBT had a project to do a Spin-off of The Greatest Briton. It's would called O Grande Brasileiro - The Biggest Brazilian.
- 100 Welsh Heroes was the result of an on-line poll carried out in 2003-4.
- A Bulgarian version, The Great Bulgarians (Великите българи), finished in February 2007.
- In Romania, the show called "Mari Români" (Great Romanians) started in May 2006; on 8 July, Televiziunea Română (TVR) presented the 100 Greatest Romanians, and on 21 October the Greatest Romanian of all the times.
- In Portugal, RTP chose dictator António de Oliveira Salazar as the Greatest Portuguese.
- In Spain, Antena 3 chose the current head of state, King Juan Carlos I, as the The Most Important Spaniard in History, on 22 May 2007.
- Russia started their project called The Name of Russia (Имя России) in May 2008.
- Argentina ran their version on Telefe and called it El Gen Argentino (The Argentine Gene). Started on 27 August 2007.
- Ukraine ran their version on Inter (TV channel) and called it Великі українці (The Great Ukrainians). To broadcast 2007-2008 season, 2007.
- New Zealand's Top 100 History Makers aired on Prime TV in 2005.
- In Greece, Skai TV is preparing the Greek version of the programme called Μεγάλοι Έλληνες (Megaloi Ellines, Great Greeks) scheduled to air on January 2009.
- A Chilean version, called "Great Chileans" (Grandes Chilenos), aired in 2008 and the chosen winner was Salvador Allende (former socialist president).