Flagship for the BBC's Autumn 2002 schedules is a series of programmes to identify the Greatest Briton of all time. The series kicked off on Sunday 20 October 2002 with "Great Britons: The Top 100" - the top 100 Britons, as selected in a poll of over 30,000 BBC viewers.

After a rundown from 100 to 11, the top 10 were presented in alphabetical order. A series of programmes over the coming weeks will profile each of the top 10, with the eventual winner voted on.

The series, coming about 400 years after Channel 4 began its initially excellent series of Top 10s, is the BBC's late stab at a genre being gradually ever shunned by most TV executives, and is sure to be unpopular with the ITC, which stated in its most recent annual report that there has been:

"[a] preponderance of similar programme formats across channels, the tendency to exhaust generic series, whether top 10s, other 'list' programmes or 'from hell's."

The BBC has found itself a great big rope, and has taken an almighty swing at a distant, and now almost empty, bandwagon. If nothing else, though, the series will at least yield profiles of the ten finalists, some of which might be worth watching.

The fundamental poll flaw

"Great Britons: The Top 100" suffers from the same problem faced by any "Best of..." list that relies on a popular vote for its outcome, in that it features a horrendous skew towards the contemporary, and away from the historical. Just as my choice of top ten albums of all time changes with every new CD I buy, and just as anyone who doesn't spend half their time thinking of top 5 lists will probably name that one with Antonio Banderas they saw at the Odeon the other week as the greatest film of all time, and just as any greatest poll for the best pop single of all time features mediocre efforts from the last 12 months rather than older classics, so it is we end up with a list of 100 Great Britons, more than one third of whom were born in the twentieth century.

Of course, it's all subjective anyway, and sure, contemporary greatness, importance, or visibility, shouldn't be disregarded simply because it doesn't have the advantage of hundreds of years of analysis and review to back it up, but can a man who until no more than five or six years ago was regarded as one of the members of Take That who didn't write the songs really be regarded as one of the nations's 100 greatest?

Current thinking is, of course, that he can. At which point, an exercise of this ilk becomes a poll of what we think right here, right now. We think David Beckham is God, but we've forgotten C.B.Fry. Tolkien did that film recently, didn't he, so he should probably be in the list, whereas Wilde, Yeats, and Keats have been underperforming lately, so we'll leave them off. What's that you say? The Venerable Bede? Before my time, mate, I wouldn't know. That J.K. Rowling, though, she's good isn't she?.

I tell you this. A few years ago, you could have held this poll, and Robson & Jerome would have been in it.

The 100 Greatest Britons, as voted for by some silly people


  • 87 men, and only 13 women!
  • Three Beatles!
  • 17 people with a last name beginning with the letter "B"!
  • More royals than you can shake a stick at!
  • 15 Knights!

The Top 10 are given in alphabetical order. Until the final vote is cast, we won't know the exciting outcome. Whoever wins, though, the final awards ceremony will be a muted affair. What with them all being dead.

The Top 10
  1. Isambard Kingdom Brunel

    Wearer of big hats, smoker of big cigars. Also a brilliantly flamboyant industrialist who built 25 railways, the Clifton Suspension Bridge, and the occasional Atlantic Liner.

  2. Sir Winston Churchill

    Prime Minister during World War II. Led the country to victory with a V-sign and a cigar. "We Shall never surrender!" and all that. Currently the bookies favourite to take the title.

  3. Oliver Cromwell

    With his New Model Army, defeated Charles I, subjugated Ireland, and invaded Scotland. Not a fan of freedom of expression. Defeated the Levellers. Bit of a bastard, really.

  4. Charles Darwin

    Creator of evolutionary theory. Writer of "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection "

  5. Queen Elizabeth I

    Friend/enemy of Blackadder. Also Queen of England, chiefly during the Elizabethan era. That's when smoking was popularized, by the way.

  6. John Lennon

    Member of The Beatles, Peace Campaigner, Jealous Guy. Shot by Mark Chapman in 1980.

  7. Viscount Horatio Nelson

    Naval Commander, scourge of Napoleon. Killed by a French sniper at the start of the victorious battle of Trafalgar

  8. Isaac Newton

    Great mathematician and scientist. Or, total shit. Either way, the bookies are predicting a podium finish.

  9. William Shakespeare

    Playwright. Generally recognised as the author of the works of William Shakespaeare, though this is not universally acknowledged. Looks like a good each way bet.

  10. Diana, Princess of Wales

    Road rage victim. A Royal apart. Queen of Hearts. Brave campaigner / manipulator of the press and people

  11. I have to apologise here, and point out that as I only saw half the program, descriptions for the rest of the list peter out in the mid-40s.

  12. Ernest Shackleton

    Explorer. Never quite made it to the South Pole, but decided to go for a stroll across Antarctica. Despite losing their ship, under Shackleton's inspired leadership, not one man perished

  13. Captain James Cook

    Farmer's boy who got himself into the navy, sailed off, and claimed Australia and New Zealand for Britain.

  14. Lord Robert Baden-Powell

    Founder of the Scout movement

  15. Alfred the Great

    Unified England, defeated the Vikings

  16. Duke of Wellington

    The Iron Duke, defeater of Napoleon

  17. Margaret Thatcher

    Prime Minister, 1979-1990. First female British Prime Minister, and the first to win three consecutive elections. Loved and loathed in equal measure.

  18. Michael Crawford

    Played Frank Spencer in 70s sitcom "Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em", before moving into musicals, playing the lead role in The Phantom of the Opera

  19. Queen Victoria

    Victorian Queen

  20. Sir Paul McCartney

    Member of The Beatles, Wings. Clearly no-one remembers The Frog Chorus

  21. Alexander Fleming

    Inadvertently discovered Penicillin

  22. Alan Turing

    Mathematician, father of computing

  23. Michael Faraday

    Chemist. Studied electromagnetism, electrolysis

  24. Owain Glyndwr

    Fifteenth Century Welsh Nationalist

  25. Queen Elizabeth II

    Monarch. Celebrated the Golden Jubilee of her reign in 2002

  26. Stephen Hawking

    Wheelchair bound theoretical physicist. Author of one of the most popular science books of all time, A Brief History of Time, which has now sold over ten million copies worldwide.

  27. William Tyndale

    Made the first English translation of the Bible.

  28. Emmeline Pankhurst


  29. William Wilberforce

    Campaigned for the abolition of slavery. Died shortly before the Abolition of Slavery Act came into force.

  30. David Bowie

    Musician, Starman

  31. Guy Fawkes

    Rubbish terrorist. Tried, and failed, to bomb Parliament. Snitched on his fellow bombers

  32. Sir Leonard Cheshire

    World War II pilot. Flew over 100 bombing missions. Returned after the war to establish a charitable foundation, caring for the disabled.

  33. Eric Morecambe

    Giant of Comedy. Formidably popular partnership with Ernie Wise resulted in a succession of much-adored Christmas specials

  34. David Beckham

    Footballer, England captain, and free-kick specialist

  35. Thomas Paine

    Wrote "The rights of man", campaigning for a welfare state, and was hated as a result. Nevertheless, helped write the US constitution, and thought of the name United States.

  36. Boudicca

    Warrior queen, defended Britain against the Romans.

  37. Sir Steven Redgrave

    Rower. Winner of a Gold medal at five consecutive Olympic Games from 1984 to 2000.

  38. Sir Thomas More

    Speaker of the House of Commons, got himself killed when he refused to give his blessing to a law making Henry VIII more powerful than God.

  39. William Blake

    Mad writer and painter. Composed the words for the hymn Jerusalem

  40. John Harrison

    Invented the Marine Chronometer, and stopped sailors getting so lost

  41. Henry VIII

    A King of many wives. Remembered as a fat bearded man with an appetite, generally forgotten as a pretty good king

  42. Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

    Prolific writer. Author of 18 novels, including Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, editor, writer of some 30,000 letters, and rehabilitator of prostitutes.

  43. Sir Frank Whittle

    Invented the Jet Engine, despite a lack of confidence and backing from the British Government.

  44. John Peel

    Broadcaster, Radio 1 DJ, once played Mandolin for Rod Stewart. Likes The Fall.

  45. John Logie Baird

    Invented Television

  46. Aneurin Bevan
  47. George O'Dowd (Boy George)
  48. Douglas Bader
  49. William Wallace
  50. Francis Drake
  51. John Wesley
  52. King Arthur
  53. Florence Nightingale
  54. T.E. Lawrence
  55. Robert Falcon Scott
  56. Enoch Powell
  57. Sir Cliff Richard
  58. Alexander Graham Bell
  59. Freddie Mercury
  60. Julie Andrews
  61. Edward Elgar
  62. Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother
  63. George Harrison
  64. Sir David Attenborough
  65. James Connelly
  66. George Stephenson
  67. Charlie Chaplin
  68. Tony Blair
  69. William Caxton
  70. Bobby Moore
  71. Jane Austen
  72. William Booth
  73. King Henry V
  74. Aleister Crowley
  75. Robert the Bruce
  76. Bob Geldof
  77. The Unknown Soldier
  78. Robbie Williams
  79. Edward Jenner
  80. David Lloyd George
  81. Charles Babbage
  82. Geoffrey Chaucer
  83. Richard III
  84. J.K. Rowling
  85. James Watt
  86. Richard Branson
  87. Paul Hewson (Bono)
  88. John Lydon (Johnny Rotten)
  89. Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery
  90. Donald Campbell
  91. King Henry II
  92. James Clerk Maxwell
  93. J.R.R. Tolkien
  94. Walter Raleigh
  95. Edward I
  96. Barnes Wallis
  97. Richard Burton
  98. Tony Benn
  99. David Livingstone
  100. Tim Berners Lee
  101. Marie Stopes

It's all at