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List: Top Ten Greatest Britons

Date: 2002

Source: Poll by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)

Base: BBC Television received over 30,000 votes for the initial nominations and then a further television poll ranked the top ten after advocacy of each of the top vote winners.

Notes: The original BBC poll was to discover the 100 Greatest Britons of all time. The poll resulted in some unlikely candidates including Guy Fawkes, Aleister Crowley, Johnny Rotten, and King Richard III. It also included two living Irish nationals (Bono and Bob Geldof) and James Connolly, the Irish terrorist (who, incidentally, was actually born in Scotland). Two others who made the initial list were Sir Ernest Shackleton and the Duke of Wellington who were both born in Ireland (Wellington, however, certainly regarded himself as English, observing that because Jesus was born in a stable it did not make him a horse.) As Ireland was never part of Britain, but the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (which clearly shows Britain and Ireland to be separate entities), it may be technically incorrect to refer to them as being British. There was also a controversy over the descriptor "British" being applied to many people born before the foundation of the British state under the Acts of Union 1707. For example William Shakespeare and Elizabeth I were never "British", but rather English. The highest-placed Scottish entry was Alexander Fleming in 20th place and the highest Welsh entry Owain Glyndwr in 23rd. There was also some controversy over the method of voting for the top ten, with large scale organised multiple votes being orchestrated by students at Churchill College and Brunel University for their namesakes.



Career Notes


Sir Winston Churchill

Author, politician and Prime Minister


Isambard Kingdom Brunel



Diana, Princess of Wales

Looked Lovely


Charles Darwin

Naturalist, originator of the theory of evolution


William Shakespeare

Playwright and poet


Sir Isaac Newton

Physicist - something about gravity and higher mathematics


Queen Elizabeth I of England

Monarch - beat up the Spanish


John Lennon



Horatio, 1st Viscount Nelson

Naval commander, also beat up the Spanish, and the French, should have won the poll.


Oliver Cromwell

Lord Protector and patriot

The BBC programme 'Great Britons' spawned a number of similar shows on other national broadcasters. The links to the top tens from these series are:
The 10 Greatest Canadians
De Grootste Nederlander (The Greatest Netherlander)
Suuret suomalaiset (Great Finns)
'Le Plus Grand Français de tous les temps' (The Greatest Frenchman of all Time)
Unsere Besten ("Our Best") - German version
Největší Čech ("The Greatest Czech")

The Belgians did two polls - one for the Walloon part of the country and one for the Flemish. We'll try and get results for those soon.

The South Africans also started a poll, but never finished it due to a national controversy over the high rankings accorded to some nominations who were less widely regarded as "great" than others. For example, Hendrik Verwoerd, the "architect of apartheid", ranked higher on the list than Albert Luthuli, South Africa's first Nobel Peace laureate.

The Americans did one and Ronald Reagan was the winner.

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