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100 Greatest Britons

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100 Greatest Britons is a television series that was broadcast by the BBC in 2002. It was based on a television poll conducted to determine who the British people at that time considered the greatest Britons in history.[1][2] The series included individual programmes featuring the top ten, with viewers having further opportunity to vote after each programme.[3] It concluded with a debate and final determination of the ranking of the top ten. Although many living people were included among the top 100, all of the top ten were deceased.



The poll resulted in nominees including Guy Fawkes, who was executed because of his role in the plot to blow up the Parliament of England; Oliver Cromwell, who created a republican British state (the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland); Richard III, suspected of murdering his nephews; James Connolly, an Irish nationalist and socialist who was executed by the Crown due to his part in the 1916 Easter Rising; Thomas Paine, who wrote against the British crown before and during the American Revolution; John Lydon, the lead vocalist of the Sex Pistols; Enoch Powell, a conservative politician;[4][5] and a surprisingly high ranking of 17th for actor and singer Michael Crawford, the second-highest-ranked entertainer, after John Lennon. Diana, Princess of Wales, was judged to be a greater historical figure than Isaac Newton, William Shakespeare, and Charles Darwin by BBC respondents to the survey.

One of the more controversial figures to be included on the list was the occultist Aleister Crowley. His works had a direct influence on the rise in popular occultism and some forms of Neopaganism in the 20th century. In addition to the Britons, some notable non-British entrants were listed, including two Irish nationals, the philanthropic musicians Bono and Bob Geldof. Of the top 20 entries 16 were people of English origin. Elizabeth I was part of a Welsh royal house, Sir Ernest Shackleton and Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, were both Irish (Wellington being Anglo-Irish) in what is now the Republic of Ireland when all of Ireland was part of the United Kingdom, and Alexander Fleming in 20th place was Scottish. [6]

Only 13 of the 100 are women. Sixty had lived in the 20th century. The highest-ranked living person was Margaret Thatcher, placed 16th.[7] Ringo Starr was the only member of the Beatles not on the list. Isambard Kingdom Brunel occupied the top spot in the polls for some time thanks largely to "students from Brunel University who have been campaigning vigorously for the engineer for weeks." However, a late surge in the final week of voting put Churchill into first place.[8]

The list


Although the BBC's original ranked list has been removed from their web server and what remains is only an alphabetical list of the Top 100,[9] several other sources have preserved the original ranked list.[10][11][5]

There was some question as to whether the Richard Burton listed at No. 96 was the actor or the explorer.[citation needed] A BBC press release makes clear that the actor was intended.[12]

Top 10

Rank Name Notability Advocate Ref.
1 Winston Churchill
Prime Minister (1940–1945, 1951–1955). Historically ranked as one of the greatest British prime ministers. Led the nation during World War II, when the country defended itself against a planned German invasion. He was an important figure in post-war national and international politics. Received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953. Mo Mowlam, British politician.[13] [14]
2 Isambard Kingdom Brunel
Mechanical and civil engineer, designer of the Great Western Railway, Clifton Suspension Bridge, SS Great Britain and numerous significant ships, tunnels and bridges. A prominent figure during the Industrial Revolution which began in Britain, he revolutionised public transport and modern engineering.[15] Jeremy Clarkson, TV presenter.[13] [14]
3 Diana, Princess of Wales
First wife of Charles III (marriage 1981–1996), and mother of William, Prince of Wales, and Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex. Admired for her philanthropic deeds. Rosie Boycott, journalist and feminist activist.[13] [14]
4 Charles Darwin
Biologist, geologist and naturalist. Originator of the theory of evolution through natural selection and author of On the Origin of Species. Andrew Marr, journalist and TV presenter.[13] [14]
5 William Shakespeare
Poet and playwright. Creator of Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, and many more. Thought of by many as the greatest of all English-language writers. An influential figure in theatre, his plays have been performed more often than those of any other playwright. His work is praised for its humanity, diversity, psychological depth and countless new words and expressions which have become part of the English language. Fiona Shaw, actress and theatre and opera director.[13] [14]
6 Isaac Newton
Physicist, mathematician, astronomer, theologian and natural philosopher. Originator of universal gravitation and laws of classical mechanics and laws of motion. His Principia is one of the most influential works in the history of science. Tristram Hunt, historian.[13] [14]
7 Elizabeth I
Queen of England and Ireland. (1558–1603). Brought a period of relative internal stability, and led England to victory over the Spanish Armada during the Anglo-Spanish War. Her reign is known as the Elizabethan era. Michael Portillo, journalist and politician.[13] [14]
8 John Lennon
Pop/rock singer-songwriter, musician, activist and member of music group The Beatles. One of the most famous, successful, influential, covered and admired pop artists of all time. Hailed for his highly personal and experimental music, rebellious free-spirited attitude and peace activism. Alan Davies, comedian and actor.[13] [14]
9 Horatio Nelson
Naval commander, famous for his service in the Royal Navy, particularly during the Napoleonic Wars. His victory during the Battle of Trafalgar was significant in preventing Napoleon's planned invasion of the United Kingdom. Lucy Moore, historian.[13] [14]
10 Oliver Cromwell
1st Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland (1653–1658). Served as the commander of the New Model Army during the First and Second English Civil Wars against King Charles I. Though praised by historians for moving the country to a more democratic system of government, Cromwell's nomination was controversial due to his actions during the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland. Richard Holmes, military historian.[13] [14]

See also



  1. ^ "100 great British heroes". BBC News. 21 August 2002. (contains the top 100, sorted alphabetically)
  2. ^ "BBC reveals 100 great British heroes". BBC News. 22 August 2002.
  3. ^ "Ten greatest Britons chosen". BBC News. 20 October 2002.[permanent dead link]
  4. ^ 100 Greatest Britons- All known clips from the Broadcast (Lost Media, BBC2 2002). 22 July 2022. Retrieved 21 October 2023.
  5. ^ a b "Great Britons 11–100". BBC. Archived from the original on 4 December 2002. Retrieved 1 August 2012.
  6. ^ Bloomfield, Steve (29 February 2004). "Rebel 'plot' to topple greatest Welshman". The Independent. Archived from the original on 1 May 2022. Retrieved 11 January 2018.
  7. ^ Winnett, Robert (20 October 2002). "Three lead race to be greatest Briton". The Times. Retrieved 11 January 2018.
  8. ^ "Churchill voted greatest Briton". 24 November 2002. Retrieved 8 November 2019.
  9. ^ "The complete list of the top 100 in alphabetical order" (Press release). BBC. 21 August 2002.
  10. ^ "100 Greatest Britons (BBC Poll, 2002)". Alchemipedia. 8 December 2009. Archived from the original on 29 January 2012. Retrieved 27 October 2011.
  11. ^ "Great Britons 1–10". BBC. Archived from the original on 4 February 2004. Retrieved 1 August 2012.
  12. ^ "BBC TWO reveals the nation's top 100 Greatest Britons of all time" (Press release). BBC. 21 August 2002.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "BBC TWO reveals the ten greatest Britons of all time" (Press release). BBC. 19 October 2002. Retrieved 11 October 2015.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Great Britons". BBC History. Archived from the original on 4 February 2004. Retrieved 11 October 2015.
  15. ^ "Why the Industrial Revolution Happened Here". BBC. 10 July 2017.