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Diamond Elizabethans – 60 people who have changed Britain

February 14, 2012

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:

UPDATE 21st MAY 2012 – The New Elizabethans

Radio 4 have now announced their selection – 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!

44 Comments leave one →
  1. February 14, 2012 1:38 pm

    Ian Hisplop. Shome mishtake, shurely?

  2. February 14, 2012 2:13 pm

    If you want a good example of a Northern Irish sportsman, I would have gone for the greatest footballer to have graced the UK, and I do include Bobby Charlton. George Best.

    If he had been English, German or Brazilian he may have of outranked Pele.

    • February 14, 2012 5:34 pm

      Yes, a good case can be made for Best and I’m sure he will be on plenty of other people’s lists. I have two footballers on mine – Charlton for 1966 world cup and subsequent career and Beckham, as much for being a positive role model as any footballing ability.

      Dennis Taylor is in my list instead of Steve Davies or Stephen Hendry as a representative of sport popular on TV, rather than live or mass participation. If I’d been really biased I would have put in Ray Reardon!

  3. February 14, 2012 2:59 pm

    My votes go to the 57 current Lib Dem MPs, Lembit Opik and the Cheeky Girls.

    I’m surprised you differ, Stephen! 😉

  4. Paul Bemmy Down permalink
    February 14, 2012 4:40 pm

    Joe Calzaghe but not Henry Cooper. No bias there then! And the reason for Blair?

    • February 14, 2012 5:22 pm

      Calzaghe was a long standing world champion, Cooper never held a world title. Calzaghe won all 46 fights of his career, Cooper won 40/55 (according to Wikipedia!)

      As for Blair – this is list of people who have made an impact in the last 60 years, not people who I like and admire! Blair is Labour’s most successful leader. In a century’s time he will still be a major figure, with the Iraq war as the main legacy.

  5. Parmenion permalink
    February 14, 2012 6:50 pm

    Tut tut Stephen… this the same David Hockney, the staunch pro-tobacco campaigner!!

    • February 14, 2012 7:38 pm

      well I won’t hold that against him! he’s still a great artist. Unfortunately not able to see the current exhibition at the Royal Academy.

  6. February 14, 2012 6:55 pm

    In my opinion there’s no 1 interesting on the list.
    Cliff Richard would have been preferable over Tom Jones.

  7. February 14, 2012 9:04 pm

    No Richard Curtis for film and charity money raising programmes?

  8. February 14, 2012 10:01 pm

    There’s a few million hardworking Brits like housewives not going to make the list but I know it’s a bit of fun and not everyone earns a gong.
    Johnny Rottens inclusion is ironic of course as everyone knows his No1 single during the silver jubbly was banned by the BBC establishment. Don’t think Ma’am appreciated being called a ..’fascist regime…’

  9. rosemary permalink
    February 15, 2012 12:31 am

    I’d choose Elizabeth David as the literate cook who had the most influence on the New Elizabethans, getting them to take trouble in the kitchen again after a long bleak period of austerity, though I can appreciate people probably feel more comfy with Delia. Mary Quant had the most influence on women’s fashion, changing it from elegant, restricting, and impractical, to a revolutionary futuristic mode that we could live and work in comfortably. (It seems that aberration has now run its course, and we are back with stilettos and tight skirts.) The Conrans lightened and uncluttered our living interiors, and Miriam Stoppard changed the way we brought up children.

    Roy Jenkins started the liberal progressive revolution rolling, with David Steel helping to push it through. Ted Wragg and Shirley Williams revolutionised education. Edward Heath wrought huge constitutional, economic, political, legal and cultural change through covert entry into a new foreign empire; while Macmillan introduced short termism, inflation, the printing of money, and mass immigration. These six Elizabethans surely had the most profound effect of all on our country, whichever way you look at the merits of their legacy.

    Roger Scruton had great influence on tipping the balance in East/West affairs – mainly behind the Iron Curtain, and unsung.

    David Frost abolished deference – though enjoys a great deal of it himself in old age.

    I’d agree with you on Margaret Thatcher being in the list, though not on what you wrote last time. A fascinating and complex subject, not done justice by that film – though Meryl Street herself was heroic. And yes, I’d have the Beatles in too.

    What about including the Duke of Edinburgh, for his determined counter-revolution on behalf of young people against the couch potato and health and safety culture ?

    All I can come up with for now.

    • rosemary permalink
      February 15, 2012 12:43 am

      PS I should include Messrs Mandelson, Campbell, Blair, Balls, and Brown for the huge impact they had collectively on our country, but find it difficult to describe temperately in a nutshell.

    • rosemary permalink
      February 15, 2012 11:19 am

      Streep, sorry.

  10. rosemary permalink
    February 15, 2012 11:11 am

    Not sure whom to attribute the sex revolution and the shedding of empire to – Germaine Greer, and Harold Macmillan again? Or did they just happen? The appointment of Hugh Green as DG of the BBC, rather than David Attenborough, took national broadcasting from the improving and uplifting ideal of Lord Reith to the mass entertainment on an altogether different plane we see today. But again, it may just have happened of its own accord.

  11. Paul Bemmy Down permalink
    February 15, 2012 5:46 pm

    Sacredspring. I think Jonny Rottens inclusion is justified purely for his description of Blair and New Labour in the Sex Pistols DVD, “There’ll Always Be An England”. Nobody could put it better!

  12. Paul Bemmy Down permalink
    February 16, 2012 2:12 pm

    Hi Stephen. Certainly not repeatable here, atleast, not by me. But he basically asks the audience, which of you ****** voted for that **** Blair? ******* Champagne Socialist. He’s a ****. Etc etc. Age is giving me a warped sence of humour as I found it quite funny, pretty accurate, and the music’s pretty good too.

  13. Fredrik Eich permalink
    February 18, 2012 12:29 am

    I think Peter Tatchell should get a mention for “arresting” Mugabe.
    It was perfection.

    • February 18, 2012 10:23 pm

      Tatchell is an interesting suggestion. The transformation of attitudes towards homosexuality is certainly a stand out social change since 1952. I put Ian MacKellen on my list for that reason. As a gay man I certainly hope the BBC’s eventual list recognises someone for this change.

  14. Crow permalink
    February 20, 2012 3:03 pm

    Sorry about this off-topic comment, but needs must… not much time left!
    (I had a quick look for an appropriate (recent) blog post to respond to, but couldn’t find one, so this way my post will likely be seen).

    Hello Stephen. I have several times asked if you will back the call for full publication of the NHS ‘risk register’ and each time you have basically said ‘no’. Recently, I read of a meeting where critics of the reforms were not invited, effectively barring dissent! Isn’t it time to consider that this is not the democracy the Liberals claim to support?! Please, NOW, before it’s too late, show some resistance. This isn’t mob rule, we should at least be entitled to know why decisions are made against public will. The main reason that this resistance grows now may be as much to do with the government attitude to this, as the reforms themselves. Make them come clean, if nothing else.

    • February 20, 2012 9:29 pm

      I’ve seen your emails, so no need to post here! I hope that it will be published, even though the last govt never did so. The Bill has enough critics without adding fuel to the fire by encouraging people to fear the govt is hiding something sinister.

      • Crow permalink
        February 21, 2012 8:01 pm

        Thanks for the reply.
        In a couple of replies from your office in past months, what I actually got was a slightly different message. They both asserted a need for ‘a safe space in which to formulate policy’, and appeared to trust the govt with this as if it was enough, and that the register should remain unpublished.

        Each time, my return assertion was that a safe TIME ought to be enough (Parliament is pretty safe generally, no Guy Fawkes around so far as I know. 🙂

        If you want people to stop fearing their government, it always better to have proper open documentation, otherwise it gets messy as hell, as this week shows, when dissenting doctors are not invited to summits on the NHS. It’s not just the Microsoft Windows API that suffers from this result of poor publishing of process details. (I am learning fast how well that analogy is justified). I don’t mind letting politicians debate in peace, I’m not a politician and don’t want the burden of being one, all I’m asking that we know what is being debated so we can decide or not whether we agree with it. We can only be governed and policed by consent! That works better if it is informed consent, as any doctor will tell you. (I’m not a doctor either, but I don’t need to be to know how true that is).

      • February 22, 2012 11:44 am

        Each piece of legislation has a risk register running through all the issues from minor managerial to disaster scenario planning, which in this case I assume would be what happens if there is a major pandemic. Publishing the full list would not help the debate about the Bill as it currently stands, which is markedly different to the first draft. But I do think Govt ought to be more transparent about the issues that feature in risk registers.

    • Crow permalink
      February 24, 2012 2:55 pm

      You voted against the release of that register. Doesn’t sound like your hope has any conviction. Voting FOR it was the only way under the circumstances, to express that hope in any meaningful way, yet you refused to do even that.

  15. February 20, 2012 4:48 pm

    Generic biased statement that Thatcher and Blair shouldn’t be included. Thatcher ruined Britain for many, Blair started a pointless war (though to be fair only the liberal democrats opposed that war…).

    I loved Enid Blyton but her books are a bit old fashioned in their prejudices – at the end the previously ugly and nasty people become pretty and nice!

    • February 20, 2012 9:31 pm

      I am not a fan of either Thatcher or Blair but it can’t be denied that they had a significant impact on our lives. Have a read of my Iron Lady blog from early January!

  16. February 20, 2012 4:50 pm

    You’re Welsh and you’ve not written Aneurin Bevan? Surely the NHS is one of THE important developments of the current Elizabethan period, no? Or did you omit him because you’re embarrassed that the LibDems are participating in the destruction of the NHS?

  17. February 20, 2012 4:55 pm

    Hmm, actually, maybe you missed out Aneurin Bevan because the NHS was founded just before Elizabeth took the throne. Fair play.

  18. Jo Corke permalink
    February 20, 2012 7:41 pm

    It is worth repeating that the list Stephen compiled is of 60 people who have changed Britain.

    Stephne does NOT say he likes them or what they did….

  19. Harriet permalink
    February 21, 2012 12:02 pm

    Some great candidates there, I particuarly agree with Delia Smith, Ian McKellan and Iain Hislop.

    What about Lord Wolfenden, who was important for laying the ground to legalise homosexuality? Definitely one of the most important societal changes in the last 60 years!

    • February 21, 2012 1:38 pm

      Harriet – thanks, a good suggestion, along with the one for Peter Tatchell above. I’ve put Ian McKellan to represent Stonewall.

  20. John permalink
    February 21, 2012 8:16 pm

    I admire Alec Issigonis the Car Designer, for giving us the Mini & Morris Minor plus many others.
    Alan Turing, the code breaker, we all owe so much for his work at Bletchley Park, & his leading role in computers. Plus remembering how he was driven to suicide after he was treated so badly for being Gay, in spite of what he did for us.

    • February 22, 2012 11:51 am

      I like the suggestion of Issigonis. The Mini is certainly a British icon of the last 60 years. While I certainly admire Turing and feel he deserves far greater posthumous recognition, most of his work was done during the reign of George VI so he couldn’t really feature in this list.

  21. rosemary permalink
    February 24, 2012 11:19 am

    Forgive another “off topic” question, Stephen, but I’m sure a lot of us here in Bristol West would like to know: How did you get on with the safety for cyclists debate yesterday?

    • February 24, 2012 10:22 pm

      I was in Bristol yesterday afternoon, accompanying Vince Cable on a visit to the business incubator unit. The debate, in the Grand Committee Room off Westminster Hall, was called by my colleague Julian Huppert, MP for Cambridge. I fully support the Times for giving the issue of cycling safety so much attention. The govt is funding a number of measures. Bristol has made huge progress on safe cycle routes in the last 20 years.

      • rosemary permalink
        February 25, 2012 12:43 pm

        A lot of cyclists I know seem to think Bristol is spending money from the taxpayer on making the streets less safe for them, not more. Whiteladies Rd is the example most of them give. Instead of narrowing it for traffic, thus forcing cycles under the wheels of buses and cars, the money could have been spent on giving us a bus to the hospital complex and bus station, along Park Row, and a hop on and off minibus in the centre. We could have brought in clean fuelled buses too. Serious cycle lanes, not just a few feet of token white dots, are needed too, everywhere in the centre. Instead we are getting more and more built out pavements, and crossing and traffic island adjustments – which we don’t need.

  22. Paul Bemmy Down permalink
    February 25, 2012 6:44 pm

    Hi Stephen. I raised the issue of Pension Credits and you said you would speak to the Pensions Minister. Any joy? I ask again because today an aquaintance who I was speaking to about pensions, you do at our age, told of his relation who had not worked for 30 years, reaching the age of 60 and being put on P/C. The aquaintance, having worked for over 40 years was not amused. Is it still the case that if you are not working, and have no pension, you can claim P/C at 60, and you are not even required to look for work, and thats over £130 per week. Nice if you can get it.

  23. July 27, 2012 4:17 pm

    Awesome issues here. I’m very happy to look your post. Thank you so much and I am looking ahead to touch you. Will you kindly drop me a e-mail?

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