The New Elizabethans
It sounds like the opening line to a joke. What do you get if you put six historians and the chief executive of the Royal Opera House in the same room, for eight hours? The answer turned out to be a lot of passionate and extremely well informed argument; and, eventually, a list of men and women who in the view of the panel have shaped and given character to the period during which our present Monarch has reigned. The New Elizabethans.
Thanks to everyone who suggested their own New Elizabethans during the public consultation - our panel had your list with them throughout their deliberations. 3,600 nominations produced 950 separate names and the great majority of the people on the list have been nominated by at least one of you - and a lot more than that in many cases - though it was always our intention to allow the panel to make additional nominations based on their own knowledge and expertise.
Our panel's list has now been published and with presenter James Naughtie, we are starting to make a short radio programme about each of the selections. They will be broadcast from June 11.
For now, we're certain to have the arguments. Who has been left out? Why is someone else in? What about this writer, that footballer, a different scientist or business leader? Has the balance been struck correctly between the earlier part of the reign and more recent times? What about the balance between men and women, or people from different parts of the country?
Our panel, locked away with only BBC coffee for sustenance, considered all of these difficulties, and many more, with rigour and with fortitude. The problems inherent in drawing up such a list were thoroughly discussed on Start the Week before our deliberations began, so they came as no surprise and the panel returned to them often during three long meetings.
We asked them to choose men and women whose actions during the reign of Elizabeth II have had a significant impact on lives in these islands (though they don't necessarily have to be British) and/ or who have given the age its character for better or worse - but that still leaves plenty of room for argument and interpretation.
Some of the choices and omissions seem likely to cause comment. There's no religious leader, for example - although religion and faith are certainly themes in some of the lives that have been chosen. There isn't a military general - although there is a soldier, one who will be a new name to many of you. And what about the two pairings? John Lennon and Paul McCartney are put together for a single programme as are John Hume and David Trimble, the latter sharing New Elizabethan status as they did their Nobel Peace Prize.
Those of us working on The New Elizabethans project already know that any list of this sort is guaranteed to spark arguments. Its mere mention in any social gathering fires off a series of sharp discussions and questions. How are you deciding? Who's deciding? On what basis? Let the debate begin.
Andrew Smith is Editor of The New Elizabethans