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The New Elizabethans

Monday 21 May 2012, 10:00

Paula McDonnell Paula McDonnell

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Editor's note: Nominations for The New Elizabethans were sent in by Radio 4 listeners and then a panel of historians decided on the final list. Radio 4 will broadcast profiles of the New Elizabethans daily (Mon-Fri) starting on Monday 11 June at 12.45pm. Here, the Editor of the series, Andrew Smith talks about the process behind the selection. PMcD.

The Queen

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

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    Comment number 1.

    Your link to *Read the full list of the New Elizabethans* gives:

    "Error 404 - Page not found"

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Where is JK Rowling? No one has done more to shape the reading habits of a generation; this is another example of intellectual snobbery at the BBC.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Just looked at the list- Tommy Flowers isn't there- the man who made the first electronic computer- and electronic computers define our modern life, more than any other device!

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    I made 3 postings, concerning who should be on the list and although I did not expect all 3 to be there. I did at least expect Doreen Lawrence - who through the horrors of her son, allowed us for the first time to begin to look at racism in this country - I remember the first time we heard the words - "Institutional Racism." This list is offensive - I am as a black person an avid listener to radio 4 and we are barely mentioned - thanks a lot. When Simon Cowell with his trash TV can be on the list, when even JK Rawlings is not - it says a lot about the values of the BBC.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    I hope the previous commenter has by now spotted that Doreen Lawrence is in fact on the list - a well-deserved inclusion. I would have liked to see Henry Moore on the list, perhaps the most important sculptor of the 20th century, and the Nobel prize winning biologist Andrew Huxley, whose discovery of the mechanism of the working of nerve endings was a key scientific breakthrough.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    It would be nice to see a list of "the 950" somewhere. Scientists and engineers don't seem to figure much - rather like the honours list.
    I wonder if Dr Lyn Evans (Evans the Atom) was nominated? He seems to have had almost no recognition anywhere in spite of heading the world's greatest scientific experiment (the LHC).

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Has anyone else noticed that there are only 57 names on the published list linked above, to johgie's comment about scientists and engineers we'd better add mathematicians because the BBC obviously needs some


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