It's a bum note
Prof Jeremy Dibble of Durham University's music department is upset by the removal, as from tomorrow, of the £20 banknote that bears the image of the composer Sir Edward Elgar.
He says it reflects the low standing of the arts in this county. Does it? Why? There are only four denominations of note to choose from: £5, £10, £20 and £50, with the £20 accounting for 60% of all notes in circulation.
Elgar's mustachioed mug has been adding value to our £20 notes since 1999; before that it was Shakespeare who did the honours from 1970, when the concept of having a "celebrity" on the banknote was first introduced. So you could argue the arts have hogged the £20 banknote for 40 years.
In fact, there was a time in the early 1990s when the arts were represented on three of the four notes: Dickens on the £10, Shakespeare on the £20 and Wren on the £50. They were spared the ignominy of the fiver. Mind you, if they want a quick return to the fold, this is the note that is likely to be next available.
Given this run, it doesn't seem unreasonable to let some other sides of British life a bit of a go and makes accusing the Bank of England of philistinism seem a touch harsh. Philosophy, sport and religion have yet to have a look in.
The Bank of England's website covers the subject well, but some questions remained unanswered until I phoned them.
Q: How often do you change the portrait on a banknote?
A: Every 7-10 years on average, although some have been for as long as 20-plus years.
Q: What are the criteria?
A: Someone who has made an outstanding contribution to British life.
Q: So do they have to be British?
Q: Any other criteria?
A: That they have stood the test of time.
Q: Oh. So do they have to be dead?
Q: Who chooses the person to go on the banknote?
A: The Governor of the Bank of England.
Q: Is the next available note going to have an arts face on it?
A: I don't know - I'm not the Governor. But you can look at our website for a list of suggested names [82.92KB PDF].
I did. It made interesting reading. It's hardly representative of multi-cultural Britain - and have a look at some of the suggestions from more recent times. Those who are hoping for a portrait of someone from the world of music should perhaps be careful what they wish for.