Nominate your New Elizabethans
My head is buzzing with names. Since we started the search for sixty New Elizabethans I’ve been bombarded, by email and in conversation, with suggestions for the people who’ve made most difference to this country in the last six decades. I’m glad to say that they are as weird and wonderful mix as we had hoped.
I had expected Margaret Thatcher and Paul McCartney, Alan Bennett and Tim Berners-Lee, but maybe not Tim Smith of The Cardiacs and Dan Bricklin, who invented the spreadsheet.
They all go into the capacious hat with the other nominations ready for the great task of sorting them out and coming up with a list that tells the story of our age.
The website is open until March 9 so there is time for more nominations before our panel of wise men and women – soon to be announced – start their deliberations. It isn’t a vote – so write-in campaigns won’t help (as well as being painfully obvious) - but we want the field to be as wide as possible. The sixty should catch the sweep of our times, from the fifties onwards, and they should take us into every walk of life.
The nominations so far show some intriguing patterns. Politics is heavily subscribed, all the way from Winston Churchill to Alastair Campbell, which you might say is quite a span. Science does well, I’m glad to say, with Crick and Watson obvious candidates – along with Rosalind Franklin whose work was so important in their identification of DNA. It’s a category where unsung heroes have their moment – James Goodfellow invented the PIN number and Jock Kinneir (note – correct spelling) the road signs that we’ve known since the sixties.
The usefulness of the unusual names is that they’re going to be placed alongside the obvious figures who’ve dominated our landscape (although I’m surprised at one or two who’re not there yet…). I confess that I hadn’t expected Shirley Bassey or Keith Floyd or Damon Albarn. But there they are.
And one other surprise is that the arts, at this stage, are rather underrepresented. More writers please…like the names that have been thrown at me by listeners – Seamus Heaney, Philip Larkin, Graham Greene, W.H.Auden. I’m glad that Jan Morris and C.L.R.James have popped up, so keep them coming. And what of musicians? We have a good list of rock and pop stars so far, but too few, I suspect, from the classical world. Likewise, the stage. Start chucking some theatrical names at us.
Sport is coming along nicely, with Henry Cooper slugging it out with Alex Ferguson and plenty household names….and we’re beginning to get a good list of people who have made us laugh. Even if some of them, I confess, have left me cold over the years. But it’s not a matter for me…
True to form, our awkward squad has assembled for the occasion. Not only have people nominated the Kray brothers but also Peter Rachman, whose activities as a landlord fifty years ago became a byword for predatory housing discrimination. Christine Keeler is there, and someone has nominated a bete noire of our own time, Fred Goodwin, on the grounds that he has some similarities with Sir Walter Raleigh, which I’m afraid escape me. The argument is that each of them, in quite different ways, put a stamp on our time. Who can argue with that?
True to form, our awkward squad has assembled for the occasion. Christine Keeler is in there.
I am glad that the decisions are not mine, for it’s clear even now that there is going to be some passionate debate about who should emerge from the pack. The more you think about it, the more you start to wonder who counts as a big beast, and who is a bird of passage. Speaking of which, David Attenborough is piling up a great many nominations – the prize for having entranced three generations.
We’re going to have a fine list for the programmes which I’ll write and present from June onwards, painting a picture of each of the characters and fitting them into a mosaic that represents our last sixty years.
Famous or infamous, obvious or obscure, do let us know why you think there is someone who should be considered. At the moment the sixties are doing better than the fifties, men are outnumbering women by about three to one, but we’re avoiding to heavy a concentration on contemporary figures, which is good. The more names we have to juggle with, the more chance there is of getting it right.
Although I know it will be impossible to stop the arguments…
Jim Naughtie presents Today
Max Hastings, Mary Beard, John Guy and Lola Young discuss who the New Elizabethans on Start the Week. Listen now.