Our Great Britons

Article excerpt

THIS Sunday, the BBC will announce the winner of its controversial poll of viewers to establish the Greatest Briton of all time. Favourite to win is Isambard Kingdom Brunel, followed by Princess Diana and Winston Churchill - though viewers have nominated hundreds of others. Here, a cross-section of writers choose who they think should win.

Sir Christopher Wren, 1632-1723

Colin Blakemore, Oxford professor

NOT just for St Paul's and his other magnificent buildings, but because he was also one of Britain's greatest scientists. Astronomer, classifier of insects, brain anatomist, physiologist (he attempted the first transfusion in a human being), inventor of meteorology, mathematician (Isaac Newton called him the foremost geometer of his day). I nominate Wren, Britain's true Renaissance man.

W.G. Grace, 1848-1915

Quentin Letts, Mail Parliamentary writer

POPULARISED our greatest contribution to humanity: cricket.This country doctor could throw a ball over 100 yards, batted like West Indian Brian Lara, bowled like Australian Dennis Lillee and was a master of gamesmanship.'They've come to see me bat, not you umpire - play on!' he once said, after being clean bowled. During the tea interval he commonly sank large whiskies.

Charles Dickens, 1812-1870

Tom Rosenthal, publisher

OUR greatest novelist, who changed the structure of fiction for ever with convoluted, coincidence-bound plots that somehow worked out brilliantly. He created unforgettable characters like Micawber, Fagin, Pickwick and casts of thousands by whom we remain fascinated or repelled today. He is still read all over the world in more than 30 languages. When he gave public readings from his own works in Britain and America, he was mobbed and idolised like a film star.

Captain James Cook, 1728-1779 Sir Bernard Ingham, Margaret Thatcher's former press secretary

Quentin Letts, Mail Parliamentary writer POPULARISED our greatest contribution to humanity: cricket.This country doctor could throw a ball over 100 yards, batted like West Indian Brian Lara, bowled like Australian Dennis Lillee and was a master of gamesmanship.'They've come to see me bat, not you umpire - play on!' he once said, after being clean bowled. During the tea interval he commonly sank large whiskies.

Charles Dickens, 1812-1870 Tom Rosenthal, publisher OUR greatest novelist, who changed the structure of fiction for ever with convoluted, coincidence-bound plots that somehow worked out brilliantly. He created unforgettable characters like Micawber, Fagin, Pickwick and casts of thousands by whom we remain fascinated or repelled today. He is still read all over the world in more than 30 languages. When he gave public readings from his own works in Britain and America, he was mobbed and idolised like a film star.

Captain James Cook, 1728-1779 Sir Bernard Ingham, Margaret Thatcher's former press secretary ACCORDING to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, this former apprentice haberdasher from Marton-in-Cleveland 'set new standards of thoroughness in discovery and seamanship, in navigation, in cartography, in the sea care of men, in relations with natives both hostile and docile, in the application of science at sea and in peacefully changing the map of the world more than any single man in history'. I rest my case.

Elizabeth Fry, 1780-1845 Mary Kenny, writer THE woman featured on the pound sterling5 note was a determined and high-minded Quaker who pioneered prison reform, particularly for women. But she was no soppy liberal: she believed prison regimes should be decent, but that repentance was vital to reform. She handed every rescued prisoner a Bible. She was also the mother of ten children, combining reforming zeal with zestful fertility.

John Lennon, 1940-1980 Patrick Augustus, writer HIS ambition overcame the death of his mother in his early life. …