BBC 'Fixed'poll to Make It Harder for Churchill; How the Running Order Was Manipulated to Spice Up TV's Search for Greatest Briton

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THE BBC manipulated the running order in its controversial Great Britons poll to ensure Sir Winston Churchill was not the runaway winner, The Mail on Sunday has learned.

Executives were in little doubt he would ultimately triumph but believed that if his case was put at the start of the series, he would secure an unstoppable lead - and spoil the viewers' fun.

Another consideration was money.

The more calls the public makes on the 25p premium rate phone lines, the higher the Corporation's income, though a spokeswoman said any profits would go towards establishing a memorial to the winner or would be passed to Children In Need.

A BBC insider said it was decided the only way to guarantee a thrilling finale would be to make Britain's wartime leader 'go last'.

He was championed by former Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam on Friday night.

To the delight of Corporation bosses, their tinkering paid off - he came from behind to take pole position over Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Princess Diana. The contest has already been marred by allegations of ballot-rigging.

Bookmakers stopped taking bets on the result after students at Brunel University in West London bombarded the BBC with votes for the great Victorian engineer and bridge-builder.

The ten-part BBC2 series has provoked fierce controversy, bringing in viewing figures of three million and sparking debate on scores of Internet sites. …