Magazine article The Spectator

Sins of Omission and Commission

Magazine article The Spectator

Sins of Omission and Commission

Article excerpt

Editing a snobs' bible is both good for the ego and fraught with difficulty. You are accused of leaving out vital people, having too many or too few young achievers and not balancing the various professions. Richard Fitzwilliams, editor of The International Who's Who, has an even tougher job than his anonymous rival(s) on Who's Who because of its 'international' title. How many Belarussian politicians or Belgian poets need he include among the Jack Nicholsons, Naomi Campbells and Jacques Chiracs?

Fitzwilliams allows himself discretion to eject some 500 no-longer-significant people each year and to edit any entry that he considers too long or inaccurate. The result is an impressively comprehensive directory of the world's movers and shakers, or, as he puts it, `the world's most influential, talented, gifted and powerful men and women'. It shows a huge bias towards Brits and Americans and the male sex, with only 10 per cent of entries female.

The book is specially revealing when it comes to human vanity. By far the longest entries belong to Sir Peter Maxwell Davies (102 lines) and Sir Peter Hall (85), compared to Lady Thatcher's modest 29. The Independent on Sunday's new editor, Janet Street-Porter, resists giving her prosaic maiden name, Janet Bull, Delia Smith omits her birthday, 18 June 1941, and Sir Trevor MacDonald his real Christian name, George. With reverse snobbery Lord Sainsbury of Turville lists two universities but not his old school, Eton.

Personal angst also plays its part in compiling these biographies. Michael Grade mentions his father Leslie but not his mother who deserted his father when he was less than six months old, while Lord Hailsham cannot bring himself to mention the name of his first wife Natalie who ran off with a Free French officer during the second world war. Shirley Conran's entry fails to acknowledge her reviled second and third husbands, while former Tory chairman Sir Norman Fowler snubs his first wife, journalist Linda Christmas.

Less surprisingly given their recent behaviour, the disgraced cabinet minister Ron Davies 'forgets' his first marriage, to former nurse Anne Williams, as does the embattled schools inspector Chris Woodhead the name of his ex-wife.

Fitzwilliams' selection of `our most gifted contemporaries' is often quixotic. You will find paparazzo Richard Young, longdistance runner Haile Gebrselassie, actor Rufus Sewell, superchef Marco Pierre White, pop singer Bjork, Tory politician Liam Fox and Islamic terrorist leader Osama Bin Laden. …

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