100 Greatest Britons is a television series that was broadcast by the BBC in 2002. It was based on a television poll conducted to determine who the British people at that time considered the greatest Britons in history. The series included individual programmes featuring the top ten, with viewers having further opportunity to vote after each programme. It concluded with a debate and final determination of the ranking of the top ten. Although many living people were included among the top 100, all of the top ten were deceased.
The poll resulted in nominees including Guy Fawkes, who was executed because of his role in the plot to blow up the Parliament of England; Oliver Cromwell, who created a republican British state (the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland); Richard III, suspected of murdering his nephews; James Connolly, an Irish nationalist and socialist who was executed by the Crown due to his part in the 1916 Easter Rising; Thomas Paine, who wrote against the British crown before and during the American Revolution; and a surprisingly high ranking of 17th for actor and singer Michael Crawford (the second-highest-ranked entertainer, after John Lennon). Diana, Princess of Wales, was judged to be a greater historical figure than Isaac Newton, William Shakespeare, and Charles Darwin by BBC respondents to the survey.
One of the more controversial figures to be included on the list was the occultist Aleister Crowley. His works had a direct influence on the rise in popular occultism and some forms of Neopaganism in the 20th century. In addition to the Britons, some notable non-British entrants were listed, including two Irish nationals, the philanthropic musicians Bono and Bob Geldof. The top 19 entries were people of English origin (though Sir Ernest Shackleton and Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, were both born into Anglo-Irish families in what is now the Republic of Ireland when all of Ireland was part of the United Kingdom). The highest-placed Scottish entry was Alexander Fleming in 20th place, and the highest Welsh entry was Owain Glyndŵr in 23rd place. Sixty had lived in the 20th century. The highest-ranked living person was Margaret Thatcher, placed 16th. Ringo Starr was the only member of the Beatles not on the list. Isambard Kingdom Brunel occupied the top spot in the polls for some time thanks largely to "students from Brunel University who have been campaigning vigorously for the engineer for weeks." However, a late surge in the final week of voting put Churchill into first place. Of the top 100, only 13 were women, and only one entry, was from the BAME community (Freddie Mercury.)
There were no black Britons voted on the list, prompting consternation from members of the black British community that their contribution and history in the United Kingdom were not being sufficiently recognised. A separate three-month survey was conducted among the public, resulting in the publication of 100 Great Black Britons, a list of the 100 greatest black Britons as judged by the British public. In 2004, two years after the 100 Greatest Britons list was voted on, social campaigner Patrick Vernon created a similar poll exclusively voted upon by members of the black British community, with Mary Seacole being named the greatest black Briton for her actions during the Crimean War with Russia.
The opening and closing ceremonies of the 2012 Summer Olympics featured the two greatest Britons, Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Winston Churchill as main characters, played by Kenneth Branagh and Timothy Spall, each of them reading a monologue from William Shakespeare's The Tempest. The ceremony also included a personal appearance by Tim Berners-Lee, who was placed 99th on the list.
|1||Sir Winston Churchill
|Prime Minister (1940–1945, 1951–1955). Historically ranked as one of the greatest British prime ministers. Led the nation during World War II, when the country defended itself against a planned German invasion. He was an important figure in post-war national and international politics. Received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953.||Mo Mowlam, British politician.|||
|2||Isambard Kingdom Brunel
|Mechanical and civil engineer, designer of the Great Western Railway, Clifton Suspension Bridge, SS Great Britain and numerous significant ships, tunnels and bridges. A prominent figure during the Industrial Revolution which began in Britain, he revolutionised public transport and modern engineering.||Jeremy Clarkson, TV presenter.|||
|3||Diana, Princess of Wales
|First wife of Charles, Prince of Wales (marriage 1981–1996), and mother of Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, and Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex. Admired for her philanthropic deeds.||Rosie Boycott, journalist and feminist activist.|||
|Biologist, geologist and naturalist. Originator of the theory of evolution through natural selection and author of On the Origin of Species.||Andrew Marr, journalist and TV presenter.|||
|Poet and playwright. Creator of Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, and many more. Thought of by many as the greatest of all English-language writers. An influential figure in theatre, his plays have been performed more often than those of any other playwright. His work is praised for its humanity, diversity, psychological depth and countless new words and expressions which have become part of the English language.||Fiona Shaw, actress and theatre and opera director.|||
|6||Sir Isaac Newton
|Physicist, mathematician, astronomer, theologian and natural philosopher. Originator of universal gravitation and laws of classical mechanics and laws of motion. His Principia is one of the most influential works in the history of science.||Tristram Hunt, historian.|||
|Queen of England and Ireland. (1558–1603). Brought a period of relative internal stability, and led England to victory over the Spanish Armada during the Anglo-Spanish War. Her reign is known as the Elizabethan era.||Michael Portillo, journalist and politician.|||
|Pop/rock singer-songwriter, musician, activist and member of music group The Beatles. One of the most famous, successful, influential, covered and admired pop artists of all time. Hailed for his highly personal and experimental music, rebellious free-spirited attitude and peace activism.||Alan Davies, comedian and actor.|||
|9||Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson
|Naval commander, famous for his service in the Royal Navy, particularly during the Napoleonic Wars. His victory during the Battle of Trafalgar was significant in preventing Napoleon's planned invasion of the United Kingdom.°||Lucy Moore, historian.|||
|1st Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland (1653–1658). Served as the commander of the New Model Army during the First and Second English Civil Wars against King Charles I. Though praised by historians for moving the country to a more democratic system of government, his nomination was controversial due to his actions during the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland.||Richard Holmes, military historian.|||
Although the BBC's original ranked list has been removed from their web server and what remains is only an alphabetical list of the Top 100, several other sources have preserved the original ranked list.