100 Greatest Britons was broadcast in 2002 by the BBC. The programme was based on a television poll conducted to determine whom the United Kingdom public considered the greatest British people in history. The series, Great Britons, included individual programmes featuring the individuals who featured in the top ten, with viewers having further opportunities to vote after each programme. It concluded with a debate. All of the top 10 were dead by the year of broadcast.
The poll resulted in nominees including Guy Fawkes, who was executed for trying to blow up the Parliament of England; Oliver Cromwell who created a republican England; Richard III, suspected of murdering his nephews; James Connolly, an Irish nationalist and socialist who was executed by the Crown in 1916; 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 British figure than William Shakespeare by BBC respondents to the survey.
One of the more controversial figures to be included on the list was occultist Aleister Crowley. His works have had a direct influence on the rise in paganism in the 20th century. He has considered an influence on Gerald Gardner, founder of Gardnerian Wicca. In addition to the Britons, some notable non-British entrants were listed, including two Irish nationals, the philanthropic musicians Bono and Bob Geldof. Furthermore, many candidates were from an era in which Britishness did not exist. 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 when what is now the Republic of Ireland was part of the United Kingdom). The highest-placed Scottish entry was Alexander Fleming in 20th place, with the highest Welsh entry, Owain Glyndŵr, at number 23. Sixty had lived in the twentieth century. The highest-ranked living person was Margaret Thatcher, placed 16th. Ringo Starr is the only member of The Beatles not on the list. Perhaps the most surprising high entry was Isambard Kingdom Brunel, whose 2nd place was due largely to "students from Brunel University who have been campaigning vigorously for the engineer for weeks."
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 andTimothy Spall, each of them reading a monologue from William Shakespeare's The Tempest. In addition, the ceremony also contained a personal appearance by Tim Berners-Lee, who was placed 99th on the list.
Because of the nature of the poll used to select and rank the Britons, the results do not claim to be an objective assessment. They are as follows:
|1||Sir||(1874–1965)||||Politician||Prime Minister during World War II, historically ranked as one of the greatest British prime ministers.|
|2||Isambard Kingdom Brunel||(1806–1859)||||Engineer||Creator of the Great Western Railway, and designer of numerous significant ships, tunnels and bridges.|
|3||Diana, Princess of Wales||(1961–1997)||||Member of the British Royal family. Philanthropist.||First wife of Charles, Prince of Wales (marriage 1981–1996), and mother of Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, and Prince Harry.|
|4||Charles Darwin||(1809–1882)||||Naturalist||Originator of the theory of evolution through natural selection and author of On the Origin of Species.|
|5||William Shakespeare||(1564–1616)||||Poet and playwright||Thought of by many as the greatest of all English writers.|
|6||Sir||(1642–1727)||||Physicist, mathematician, astronomer, natural philosopher and biblical scholar||Originator of universal gravitation and laws of classical mechanicsand laws of motion. His Principia is one of the most influential works in the history of science.|
|7||Queen||(1533–1603)||||Queen regnant||Popular monarch of England (reigned 1558–1603) who brought a period of relative internal stability. She is associated with the defeat of the Spanish Armada.|
|8||John Lennon||(1940–1980)||||Composer, musician, philanthropist, peace activist, artist, and writer.||Co-writer with Paul McCartney in The Beatles, the most successful band and music act of all time, and solo musician.|
|9||Vice-Admiral||(1758–1805)||||Naval commander||Famous for his service in the Royal Navy, particularly during theNapoleonic Wars.|
|10||Oliver Cromwell||(1599–1658)||||Military and political leader||1st Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland. Commander of the New Model Army during the English Civil War against King Charles I.|
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.