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September 18, 2005 - Making a list and checking it twice...

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As noted in the August 7 issue of Just Above Sunset - Jára Cimrman Finally Gets His Due? - in these pages we have covered the BBC and French polls and found the greatest Brit of all time was Winston Churchill, followed closely by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, then by Diana, Princess of Wales. The greatest Frenchman? Charles De Gaulle was first, of course, followed by Louis Pasteur, then Abbé Pierre, then Marie Curie. Canada chose Tommy Douglas, the former Saskatchewan premier, the man credited with being the founding father of Canada's health-care system, as the greatest Canadian of all time. In this summer's AOL poll, done along with a series of shows on the Discovery Channel, we voted Ronald Reagan the greatest American of all time. The idea failed in South Africa, where apartheid-era leaders cracked the top one hundred of the polling and the show was cancelled. In the Netherlands the contest got everyone grumbling about the citizenship of Anne Frank, who spoke and wrote in Dutch, but who officially was German. That got everyone all messed up. The August subject was the Czech poll, and how those folks just don't take anything seriously. Jára Cimrman wasn't even a real person.

But the Brits really started something. People are noticing the Brits are an odd lot.

That came up this week here:

Entr'acte: Best this, worst that - Britain loves its surveys
Alan Riding - International Herald Tribune - Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Riding asks the key questions. "Can culture be taught by numbers? Is it enough to know the namedroppable Top Ten of universal culture? And to this end, is it useful to rank a nation's most popular movies, paintings, books? Or does it merely underline the gap between popular and high culture?"

He likes the last answer, although he floats some thoughts about Britain being a nation of gamblers, and just enjoying "the chase, the countdown, the winner." Or they love defining things. Or they're hung up on their identity or some such thing.

It's a good read. Recommended.

What you'll learn?

Britain's favorite hymn is William Blake's "Jerusalem," with its evocation of "England's green and pleasant land." Some us realize Tony Richardson was playing on that in his 1962 film The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner - Tom Courteney and the other inmates of the reform school assembling gas masks in the school factory as that played in the background.

BBC Radio 4's "Today" program with the National Gallery worked out the "greatest painting" in Britain. Turner's "Fighting Temeraire."  See it here.  The runner-up was Constable's "Hay Wain."  See that one here - and I do recall a copy on the wall in the farmhouse up in Hilton, New York. Not British but in British museums were numbers three and four: Manet's "Bar at the Folies-Bergère" and Jan van Eyck's "Arnolfini Portrait" (here and here).  All safe choices.

Riding does mention that The Guardian offered an alternative: It invited ten experts to name the painting they most loathed.


William Blake, George Stubbs, John Everett Millais and Stanley Spencer were among targeted artists. Timothy Clifford, director general of the National Galleries of Scotland, named Adolphe-Joseph Monticelli's "Garden Fête," adding that he refuses to hang nine donated examples of Monticelli's "screamingly awful art."


See them all here at The Guardian site, and click on number four for Adolphe-Joseph Monticelli's "Garden Fête."  It's rather awful.

Other matters? Britain's favorite novel - J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings," with Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" second – with twenty-three percent of the vote for the first, and eighteen percent for the second. Random House's Vintage imprint invited forty-eight reader groups around Britain to name 20th-century "classics." Their choice was contemporary - Margaret Atwood and Ian McEwan way ahead of Thomas Mann and Graham Greene. Riding notes Erich Maria Remarque's "All Quiet on the Western Front" and Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" were the only prewar classics chosen. Britain's favorite crime writer? Agatha Christie, followed by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Britain's favorite gay novel will be announced at the Queer Up North festival in May, in Scotland. Kilts?

What else?


A decade ago, Rudyard Kipling's inspirational poem "If" was named Britain's favorite poem in a BBC poll - and it would probably win again. But the BBC was not finished. In 2003, it set out to find a contemporary "Poem for Britain." From some 5,000 entries, the winner was "Harvest Time: A Needlework Map Commemorating the Millennium," an appropriately nostalgic poem about village life by Con Connell, a computer expert.

There have also been competitions for the best text-message poem as well as the nation's favorite sea poem, children's poem, nursery rhyme and tea-towel poem. Few titles, though, were more tightly contested than that of Britain's favorite love poem, with Elizabeth Barrett Browning's sonnet "How do I love thee?" beating out poems by the likes of Byron, Shelley, Wordsworth, Robert Burns and even Shakespeare's sonnet "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?"


Oh yes - Britain's favorite movies, by box office ("Gone With the Wind") and by poll ("Brief Encounter") - the ten most downloaded creators of music, classical (Beethoven) and pop (Paul McCartney). And so on and so forth.

Durham Cathedral in northeast England was voted Britain's favorite building. (The official website is here.) And it seems Britain's Channel 4 will soon broadcast "Demolition," a four-part series in which viewers are invited to nominate their most hated building for demolition. Royal Albert Hall would get my vote. The curious thing is the Royal Institute of British Architects is involved with this - the "most hated" building will actually be demolished live on television next spring. Stay tuned.

It occurs to you that the folks in Baghdad didn't get a "demolition" vote, did they? Oh well.

Will this trend spread? "The Greatest [insert nationality here] of All Time" went around the world. People have far too much time on their hands.

Out here in California we vote on endless referendums for this or that - the governor and legislature are useless, give up and ask the voters to decide things - so democracy may actually be spreading around the world, in a very odd way.  But not on important matters.


Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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This issue updated and published on...

Paris readers add nine hours....