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 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 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 20th century. The highest-ranked living person was Margaret Thatcher, placed 16th. Ringo Starr is 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 over the top. Of the top 100, 13 are women.
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. In addition, the ceremony also contained a personal appearance by Tim Berners-Lee, who was placed 99th on the list. There were no black Britons on the list, prompting a separate three-month survey to find the 100 greatest black Britons.
Due to 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:
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.
There was some question as to whether the Richard Burton listed at #96 is the actor or the explorer. A BBC press release makes it clear that they intended it to be the actor.