In our Christmas issue, which came shortly after the BBC's Greatest Briton contest, we invited readers to nominate their Worst Briton. In the same issue, several members of the BBC panel had already taken up the challenge. Andrew Marr, to the horror of at least one Oxford professor, chose Wordsworth; Tristram Hunt nominated Dame Evelyn Sharp, the civil servant who ran postwar planning at the Ministry of Housing and Local Government from 1955-66, and he got a sharp rejoinder in last week's letters page from one of her former colleagues at the ministry; and Will Self plumped for "Tony-Alastair Campbell-Blair, a strange compound of a man".
Our readers had no doubts. The clear (perhaps predictable) winner, with 23 per cent of the vote, was Margaret Thatcher: "a truly awful person", as John Appleyard from West Yorkshire put it. Appleyard's clinching point was that she probably agreed that "lunch is for wimps", while Les Gorse of Morecambe reminded us "she likes reading Frederick Forsyth". Between them, Tony Blair and Mr Campbell-Blair, the "strange compound", took the runner-up's spot with 14 per cent. The Duke of Windsor was third with 6 per cent.
Nobody else got more than a single vote, and Wordsworth got none at all. The nominations included Winston Churchill who, according to Roy Clark of Welwyn Garden City, was "an unpleasant bully who hated the common people but invoked their spirit when it suited him"; the Lord Chancellor, Derry Irvine, who, David Hall of Liverpool pointed out damningly, is "a close personal friend of Tony Blair"; and Kenneth (now Lord) Baker for, in the words of T Couldrey of London SW6, so damaging the country's education system that "future genera-tions are unlikely even to learn about the Great Britons".
The more unexpected nominations included Gareth Gates, denounced by Jeremy Sutcliffe of St Neots, Cambs, as representative of "a dumbed-down, talent-contest culture where everything deemed good is selected by phone, text message or e-mail"; A A Gill because, wrote Harry Stopes of Withington, Manchester, he had "spouted rubbish" in his role as a member of both the BBC and NS panels; Beatrix Potter who, according to J G Wilson of Sale, helped indoctrinate the young "in the dangerous and damaging cult of anthropomorphism"; and an unfortunate former grammar school headmaster who, according to the reader who had been his pupil, "turned me into a dedicated rebel and opponent of all things Norman, British and middle-class".
But the promised bottle of port goes to Martin Kirby of Nottingham for his concise account of why George III was the Worst Briton: "If he had not lost the American colonies, there would now be no USA, only a big version of today's Australia, and no Bush."