The publication of Who's Who 1897-1996 on CD-Rom (joint publication by A&C Black and Oxford University Press, price pounds 250 for a single user) enable us at last to compare the Whos of today with those of the past. With 90,000 biographical subjects listing their names, titles, education, occupations and fields of interest - and all searchable with the unrivalled ease that modern database technology can provide - we can compare the top people of today and yesterday in a manner never before attempted.

The tables that follow are based on a comparison between the Who's Who and Who Was Who sections of the CD-Rom - the living and the dead representatives of those people whom the first edition described as "all the most prominent people in the Kingdom, whether their prominence is inherited, or depending upon office, or the result of ability which singles them out from their fellows in occupations open to every educated man or woman".

First, let us compare some of the names of the top people of the present and the past:

Name Is Who Was Who

John 4,521 8,179

David 1,849 1,152

William 1,732 7,688

Michael 1,449 543

James 1,370 4,013

Peter 1,252 506

Robert 1,160 3,022

Richard 1,039 1,612

Charles 1,017 4,562

Anthony 870 345

Edward 829 3,477

Thomas 689 2,951

Henry 661 4,838

Christopher 554 295

Alan 509 420

Brian 450 132

Andrew 386 436

Joseph 359 1,329

Paul 314 335

Norman 288 530

Stephen 277 289

Colin 268 157

Nicholas 248 105

Harry 184 766

Mark 152 136

Jack 145 105

Daniel 75 209

Matthew 50 123

Kevin 40 19

Algernon 9 136

Fortescue 3 29

Comparing these lists with the most popular boys' names given to newly registered births throughout the country (which is currently headed by Daniel, Matthew, James, Christopher and Thomas) one can begin to appreciate the importance of starting life with the right name. A hundred years ago, Robert, Peter and Michael were not in the top ten of chosen names, yet it is clear they have not done too badly for themselves. Johns, despite a definite decline in overall numbers, have strengthened their lead at the top (though more often now as a second than first name). Williams have lost their second place to Davids, but both names continue to outperform by a large margin their positions in the national list.

Nicholas, Anthony and Christopher are all far more Who than they used to be, but Kevin, Jack and Colin are also names to watch for in the future. Sadly, Algernon and Fortescue seem to have fallen from grace.

His grace, as a title, has also fallen considerably, with only 25 living dukes listed, compared with 109 dead ones. That 77 per cent decline is, however, not significantly worse than the drops in barons, earls and viscounts. Compared with the Lords, the Ladies (down 51 per cent) and Dames (down only 17 per cent) have done very well.

Perhaps the most startling declines, however, are registered in addresses rather than modes of address. Here are some examples:

Address Is Who Was Who

Surrey 1,152 3,099

Hertfordshire 411 841

Birmingham 201 336

Manchester 181 344

London SW3 213 695

London NW3 192 475

London SW1 39 2,788

London W1 10 1,627

Considerable declines in every case - so where have they all gone? It is possible, of course, that conern for security have led to fewer addresses being listed, but we have also traced another trend: the figures for London N1 and N5 are both up, from 39 to 119 and from 11 to 24 respectively - more evidence for the Islington effect. There are, however, fewer top people living in Moscow, down from 40 to 16. Russian leaders are not what they used to be either. While Nikita Khrushchev's address in Who Was Who is given simply as "Moscow, USSR", Boris Yeltsin even gives us his fax number (206 3961, don't forget to add the code if dialling from outside Moscow).

Of the leaders of industry and academia, there are now 3,680 professors listed (compared with a total of 4,787 in Who Was Who), 3,683 chairmen (compared with 5,244) but only 1,035 presidents (3,425). Cambridge graduates, however, are catching up on those from Oxford. In Who Was Who the men from Oxford lead by 10,881 to 9,306, while in Who's Who only by 5,600 to 5393.

Field Marshals are down from 19 to 2, Admirals from 18 to 2, Generals from 20 to 4 and Maharajahs from 7 to none at all. There are, however, two aspects in which the present Whos outnumber those of the past: having been to a comprehensive school (39 to zero) and membership of the Groucho Club (120 to 2). It is, however, in their hobbies that top people register the greatest changes:

Interest Is Who Was Who

Cricket 1,374 2,088

Football 547 840

Bridge 594 574

Cooking 453 101

Chess 313 635

Soccer 115 20

Eating 64 12

Drinking 59 19

Polo 30 429

Darts 4 1

Backgammon 8 7

Sex 1 2

Baby-sitting 1 0

Swearing 1 0

Pressing wild flowers 1 0

And in case you are wondering, the last two items on that list both feature in a single entry: Stephen Fry. If it's a baby-sitting you're looking for, however, Adam Mars-Jones is the chap you want. You'll find his phone number in Who's Who.

William Hartston