150 years for the guide to who's who and what's what

WHILE some of the most famous celebrities in the world partied the night away at post-Oscar bashes last night, there was a much more discreet gathering in London, attended by anyone who really is anyone.

Among the famous faces sipping champagne and nibbling canapes, a group of shadowy figures circulated, making polite conversation without once revealing their identity.

It was not an MI6 recruiting drive, but the 150th anniversary party for Who's Who and the anonymous characters were its compilers. Their identity remains a closely guarded secret to prevent bribes or pleas for inclusion. Should you ring the office you will not be told the identity of the person to whom you are speaking. Should you meet them at a party, they will tell you only that they work in publishing. If pressed, they will add only that they publish reference books.

But they were there, along with 235 people who are among the 30,000 entries in the latest edition. Among those who accepted an invitation were Lord Menuhin, the youngest person ever to be included at 15; Ben Elton; Germaine Greer; and Dame Barbara Cartland, who has the longest entry, of 221 lines.

"We couldn't ask them all so we went for people known to us, people who are fun," said Charlotte Burrows, a spokeswoman for publishers A&C Black. "There were a lot of people from the media, the literary world and publishing, but not all of them, and we thought it was an interesting mix of people."

An invitation to join the ranks of those listed in Who's Who is viewed as a sign that one has "arrived", but every year there is fierce criticism about those who have been left out. No one knows why some people are chosen and others not - the methods of selection, like the selectors, are secret. Cilla Black, for instance, is in; Sting is not. Will Carling is in; Gazza is not. Nor is Mick Jagger - but Ms Burrows would like to set the record straight. "In the early Seventies his agent was badgering us to include the band but the editor said they might all be barrow boys by the following year and wanted to wait a while.

"Then the agent arrived at the office with a barrowful of roses but his pleas were ignored. A few years later invitations were extended to the band - as they have been every year since - but Mick has ignored them."

Other notable "refuseniks" include the Barclay twins and Tiny Rowland. But for those who do accept the invitation, their autobiographical entries make fascinating reading. George Bernard Shaw listed his recreations as cycling, showing off and anything except sport. Cecil Rhodes penned an enthusiastic account of his many pastimes including "rides daily for two hours at 6am, reads chiefly the classics, of which he has a fine collection ... visits his lions every day when he can."

In the current edition the author Douglas Adams professes to spend his free time staring out of the window, and Stephen Kramer QC opts for "paying the telephone bills for two teenagers".

There is also the delicate question of age. Actors are, not surprisingly, the worst offenders. Susan Hampshire gives her birthday as 12 May 1942 but her birth certificate reveals that she was actually born in 1937. Nanette Newman and Ken Dodd both lop four years off their respective1935 and 1927 birthdays and even Mohamed Al-Fayed is surprisingly coy; he was born in 1929, not 1933.

And what of those who are simply left out year after year? Clearly Victoria Adams is Not Posh Enough Spice.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright and Bianca Miller in the final of The Apprentice
tvMark Wright and Bianca Miller fight for Lord Sugar's investment
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor winner Ben Haenow has scored his first Christmas number one
music
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
News
Claudia Winkleman and co-host Tess Daly at the Strictly Come Dancing final
people
News
i100
Extras
indybest
News
peopleLiam Williams posted photo of himself dressed as Wilfried Bony
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice finalists Mark Wright and Bianca Miller
tvBut who should win The Apprentice?
News
The monkey made several attempts to revive his friend before he regained consciousness
video
Extras
indybest
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Analyst - Bristol

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An IT Support Analyst is required to join the ...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick