Battle of Britons: who will reign as the jubilee heroes?

Radio 4 listeners to pick those who most influenced country during Queen's reign

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The Independent Online

Rupert Murdoch could make the cut but Winston Churchill might not. Should there be a place for both John Lennon and Sir Paul McCartney?

Radio 4 listeners will be invited to suggest the men and women who have defined the past six decades, in a special series to mark the Diamond Jubilee.

Like Sir Walter Raleigh, William Shakespeare and Sir Francis Drake, heroes from the Elizabethan era 400 years ago, their successors will have stamped their names in the history books for changing the way that we live and think, or for simply entertaining us.

Nominees can be from any nationality and from all walks of life, but their impact must have been on British society between 1952 and the present day.

The names will be passed to a panel of historians who will add their own suggestions before deciding the final list of The New Elizabethans.

James Naughtie will write and present a 15-minute profile of each of the 60 names, running each weekday from June, an epic task in itself. The Today presenter told The Independent: "They will be the 60 people whose footsteps will not be obliterated in the sands of time. They are the people who are going to last and whose impact has been profound."

The great and the good from the arts, science, academe, politics, sports and entertainment inevitably will be represented. But there will be surprises.

"It could be people who have changed our social habits, what we eat and how we decorate our houses," Mr Naughtie said. "I want there to be some unsung heroes, too, from science and medicine perhaps. Tim Berners-Lee is credited with inventing the internet but he was a prophet without honour for a long time in his own land."

The broadcaster welcomes the pub arguments that will ensue. "Twitter has already gone bonkers over it," he said. "Do the nominees need to be 'good' people? I want people with some edge and grit.

"I'm sure Rupert Murdoch will be nominated because he has made a profound difference to this country. But Churchill's achievements were entirely before 1952. Do we have Lennon and McCartney? And if we have a Beatle do we need a Rolling Stone too?"

The panel, chaired by Tony Hall, chief executive of the Royal Opera House, will strive for diversity among a final list that could favour white males. But Mr Naughtie insists there must be no "tokenism" or regional quotas.

By opening the selection to international figures, the panel is expected to consider names such as Steve Jobs and Mikhail Gorbachev.

Suggestions on who should make the list can be made via the website www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/features/the-new-elizabethans – or by emailing thenewelizabethans@bbc.co.uk – up until 5pm on Friday 9 March.

Mr Hall said: "I am absolutely thrilled to have been asked to chair the panel selecting 60 remarkable men and women who have done extraordinary things during Queen Elizabeth's reign.

"It's been a time of great technological and cultural change; we've seen pioneering advances in science and medicine and extraordinary feats achieved by British people in the international arena."

History boys: Elizabethan heroes

William Shakespeare Known and loved the world over, the dramatist and poet from Stratford-upon-Avon needs no introduction. Considered by many to be the greatest playwright of all time, his works remain relevant nearly 400 years after his death.

Sir Francis Drake The first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe, the explorer returned to England in September 1580 with a rich cargo of spices and Spanish treasure. As a reward, Queen Elizabeth knighted him aboard his ship the Golden Hind.

Sir Walter Raleigh The British explorer and poet was a courtier of Elizabeth I credited with bringing potatoes and tobacco to Britain. He was executed in October 1618 after attacking the Spanish against King James I's orders, while in search of the fabled El Dorado.

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