De Gaulle named greatest Frenchman in television poll

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The Independent Online

After the mild shock of the Emperor Napoleon failing to make the shortlist, French television viewers gave some historical respectability to their choice of "Greatest French Person of all Time".

After the mild shock of the Emperor Napoleon failing to make the shortlist, French television viewers gave some historical respectability to their choice of "Greatest French Person of all Time".

Charles de Gaulle, leader of Free France during the Second World War and first president of the Fifth Republic, topped the poll yesterday - ahead of two scientists, a priest, two comedians, a singer, two writers and an underwater explorer. De Gaulle led the internet, telephone and text-message voting from start to finish on the France 2 public television channel, emulating the success of his wartime ally and sparring partner, Winston Churchill, in the BBC series Great Britons two years ago.

Second in the informal and utterly unscientific poll was the scientist Louis Pasteur, followed by Abbé Pierre, 92, a Jesuit priest and campaigner for the homeless and under-privileged, who regularly tops the polls of France's favourite people. He was the only person still living to make the top 10.

To the consternation of some commentators, the shortlist included two entertainers scarcely known outside France: the comedian Coluche (1944-86) and the singer and comic actor Bourvil (1917-70).

Coluche (real name Michel Colucci), a plump clown with a social conscience, came fifth in the final poll. Bourvil came seventh. The top 10 in order were: De Gaulle, Pasteur, Abbé Pierre, the scientist Marie Curie, Coluche, the 19th-century novelist Victor Hugo, Bourvil, the 17th-century playwright Molière, the underwater explorer and film-maker Jacques Cousteau and the singer Edith Piaf. Historians - and especially admirers of Napoleon, who came only 16th in the preliminary poll - complained that the shortlist was weighted towards celebrities.

However, the final vote, unscientific though it was, reflects the debt that the French feel for the man who single-handedly - and often bloody-mindedly - kept the idea of French greatness and independence alive from 1940-44. Churchill championed De Gaulle but came to detest him. He once said: "Everyone has their cross to bear and mine is the cross of Lorraine." The Croix de Lorraine was the symbol of De Gaulle's Free French forces.

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