Forget Napoleon. France is celebrating a comedian and an actor in its '10 greatest'

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The Independent Online

Napoleon is out. So are Jacques Chirac, Arsène Wenger and Eric Cantona. Charles de Gaulle is favourite, followed by Edith Piaf, Jacques Cousteau and Victor Hugo.

Napoleon is out. So are Jacques Chirac, Arsène Wenger and Eric Cantona. Charles de Gaulle is favourite, followed by Edith Piaf, Jacques Cousteau and Victor Hugo.

Other contenders for "Greatest French Person of all Time" came as a surprise, even to the French. Two are barely known outside France: the comedian Coluche and the singer and actor Bourvil.

The television series, copied from the BBC's Great Britons , will decide le plus grand Français de tous les temps in the next few months. The first 100 were chosenfrom random names in a nationwide poll. Those who made the top 10 will be the subject of documentaries on the France 2 television channel, with the winner decided by viewers voting by telephone, text message and the internet.

The preliminary list contained several shocks and a mine of sociological evidence about the way the French see themselves. Only 10 women and 32 living people made the top 100. But two of the women - the singer Edith Piaf and the scientist Marie Curie - were among the first 10.

The Emperor Napoleon came 16th. No living politician scored higher than 42nd (Jacques Chirac). The only living person in the top 10 was Abbé Pierre, 92, a Jesuit priest and campaigner for the under-privileged, who regularly tops the polls of France's favourite people.

The inclusion of Coluche and Bourvil caused some puzzlement. Although both were popular in their lifetime, neither is normally counted among the greatest French comedians or comic actors.

Coluche (real name Michel Colucci) was a plump, slapstick clown who began a network of soup kitchens for the homeless. He died in a motorbike accident in 1970. Bourvil (André Zacharie Raimbourg) starred in extremely French, comic films in the 1950s and 1960s.

The top 10, based on a poll of 1,038 people, was revealed in alphabetical order. The eclectic list was: Abbé Pierre, Bourvil, Coluche, Jacques Cousteau, the underwater explorer, Marie Curie, Charles de Gaulle, Victor Hugo, the 19th century novelist, Molière, the 17th century playwright, Louis Pasteur, the scientist, and Edith Piaf.

The footballer Zinedine Zidane was the best-placed sportsman at 21st, way ahead of the painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir (77th) and the writer Jean-Paul Sartre (96th).

Popular entertainment scored disproportionately well - so much so that Michel Drucker, a kind of French Terry Wogan, who co-presented the opening show, was 78th. His co-presenter Thierry Ardisson (unplaced) commented: "You've beaten [the poets] Rimbaud [84th] and Baudelaire [82nd], which just proves that you can be successful without taking drugs ..."

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