Simon Kelner: How Fred the Shred became a diamond geezer


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The Independent Online

I haven't been able to find out whether the festival of road works and street closures in central London is part of preparations for the Diamond Jubilee or the Olympic Games, but anyone travelling (or, as the case may be, not travelling) around the capital will be in no doubt that something big is about to happen.

The streets, tubes and buses are full of tourists unfamiliar with Oyster cards or the difference between The Mall and Pall Mall – I spent a little time yesterday explaining this to a Japanese couple, whom I left happy but, sadly, still bemused – and those shops selling such essential items as union jack teddy bears and miniature Harrods vans are doing a brisk trade. Get ready, too, for the forthcoming Diamond Jubilee media-fest.

Already we've had the startling revelations that The Queen doesn't perspire and that she has her shoes worn in for her by somebody else to ensure that she is never in discomfort. I assume that these two things must be related: you're less likely to end up in a sweaty heap if every little detail in your life is taken care of. If those stressful moments first thing in the morning, like not being able to find your Tuppaware cornflake container, or discovering that your Racing Post isn't correctly ironed, are banished, then it's much more likely you will have the requisite poise as you go about your business.

Her Majesty's broadcaster is also winding up for the big event, and, in advance of a Radio 4 series called The New Elizabethans, the BBC has released the list of 60 Britons deemed by a panel of experts to have defined the age. The list was whittled down from 1,000 names submitted by the public, and the final selection was made on the basis that those selected "have had a significant impact on the life of these islands... for better or worse". The panel has certainly been as good as its word, and the pantheon includes both heroes and villains. So Fred Goodwin makes the cut, alongside Edmund Hillary, and Rupert Murdoch rubs shoulders with Benjamin Britten. There are a refreshing number of anti-establishment figures – for example, the journalist Paul Foot, the playwright Harold Pinter and the late eco-campaigner Anita Roddick – a heavy representation of scientists, and only two sportsmen, George Best and Basil D'Oliveira (what, no Bobby Moore, I hear you ask?). There's also no question, either, of towing the House of Windsor line, given that Princess Diana is included, but Prince Charles isn't.

As with all lists of this nature, there is a strong element of subjective judgement which allows for discussion and argument. But, as a representation of the past 60 years, I think it stands up to scrutiny. The series begins on June 11 and will be presented by James Naughtie, which can be the only explanation for why he wasn't on the list..