On the way home (the motorway route, I wasn’t going back along the Fosse way, for sure) we stopped off near Tredegar to visit a site that without my local travel guide pal I would never have heard of or even thought of visiting. The Aneurin Bevan Stones – Aneurin Bevan, the architect of the UK National Health Service.
The memorial stands at Bryn Serth, just off the Heads of The Valley Road at a site used by the famous politician for open air public meetings. Symbolically, the central monolith represents Bevan himself, whilst three satellite stones represent his constituency towns of Ebbw Vale, Tredegar and Rhymney.
In a BBC poll of 2002 ‘The Greatest Britons’, Bevan came forty-fifth out of a hundred and personally I think he deserved to come a bit higher than that, but let’s be honest how can you trust a poll of the people when Princess Diana came third ahead of Isaac Newton, William Shakespeare and Horatio Nelson. She had no chance of beating Winston Churchill of course, but she is probably spinning in her grave at not pipping Isambard Kingdom Brunel (who had French parents) to come second.
It is an odd list, even Tony Blair gets in the top one hundred. Tony Blair? What the? When it comes to Wales, Richard Burton is ninety-sixth, Lawrence of Arabia is fifty-second, David Lloyd-George only makes seventy-ninth but Owain Glyndŵr is as high up as twenty-third. Owain Glyndŵr has been dead for seven hundred years and is surely irrelevant now – who on earth, I wonder voted for Owain Glyndŵr ahead of David Lloyd George and Aneurin Bevan? Bear in mind that this was a nationwide vote and 99% or so of the population of the UK have never heard of Owain Glyndŵr. Possibly some vote rigging going on there do you think?
Owain Glyndŵr even came ahead of William Wallace and he had a film made about him starring Mel Gibson. Rob Roy MacGregor didn’t get in and he had a film made about him starring Liam Neeson. Which makes me think, if there was a film who could play Owain Glyndŵr? Probably Mel Gibson, he seems to hate the English enough to take on the role!
To set the record straight however 100 Welsh Heroes was an opinion poll run in Wales as a response to the BBC’s 100 Greatest Britons poll and quite rightly Aneurin Bevan came top. Owain Glyndŵr came second despite an accusation from Neil Kinnock (fifty-eighth) that Welsh Nationalists were multiple voting to try and manipulate the result. Tom Jones came third, two places ahead of Richard Burton. T.E.Lawrence came 52nd. I don’t think we should take these polls too seriously – Catherine Zeta-Jones came thirteenth!
Anyway, back to the BBC poll where there were even more anomalies. There were eleven Kings and Queens and eleven politicians, ten military heroes, eight inventors and seven scientists. This is what I would expect but then there were eight pop musicians including Boy George!
Now, surely there must be dozens of people who could be more appropriately included on the list than that. Even if you do accept that pop stars are great Britons what is even more unbelievable is that Boy George beat Sir Cliff Richard by seven places! John, Paul and George were included in the eight but there was no place for Ringo, which doesn’t seem very fair.
Enoch Powell was one of the politicians and he was a raging racist. Richard III is in but not Henry VII. There is an issue of equality because of the one hundred only thirteen were women and I can’t help feeling that there must be more than that.
Here are some suggestions of mine; the prison reformer, Elizabeth Fry, the philanthroprist Octavia Hill, the Suffragist, Millicent Fawcett, the pioneering aviator, Amy Johnson, the nineteenth century gardener, Gertrude Jeckyl and the very embodiment of Britishness, Britannia herself.
At this time lots of other countries ran similar polls, some of the results were equally predictable, South Africa voted for Nelson Mandella, Spain for King Juan Carlos, Greece choose Alexander the Great and, ignoring politics, Italy went for Leonardo Da Vinci. Some results were less obvious, in France there was surely someone more famous than Charles de Gaulle (Louis XIV perhaps) and Germany overlooked Otto Von Bismarck and Martin Luther and choose Konrad Adenaur.
My favourite is Canada, where, despite being the second largest country in the World, there are so few famous people to choose from that the long list was restricted to fifty and the top ten included three Scots, the public voted for a man called Tommy Douglas! In Australia the newspaper ‘The Australian’ selected Andrew ‘Banjo’ Patterson who pushed the World’s greatest ever cricketer, Don Bradman, into second place.
It had been a good few days in South Wales, before we went I thought I knew something about it but as I drove home I realised that if my pal has a bucketful of knowledge mine would barely cover the bottom of a thimble.
We took my preferred motorway route and where I was pleased that there were no incidents or queues my friend was just as disappointed that there were no hold-ups because I was acutely aware that he was just itching to say ‘I told you so, we should have taken the Fosse Way!’