National treasures

... or, if I could be sure nobody would construe the phrase as in any way a reference to anything actually religious, I might call them Latter Day Saints — here I deliberately hope to subvert the absurd title of a certain “church” that so calls itself.
Current list:

Certain people — mainly ladies, it seems — get labelled by somebody as this; a news columnist or chattering class member says glibly “so-and-so, national treasure” and there it is. So I thought: who do I reckon is one? Will this be a long or a rather short list? As it turned out, on 21st December 2011 I had ten names, half men and half women. In just under two weeks after the start of the new year I had raised this to a dozen, half each, with two important additions which can in a way be considered as here “for completeness”, as we say in mathematics.

I decided that I had to insist that each person in this list would have made major contributions and achievements in more than one sphere. Where their main work has been within some aspect of entertainment, they should generally have contributed either in some quite separate sphere of public good as well, or have reached the very top in multiple branches.

Thus, someone who is (for example) a top actor but is "only" an actor, if one can say that without cries of dismay from too many members of Equity, does not come onto this list on that achievement alone, however great an actor they may be. For them, there are plenty of other lists on which to appear.

Entertainment, or the broadcasting industry as an extension thereof, is central to the careers of almost all of the people mentioned here because that is the main way that people come to have a wide public following, which in many cases is the main way I would come to know about their work. It is not, however, indispensible, and I shall endeavour to add the names of individuals whose work is not in entertainment at all as time goes by.

However, doing what they do in a sphere that is considered entertainment, such as chiefly or entirely on television, particularly in the sort of fly-on-the-wall documentary or “reality TV” programmes so popular since the start of the 21st century, does not exclude a person from here. And I do not wish by this to exclude any person doing what they do only in one sphere, but doing it in particular circumstances such that the effect of their work is not just technically first class in their medium as conventionally understood (which is the criterion by which I exclude all the top actors who are simply very good at what they do) but also to be felt in quite separate ways.

All these people are to some degree British: Rolf Harris was born in Australia, but his parents were from Britain and his career was based in Britain. Nobody not basically British is in the list because the heading says “National” and I may at some future time think about a list of non-British individuals.

I first made this page with the people catgorized in two sections: “Entertainment” and “Public well-being”. However I have already decided that in most of the cases under the former heading the reason for including each individual crossed over that boundary so I am abolishing those sections, leaving just one list. In it, as before within sections, names are in surname alphabetical order.

When I first made the page there were five men, five women. Then I added Stephen Fry as he is an extraordinary chap. This meant men outnumbered ladies which was a pity as all the original people here were ladies. So at New Year the start of 2012 what with the royal-watching on the news and the latest honours list, and a recent repeat on TV of the Helen Mirren movie about Her Majestyrsquo;s life during a few months in 1997, I thought: there’s one woman who is the absolute top, in her way: so I have put her at the top, before the A to Z of surnames of the rest. Then there was a reason to drop a man for the time being at least. Now there are five men, and six women.

Her Majesty the Queen
I think this sovereign is very possibly the only true reason we still have a monarchy, and that England and the other three parts are still (so far, on 2nd January 2012) called the United Kingdom. One can well imagine that, without her performance of this gruelling role during her tenure, quite possibly also with the suprisingly brave effort at doing the job made by her father before her (when he was thrown into it quite unexpectedly with very little warning), at some stage in the last 60 years the people could very have become quite republican and elected a leftist government that would have found a way to bring an orderly end to constitutional monarchy. And that is probably something over which there is currently a majority of people in the UK feeling glad it never happened, the events portrayed in the movie with Ms. Mirren and Michael Sheen notwithstanding. Incidentally, Ms Mirren doesn’t make the list for the reason explained in the introduction: greatness in one field is insufficient for any ordinary person (such as an actor who doesn’t also write, for example). But to attempt to apply that to the Queen (“she does one job: being Queen”) fails because being the British sovereign is an inescapable, full time, 24/365, life-long job like absolutely no other, and with many aspects: the theatre of ceremony; the statesmanship of meetings with prime ministers; the diplomacy of dealing with both the Commonwealth and heads of state of other countries; and so on. And it makes this list a round dozen, half each men and women.
Sir David Attenborough
This scientist and broadcaster needs no write-up from me for almost everybody to know who he is and what he has achieved.
Stephen Fry
Fry is modest about the escapade of Emma Thompson’s screenplay computer crash (see below), and he professes to be rather bored by being constantly labelled a "renaissance man", a "genius", and indeed a "national treasure". That, and the fact that choosing him to include here would be a little obvious, originally discouraged me from mentioning him. However considering that his accomplishments do indeed span not only both serious and comic acting, and writing of both books and screenplays, but also travel and presentation of documentaries — about not only travel but also medicine or psychiatry (on biplar disorder), on linguistics, and on conservation of threatened animal species — and directing of drama, Stephen Fry should really be included, because his range is almost unmatched at the present time.
Of course, Stephen is not really beyond comparisons: he has quite strong limitations. His abilities are those mentioned above: writing; acting and directing drama; appearing in sketches and performing songs, albeit like Rex Harrison just speaking his way through); and presenting QI, the intelligent quiz/game show for comedic and other celebrity contestants, plus the various documentaries he has made; and getting by (at least) in several foreign languages. However, any wider knowledge he has of any subjects other than the above, as shown on QI, is strictly limited to being able to tell us what he has read and been told about them. He has owned a number of motor cars, but never attempted to perform any maintenance or repairs on them. He has never done DIY; that is, he has never attempted anything requiring tools, let alone undertaken building work (as, just for example, I have) in the trades of bricklayer, plasterer, carpenter, plumber, electrician, painter and decorator. He knows a little here and there about science and mathematics, but only from reading popularizing books for the intelligent lay reader; he would be unable to delve deeper into, or do anything in, any of those subjects (in the way that, just for example, I have). And he is totally unmusical; he knows no music theory, has never learnt to play the simplest tune (I decided it would be unlikely that he’d be truly unable to play even a single note, the first wording that came to mind here) on any musical instrument, but he says he cannot sing at all. I, on the other hand, have acted in straight drama (Shakespeare) and musical theatre of several genres (musical, G & S, grand opera); I have written an opera libretto and variety show sketches; I have been M.C. (Emcee?) of cabaret and Old Time Musical Hall, performed songs accompanied by someone on the piano or by me on the ukulele; I have played passably the guitar, clarinet and saxophone and learnt to play tunes on keyboards (piano, organ, etc.), trumpet, viola, mandolin and concertina in my time. So if I had ever had the energy and motivation to make it big and were rich and famous — famous for showbiz stuff like Fry, or just as a writer or painter perhaps — I could almost have risked somebody judging me a national treasure. But I was never cut out to cope with being famous. Somebody other than my own friends and family rading this website is the nearest I ever want to get to fame or celebrity.

Joanna Lumley and Tuppy Owens
with some lucky chap
Joanna Lumley
Because I do not quarrel with the view that she did excellent work on behalf of the Gurkhas, who had served in the British Army and were then poorly treated in retirement before certain changes were made after a campaign in which she was prominent.
Gareth Malone
Gareth is a choirmaster, and he appears in BBC TV documentaries about the creation and coaching of choirs; and he is in this list not because he is a very good choirmaster, although he is, but because he has chosen to spend his energies in recent years going into communities that had no choir, no collective singing at all; and, having persuaded a group of people to join a choir, coaching them and building their confidence so that he first creates a community spirit that had not existed before, and then takes them to such a good level of performance that they become able to perform in surroundings in which nobody but he would ever have imagined they could perform until they did. His work with a Military Wives Choir culminated in their performing first at the formal dinner that concluded the Passing Out ceremonies at the Military Academy at Sandhurst and second at the Remembrance Day event at the Royal Albert Hall on 2011. Added to all of that, like The Doctor he proudly wears bow ties. Thus, Gareth Malone is a case of a person who ostensibly did one thing, but still makes this list because of its effects way outside the obvious borders of his occupation. He became the subject of that series 9across several years) of BBC TV weekly series about choirs, but the work he did was not all done in front of cameras, or a least not solely for the cameras; and that is why although in theory he is here only for one activity, the founding and coaching of choirs, what he actually achieved went far beyond “just” being a choirmaster. The fact that these choirs have been made up of amateurs who mostly never sang before, and that without him they had certainly had no plans to form any sort of choir or to sing in public, meant that his contribution, which was all the hard work of persuading ordinary people with little self-confidence to join his choirs, and then to rise to performances that in each case made a huge difference to the individual emotional well-being of those participants and also to the collective well-being of the social groups to which they belong, made a huge difference to large numbers of ordinary people whose lives were immeasurably richer as a result of his hard work. That makes someone like him a national treasure.
Tuppy Owens
Tuppy is a therapist, author and (formerly) also publisher with many publications in her field of work (see her Wikipedia entry). She has now also devoted over 30 years to helping adults with disabilities in aspects of their lives that have not been (and mostly still are not) addressed by any of the other agencies that provide specialist care and support, through the club Outsiders; see its website www.outsiders.org.uk.
Sue Perkins
Known chiefly as a comedienne, Sue Perkins is also a writer of comedy material for herself and other comedians/-ennes (including French and Saunders) but that is common among the more talented comedy entertainers.She also starred in a series of perfectly serious social history documentaries about lifestyle and food of earlier times, and some documentaries about travel, and about regions of the British Isles. However she also appeared in a BBC 2 TV series in 2008 called Maestro in which contestants learnt to be conductor of orchestral, choral and operatic music. It was a contest to see who would give the best performance, and she won. In 2009, she conducted the Dinnington Colliery Band at the DW Stadium in Wigan, performing the national anthems before the Rugby League Four Nations match between England and Australia. In this way she made a contribution to community spirit and civic pride in Dinnington, which is just a small town in rural South Yorkshire. comparable in a small way to the work of Gareth Malone. Her conducting career continued: she conducted the BBC Concert Orchestra on more than one occasion at the first ever Comedy Prom at the Royal Albert Hall during 2011 Prom season.
Emma Thompson
Emma is a comedienne and actress, but also a screenplay writer; and she won Oscars for both best screenplay and best actress. Actually of all the people listed here she is probably the one who, though most famous around the world but especially in America because of her Oscars, would be most likely to quarrel with my choiceof ten because on the first drafting of this list in mid December 2011 I did not include Stephen Fry. Emma Thompson it was who, on an appearance she made on the special intelligent quiz show QI, told of how while writing her screenplay (the one that would subsequently win her an Oscar) she had had it go terribly wrong; she had jumped into a taxi and gone in her pyjamas with it round to his house and Stephen Fry, as she told the tale, had laboured for some hours to rid her computer of some malware it had caught and to rescue her screenplay. The others on the show had joked that Fry had just known what she was working n and, while she was not looking, rewritten the entire screenplay (for a Jane Austen novel) from scratch, from memory.
Gok Wan
Although Gok Wan does what he does on television, his field is not entertainment; it is firstly and ostensibly fashion design, but he is here not for design but for the counselling he gives ordinary women (not actresses, models or celebrities) who are very insecure about their bodies, and he raises their self-esteem; he does this in a TV series called How To Look Good Naked which addresses the reportedly 80% or so of the adult female population (of Britain, anyway) who do not feel good about themselves, with regard to the state and appearance of their own bodies.

The fact that to do this he has to patiently work with each of them, one by one, at least as far as making this show takes the work, means that he has to find an effectively endless fund of patience and understanding, of warmth and gentle encouragement; nobody knows the numbers of women just watching his show on TV who are helped by what he is doing, which is bravely attempting to countervail against the very unhealthy stereotyping that goes on in the fashion industry: the totally wrong and bad notion that to be beautiful a woman has to have a stick thin body, of which obviously the worst effect of all is the amount of anorexia nervosa among women, young and not so young. He convinces each of them, one by one, that they are beautiful in their own way, attractive to the men in their lives, and entitled to be proud of their bodies and feel good about themselves. People are rude and dismissive abut Gok Wan but I say he deserves to be here for what he has been doing for them.
Robert Winston
This medical doctor, surgeon, scientist, broadcaster and public speaker/educator, and also now as a member of the House of Lords a de facto advisor to government on medical matters, needs no write-up from me for almost everybody to know who he is and what he has achieved (but for details see his Wikipedia entry.
Victoria Wood
This wonderfully funny stand-up comedienne who has written sketches, sitcom, a stage musical and comedy drama, is also a serious actress, notably in the drama she wrote herself based on a true story from wartime, Housewife, 49 (2006, ITV). In her so-called stand-up shows she also performs very funny songs that she writes and composes, accompanying herself very ably on the piano so she is a talented popular music pianist too. She has also made a travel documentary TV series which took her to many parts of the world.