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Churchill leads British big race

London, Oct. 21 (Reuters): Winston Churchill, the British World War II leader who guided the nation through the “darkest hour”, is tipped to be voted the greatest Briton ever, just ahead of William Shakespeare and well above John Lennon.

“We make Churchill our favourite at 2/1 because he crosses all political divides and he was a bastion of British spirit through the war,” betting firm Ladbrokes said as the BBC began on Sunday airing a series on the search for the top Briton.

Churchill, the soldier, writer and politician who switched political parties twice and eventually led the country’s coalition government from 1940 to 1945, topped the shortlist of 10 from whom the greatest Briton will be chosen in coming weeks.

The elite group were selected from a BBC phone and Internet poll involving more than 30,000 Britons. They hail from the 16th century to the modern day and include scientists, royals and military figures.

Churchill led the betting ahead of England’s greatest man of letters, playwright William Shakespeare whose works are still studied internationally, who came in at 3/1, and the discoverer of gravity Isaac Newton at 5/1.

Just behind the leading trio was revolutionary evolutionist Charles Darwin, whose theories cause religious dispute to this day, at 6/1, followed by ex-Beatle John Lennon, gunned down in New York in 1980, at 9/1.

The Virgin Queen Elizabeth I, arguably the country’s greatest monarch, was quoted with odds of 10/1, followed by architect and engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel at 12/1 and Britain’s greatest sea commander Horatio Nelson at 14/1.

Bringing up the tail end of the top 10 was self-styled queen of hearts Diana, Princess of Wales, at 20/1.

and her antithesis, the austere anti-royalist military and national leader Oliver Cromwell at 25/1.

The only thing all 10 have in common is that they are all dead and they all had a significant impact not only on the nation but far beyond.

Over the next five weeks, different presenters will deliver an hour-long argument on why each Briton should be named the greatest in TV programmes to be screened on BBC Two.

Viewers can vote from now until the final programme on their pet pick either on the telephone to +44 9011221066 or via the internet at www.bbc.co.uk/greatbritons.

”This is a really interesting market as all of these runners have influenced not only their peers but also whole generations and arguably life as we know it today,” Ladbrokes said, using more than a dash of hyperbole and ignoring the fact that that Princess Diana, the ex-wife of heir to the throne Prince Charles, died only five years ago.

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