Isaac Newton is poised to beat Winston Churchill in a worldwide contest being run by the BBC to find the world’s “Greatest Briton”.
The mathematician and scientist, who formulated the first theory of gravity and who died in 1727, has so far attracted 21.6 per cent of the vote since the BBC began screening its Great Britons series across the world three months ago.
With voting due to end on Wednesday, Churchill, who won the British contest last year, is currently in second place, with 16 per cent. In third place, close behind, is Diana, Princess of Wales, with 15.1 per cent.
Newton’s impending victory contrasts sharply with his eighth place in the British series, which attracted 1.6 million voters and named Churchill as the “Greatest Briton” with 447,423 votes.
The international contest, broadcast on BBC World television, has used the same 10 programmes as the British version, with presenters including Michael Portillo, the Conservative MP, making a case for their favourite Briton. The results have disclosed, however, that viewers abroad have a contrasting opinion of what makes a truly great Briton. There are also significant regional differences.
Newton is the most popular in Cyprus, Estonia, Holland and India, while Churchill has remained the favourite of British expatriates. William Shakespeare has been voted the greatest Briton in France, Italy and the former Yugoslavia. The late Princess of Wales is deemed the greatest in Argentina and South Africa.
Charles Darwin, the naturalist who developed the theory of evolution, remains fifth overall. He is placed second in Holland and third in Germany and Italy. The Brazilians, on the other hand, have a penchant for John Lennon, and have placed him third. The late Beatle is in eighth place overall.
Narendhra Morar, the commissioning editor of Great Britons, said that some of the anomalies could be explained by differing national characteristics. “One of the reasons we wanted to extend this programme globally was because we wanted to present how different nations have a different take on who is great.
“I think Shakespeare is particularly popular in France and Italy because they take literature much more seriously than other places, although I am surprised that Diana was not more popular in India, which has such strong ties with the British monarchy.”
He added: “I suspect that Newton is in the number one slot because you can vote for this only on the Internet, so he’s probably having his support boosted by technical types, likely to be in IT and therefore likely to appreciate Newton’s science background a bit more.”