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Worthy banknote portraits

February 20th, 1993

A letter to the Daily Telegraph which was published on 20th February 1993.

Your article yesterday quoting the words of the Chief Cashier of the Bank of England, Mr Graham Kentfield, about our banknotes: “We should keep away from anyone like Nelson, who might upset our European neighbours”, lifts a veil on the identities and attitudes of those in our political classes who take the key decisions in our lives.

Whether Nelson offends more than a handful of present day Continentals, I doubt if Mr Kenfield knows, but what is certain is that he did not at the time offend any but the French and possibly the Spanish by his great victories from 1798 to 1805.  Indeed Haydn, an Austrian, dedicated his wonderful Nelson Mass as a tribute on hearing of Nelson’s victory at Aboukir Bay, while Wellington’s troops were welcomed by the French people in Toulouse in 1814 as a relief from the undisciplined depredations of Napoleon’s forces.

The real point though is that a tiny number of men have taken on themselves the task of jettisoning our nation’s heroes, preferring to consult the supposed feelings of rivals and competitors before those of the British people.  This emasculates and diminishes us when every ounce of national spirit is needed to tackle and overcome our problems.

While the British have no shortage of heroes and achievers it is important however that we put on our banknotes those who are permanently of world historical class, judged by both the uniqueness of their achievements and the effects of those achievements.  In the period from Elizabeth I to Victoria there are, I submit, seven front runners in this category: Shakespeare, Newton, Marlborough, Nelson, Wellington, Faraday and Darwin, the first three holding the first position in their fields.  They should be placed on the £5, £10, £20 notes and left there, the other four being rotated round the £50 and (overdue) £100 notes every 20 years or so.