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Preface to the online release, January 2017


Summary of new content, January 2017

View highlights from the January 2017 update

The Oxford DNB from January 2017

From January 2017, the ODNB offers biographies of 60,302 men and women who have shaped the British past, contained in 55,095 articles. 43 of the 241 new biographies added in January 2017 are illustrated with a portrait likeness, bringing to 11, 495 the number of portraits in the Dictionary—researched in partnership with the National Portrait Gallery, London.

As ever, we have a free selection of these new entries, together with a full list of the new biographies and themes. The complete Dictionary (59,879 biographies and 527 Theme articles) is available, free, in nearly all public libraries in the UK. Libraries offer 'remote access' that enables you to log in at any time at home (or anywhere you have internet access). Elsewhere the Oxford DNB is available online in schools, colleges, universities, and other institutions worldwide. Full details of participating British public libraries, and how to gain access to the complete Dictionary, are available here.

Introduction to the update by David Cannadine

Welcome to the thirty-seventh update of the Oxford DNB which adds biographies of 223 individuals who died in the year 2013 (it also includes eighteen subjects who died before 2013, and who have been included with new entries). Of these, the earliest born is the economist Ronald Coase (in 1910) and the latest born is the journalist Richard Beeston (in 1963). The vast majority (174, or 74%) were born between 1918 and 1939. 59 of those who died in 2013 (or 25% of the cohort) are women, including the singer Louisa (formerly Louis) Killen.

I rather blush to mention that by far the longest new entry is mine on Margaret Thatcher, which at 33,648 words is shorter than those on Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth I, roughly equal to that on Churchill, and ahead of the next three longest entries, on Oliver Cromwell, Henry VIII, and James I. Following the precedent of the twenty ODNB entries published as short books in the series Very Interesting People, Oxford University Press are also generously publishing my entry as a stand-alone book. Since Thatcher was by far the longest serving twentieth-century British prime minister, the first woman to hold the office, someone about whom a great deal has been written, and also someone whose years of power I lived through and can vividly remember, it was both very demanding and very rewarding to contribute her entry. And as a figure who was, and still remains, both very divisive and highly controversial, it was especially challenging to try to reach some sort of even-handed verdict about her, as the ODNB very properly requires.

Perhaps appropriately, given Thatcher's belief in self-help and meritocracy, the remaining entries for this update contain almost as many people who attended grammar schools as went to public schools: for example, Ashby-de-la-Zouch and Kilburn grammar schools each educated two subjects in this update, accounting between them for as many as Eton. The geographical distribution of biographies, in terms of their subjects' primary associations, is also revealing. London naturally emerges way ahead, followed by Scotland, then by Cambridge and then Oxford. Among English counties, this year Yorkshire is substantially ahead of Lancashire, and among English cities, Manchester is considerably in advance of Birmingham. But these new entries are also a reminder that many notable figures born in Britain lived and worked abroad at some stages in their lives, while many figures born abroad later lived and worked in Britain. As both the country of origin and destination, the United States is emphatically top of the list, followed by the former dominions of Australia and Canada, by Hong Kong, New Zealand, and the islands of what was once the British Caribbean. And how many people know that Doris Lessing, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2007, was born in Iran and spent much of her early life in Southern Rhodesia, before settling in England?

Lessing is one of six Nobel laureates who were born or eventually based in Britain. Frederick Sanger (chemistry, twice!) spent the whole of his life in Cambridge, Seamus Heaney (literature) grew up and lived in Northern Ireland, but also spent considerable amounts of time in the United States. Sir John Cornforth (also chemistry) was born in Sydney, Australia, but undertook all his research work in Britain, much of it at the University of Sussex. Sir Robert Edwards (physiology) spent a postdoctoral year at the California Institute of Technology, but otherwise worked throughout his career in this country. By contrast Coase (economics) graduated from the London School of Economics, but taught for most of his life at the Universities of Buffalo, Virginia, and Chicago. Such trans-national living was not only characteristic of great figures of outstanding talent and achievement. After being involved in the Great Train Robbery of 1963, Ronnie Biggs escaped from Wandsworth gaol and spent thirty years in exile in Brazil, before returning to Britain and prison and death. His fellow conspirator, Bruce Reynolds, fled to Mexico, then Canada, then France after the robbery, but subsequently returned to Britain where he was arrested. As these two examples, so different from the Nobel Prize winners, serve to remind us, inclusion in the ODNB is not a posthumous honour, but is on the basis of historic significance. As these new updates vividly remind us, all life is here...

David Cannadine, General Editor, Oxford DNB

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Summary of new content, January 2017

The Iron Lady

Undoubtedly the highlight of this release is the entry on Margaret Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher (1925-2013), prime minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990, and the major political figure in British politics since the 1970s. It is the longest entry published since the main run of the dictionary was published in 2004; it is also the longest entry on a new figure added to the dictionary (and its historical forebear) since 1912, when Sidney Lee's entry on Edward VII was published. Though we do not like to embarrass our general editor, David Cannadine, the author of the entry, we feel it is a superb example of a dictionary entry - authoritative yet concise, sympathetic but judicious, seeking to disentangle fact from myth, intertwining the public and the private, and setting the life in context, the better to distinguish and delineate influence and legacy.

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Six of the best: Nobel laureates

Sadly, the year 2013 also saw the deaths of no fewer than six UK-born or UK-based Nobel laureates, including the chemist Frederick Sanger (1918-2013), the only UK national and one of only four scientists worldwide to have won two Nobel prizes - his in 1958 for his work on insulin and in 1980 for his work on base sequences in nucleic acids. The Australian-born Sir John Cornforth (1917-2013) won his Nobel prize in chemistry in 1975 for his research on the stereochemistry of enzyme-catalysed reactions. Sir Robert Edwards (1925-2013) won the 2010 prize for physiology or medicine, many thought belatedly, for his crucial role in the development of in vitro fertilization. Ronald Coase (1910-2013) won the Swedish National Bank prize in economics in memory of Alfred Nobel (generally considered one of the Nobel prizes) in 1991, for his work on transaction costs, property rights, and the nature of the firm. Another late-in-life winner was the writer Doris Lessing (1919-2013), whose reaction on hearing that she had won the Nobel prize for literature in 2007 brought her a legion of new admirers. She is joined in this release by the Northern Irish poet, playwright, translator, and critic Seamus Heaney (1939-2013), whose multi-layered evocations of a rural childhood won him the Nobel prize for literature in 1995 and made him one of the best-loved poets of modern times.

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Heroes and villains

Heroism is a quality which can be somewhat indiscriminately attributed, but it describes Sir Robert Edwards's dogged pursuit of groundbreaking research which has already resulted in changing the lives of thousands for the better. The same can surely be said of the epidemiologist David Barker (1938-2013), whose work establishing the link between nutrition in the womb and adult health will continue to have far-reaching consequences for public health; of the haematologist John Goldman (1938-2013), who pioneered bone marrow transplantation, and enabled thousands of sufferers from chronic myeloid leukaemia to live normal lives; of Michael Neuberger (1953-2013), the biochemist whose research on antibodies laid the foundations of a revolution in pharmaceutical treatments for a wide range of illnesses and diseases; or of the biologist Tony Pawson (1952-2013), whose work on cell signalling work on cell signalling paved the way for a new generation of drugs to combat cancer and autoimmune diseases.

Heroism of a more conventional kind marked the lives of Sir Robert Clark (1924-2013), who operated behind enemy lines with the partisans in Italy as a young SOE officer; Ulric Cross (1917-2013), a Trinidadian who volunteered to serve the 'mother country', ending as a Squadron Leader in Bomber Command, and the most highly decorated Caribbean serviceman of the Second World War; or Sir Steuart Pringle (1928-2013), who served with the Royal Marines in Malaya, Suez, and Cyprus, and in 1981 was lucky to survive an IRA bomb attack. Alec Reid (1931-2013) was a Catholic priest who took great risks to keep alive hopes of peace in Northern Ireland - as did Inez McCormack (1943-2013), the inspirational trade unionist and human rights campaigner. The journalist Richard Beeston (1963-2013) similarly disregarded his own safety in reporting from conflict zones around the world; he was one of the first to report from the village of Halabja in 1988, after Saddam Hussein's forces had massacred the inhabitants by dropping chemical weapons.

Among sporting heroes, few come more heroic than Chris Hallam (1962-2013), who, disabled by a motorbike accident at the age of seventeen, went on to compete for Great Britain in both swimming and wheelchair racing at the Paralympic Games, and twice pushed his way round Wales to raise funds for charity; or than Bert Trautmann (1923-2013), the former German prisoner-of-war who became goalkeeper for Manchester City and in the 1956 FA Cup Final famously continued playing despite having a broken neck.

But the dictionary has never been merely a compendium of the great and good, and the other side of the coin is represented in this release by two determined villains forever associated with the Great Train Robbery of 1963: Bruce Reynolds (1931-2013), the mastermind of the heist, and Ronnie Biggs (1929-2013), who played only a bit part in the crime itself but who as a fugitive from British justice turned his notoriety into money-making celebrity.

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Making the news

The broadcaster Sir David Frost (1939-2013) craved celebrity and achieved it at an early age as host of the satirical programme That Was The Week That Was, launched the year before the Great Train Robbery. He remained a fixture of British television screens for the next five decades, and it is unlikely that any journalist will beat his record of interviewing six British prime ministers and seven US presidents - most notably ex-President Nixon in 1977. Alan Whicker (1921-2013) enjoyed an even longer career in broadcasting, bringing his irrepressible and much-parodied enthusiasm to the task of opening the eyes of British television-viewers to some of the quirkier corners of the outside world. They are joined in this release by Sir Denis Forman (1917-2013), one of the key figures behind the remarkable success of Granada Television; Alasdair Milne (1930-2013), the Reithian director-general of the BBC ousted in 1987 after a series of confrontations with Margaret Thatcher's government; and four giants from the world of sports journalism, David Coleman (1926-2013), long-serving presenter of Grandstand and host of A Question of Sport, whose on-air gaffes gave rise to the 'Colemanballs' column in Private Eye, Frank Keating (1937-2013), whose vivid and witty writing for the Guardian won countless admirers, Christopher Martin-Jenkins (1945-2013), the much-loved cricket correspondent for the Daily Telegraph and Times, and longest-serving commentator for Test Match Special, and Cliff Morgan (1930-2013), the Welsh rugby international (rated one of the best fly-halves of all time) who for eleven years presented Sport on 4.

As is always the case, several of the new entrants to the dictionary are included because of the way they were thrust, or thrust themselves, into the national news: Peter Griffiths (1928-2013), the successful Conservative candidate in the notorious campaign for the Smethwick seat in 1964; Roy Grantham (1926-2013), the mild-mannered and moderate trade union leader who found himself uncomfortably at the centre of the bitter Grunwick dispute in 1976-8; Sir Sandy Woodward (1932-2013), commander of the British naval task force in the Falklands war, and Sir John Curtiss (1924-2013), air commander of the British forces in the same conflict; or Boris Berezovsky (1946-2013), the exiled Russian oligarch whose death in mysterious circumstances prompted numerous conspiracy theories.

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Edification and entertainment

Scholars and scientists are well represented in this release, their interests ranging from the archaeology of early west Africa (a field pioneered by Thurstan Shaw, 1914-2013) to Antarctic geophysics (the speciality of Joe Farman, 1930-2013, discoverer of the Antarctic 'ozone hole'), and from the philosophy of law (in which Ronald Dworkin, 1931-2013, was without question the most influential scholar of his generation) to information technology (expertise in which enabled the scientist and author James Martin, 1933-2013, to donate more than £100 million to his alma mater).

But those who entertained the nation also find their place: among them Tom Sharpe (1928-2013), with his riotously funny novels such as Porterhouse Blue (1974); Mick McManus (1921-2013), the wrestler the nation loved to hate; Richard Briers (1934-2013), the actor forever associated with The Good Life (1975-8); Mel Smith (1952-2013), who shot to fame with Not the Nine O'Clock News (1979-82); Mike and Bernie Winters (1926-2013, 1930-1991), the zany double act who were a mainstay of popular television from the 1950s to the 1970s; and Eddie Braben (1930-2013), the Liverpool-born scriptwriter for their only serious rivals as the nation's favourite entertainers, Morecambe and Wise. They are joined in this release by numerous other writers, actors, actresses, and directors, including Michael Winner (1935-2013), director of more than forty films, and later a ubiquitous presence as food critic and cultural commentator; and by two recipients of Academy Awards (or 'Oscars'), Bob Godfrey (1921-2013), the animator, awarded his Oscar for Great (1975), a humorous version of the life of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and the set decorator Stephenie McMillan (1942-2013), awarded hers for The English Patient (1996), but nominated another four times, for her work on the Harry Potter films.

The line between edification and entertainment is of course often difficult to discern, and is certainly so in the dense and frequently disturbing fiction of the Scottish writer Iain Banks (1954-2013), the equally challenging abstract sculpture of Sir Anthony Caro (1924-2013), or the spiritually uplifting music of Sir John Tavener (1944-2013). The genial Mick Aston (1946-2013) crossed the line with ease, turning a series on archaeology, Time Team (1994-2013), into an unlikely ratings success.

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The fabric of national life

If not the whole of human life then certainly most corners or aspects of late twentieth- and early twenty-first century British national life are touched upon in one or another of the entries in this release. Their subjects range from the solidly establishment, such as Robin Leigh-Pemberton, Baron Kingsdown (1927-2013), the Kent landowner and governor of the Bank of England, to the determinedly anti-establishment, such as Mick Farren (1943-2013), the music journalist and leading counterculture figure. In between they take in an array of fascinating individuals who in some way or other left their mark on national life, from abortion law reformers Alastair Service (1933-2013) and Vera Houghton (1914-2013) to photographer Lewis Morley (1925-2013), whose photograph of Christine Keeler sitting naked, astride a chair turned backwards, came to symbolise the Swinging Sixties; and from Fiona Gore, Countess of Arran (1918-2013), 'the fastest granny on water', to Juliet Frankland (1929-2013), a world-renowned mycologist whose meticulous research shed new light on fungal ecology.

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New online contents, January 2017

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