Drinking with the Greats

Legends of British History, yes, but good value in the pub?

In 2002, the BBC broadcast a controversial television poll ranking the 100 Greatest Britons in history – it sparked a lot of discourse we can’t be bothered to get into now. We’re just going to judge whether these Great Britons would be great value in the most singularly British of all establishments: the pub.


winston churchill

Yes, if you could put up with him talking about himself or the empire all night. Which we could, but only once – and mainly for the pints of Champagne.

isambard kingdom brunel

A tentative yes from us: good for quizzes as he is the answer to quite a lot of questions.

diana, princess of wales

If you like sauvignon blanc and don’t mind her crying, sure thing. But just don’t get in her Uber afterwards.

charles darwin

Beware of anyone in the pub who begins a sentence: ‘I’ve got this theory, right, about monkeys’.

william shakespeare

Likely to whine about how many sexually transmitted diseases he has after a few drinks, then start riffing with some truly baffling innuendo. He’d get bard.

sir isaac newton

We don’t know, have you ever had a good pint with a mathematician?

queen elizabeth i of england

Would declare that she has the ‘body of a weak and feeble woman’ then down a pint of Carling to prove she could, and then spew chunks over the table.

john lennon

Speaking as a publication that is one-fifth Scouse, absolutely categorically not.

vice-admiral horatio nelson

We will never decry the forces of rum, sodomy and the lash, so yes.

oliver cromwell

Pretty much history’s greatest pint-antagonist, in both vibes and deeds.

sir ernest shackleton

Would hector the barmaid for the Guinness not being cold enough, then nudge you in the side to get you to laugh. Steer clear.

captain james cook

‘You know that nobody drinks Foster’s in Australia, right?’ Noooope.

robert baden-powell

Not unless you can pull off a half-decent bridge knot at a moment’s notice and enjoy referring to an evening out as a ‘jamboree’. Would almost certainly wear shorts and steer clear of anything stronger than a glass of dandelion and burdock.

alfred the great

An austere warlock with chronic acid reflux is not someone you want for a ten-pint session.

the duke of wellington

Would manipulate coasters, salt-shakers and sachets to show artillery positions during the siege of Lisbon, before skedaddling for a night of philandery. It’s a yes.

margaret thatcher

We’re not even going to dignify this with a response.

michael crawford

Forget the question here, how did he get on to this list?

queen victoria of the united kingdom

Pre-widowing, yes; post-widowing, no.

sir paul mccartney

Yes, but if you’d already had a pint with Lennon, would insist that he did it first.

sir alexander fleming

There is actually very little evidence to guide us either way on this, so we’re just going to say that Scotsmen by and large are good to drink with. Penicillit in for a post-work scoop.

alan turing

First of all, fair play for the whole Enigma code thing. Secondly, no. He helped to sink a lot of U boats, but we won’t be helping him to sink his Peroni.

michael faraday

Hell yeah, nothing cooler than someone who spends all day blasting lightning.

owain glyndŵr

It would be an honour to share three sacks of mead and attempt to reclaim pockets of Shropshire on horseback.

queen elizabeth ii

Her sister is much, much, much better value.  And sod it, so was her husband.

professor stephen hawking

Argh. Sorry, no.

william tyndale

For a lazy afternoon sharing a ploughman’s and discussing the finer points of the Book of Job, probably not half bad.

emmeline pankhurst

No – mainly because she’s from Manchester.

david beckham

As the pint is poured he says, ‘I like a good bit of head,’ he says, winking at the barmaid – who, by coincidence, was born the day he took the free kick against Greece.

thomas paine

If Paine was alive today, he’d be a young British freelance journalist obsessed with the word rates of American publications, so the answer is: no.

william wilberforce

Not a big drinker, as it turns out. Although he was from Hull, a city with fine pubs indeed.

david bowie

100% percent yes, yes, yes and yes again. Come prepared with red peppers and milk.

guy fawkes

Brown ale and treachery? Sign us up, but beware the marching powder plot.

leonard cheshire

More into brandy and lukewarm servings of coronation chicken than six gleaming pints of Kronenburg.

eric morecambe

A hard drinker, for sure; he drinks the right drinks but in the wrong order though, so a reluctant no.


Kinda? Maybe more of a couple of pints and walk round Victoria Park on a drop or two of magic mushroom oil – big into festivals come summertime.

sir steve redgrave

An irascible bloke from Buckinghamshire who’s achieved unwarranted fame in the world’s most boring sport. A hard no.

king henry viii of england

Imagine the ‘funny how?’ scene with Joe Pesci in Goodfellas, but now in Hampton Court Palace. Not fun at all. No.

charles dickens

Probably the original Real Ale Twat, with a list of opinions on pubs and pub vibes that would bore you sober. A pass from us.

sir frank whittle

Has a game called ‘Whittle it down’ where he necks his pint and belches, claiming the procedure gave him the idea for what he calls ‘my sucky blowy baby’. Drinks for free in Leamington Spa, which may or may not be a bonus.

saint thomas more

A man for all seasons, but a prick when he’s got a few jars on him.

william blake

Among his myriad achievements, he gave way to one of the worst pubs in London: The Tiger, in Camberwell, which is an automatic disqualifier.

john harrison

Bang in the door at 7 o’clock, last gulp of Fuddy Duck real ale dispatched at 7.59, out the door at 8 on the dot. So not really enjoyable, no.

john peel

Yup, as long as you keep him away from the jukebox, and any young woman with a fake id. Insists on referring to ginger ale as ‘The Top of the Pops.’

john logie baird

Crotchety Scot who likes drinking in pubs with five blaring flatscreens playing Gillette Soccer Saturday on repeat. We will leave him be.

aneurin bevan

A spirited yes, anyone with eyebrows like that knows their way around a pint of bitter or twelve. You might puke your guts up, but that’s what doctors are for.

boy george

If you think a fun evening ends with you being chained to a radiator, then yes, be our guest.

sir douglas bader

Provided the pub had wheelchair access, no German beers on tap, and you’re very right-wing. Which some of you are! It’s okay. No one needs to know.

sir william wallace

Impossible to divorce Wallace from the image of Antipodean psycho Mel Gibson, so the answer is no.

sir francis drake

Regrettably, probably a bit of a pub legend and decent company to boot, in the manner that raffish wrong’uns are wont to be.

john wesley

Did you know that John Wesley has the most blue plaques of any British person in history? But as far as we know, none of these are in the pub, so we are going to have to say: no.

king arthur

You would think that spending a night with Britain’s Biggest Legends at the round table would be an all-timer, but the evening would be eleven men in chainmail bitching about Lancelot.

florence nightingale

Noted fan of hanging with the lads, so it’s a yes from us. And very useful to have her for the hangover, too.

t. w. lawrence

Are you a 14-year-old Bedouin peasant boy? No? Don’t risk it, anyway.

sir cliff richard

Come for the prayer recitations, stay for the paranoia about the bbc helicoptering over his house. We won’t make any more jokes, he’s very litigious, but no.

alexander graham bell

Would probably spend his whole time looking at his phone. He’d probably fit right in with the young ones these days! Right?

freddie mercury

And another one down and another one down, another one bites the dust,’ he sings, smashing gins before offering his wallet round the pub. Fantastic. Would bring dwarves and Kenny Everett.

dame julie andrews

How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? Send her to a different pub and go somewhere else.

bob geldof

He won’t be ordering any food: to paraphrase Russell Brand, he’s been dining out off I Don’t Like Mondays for 40 years.

the unknown warrior

More suited to sips of rationed brandy and moonshine brewed with trench foot ointment. It’s a no.

sir edward elgar

All he’d want to do is to talk about his serious music but would end up punching a fellow customer after he’s asked to play ‘that one off of Last Night of the Proms’ for the 48th time. Avoid.

queen elizabeth, the queen mother

Yes. The nation’s nan spent most of the 20th century in a fug of cigarettes and gin, but the evening will end with Backstairs Billy holding your head above the cistern.

george harrison

Husky anecdotes about Buddhist retreats, supercars and boasts about bedding Madonna – it’s a no.

sir david attenborough

Sure, though after three drinks starts talking about population control.

james connolly

All fun and games until he’s tanked up and walks past a Post Office on his way home. Decline, just to avoid the eventual hanging you’d receive.

george stephenson

Another engineer, he also invented a ‘cucumber straightening device’. No; another freak.

sir charlie chaplin

The evening will end with him waving his Little Tramp around, if you’re into that sort of thing – although it’ll redefine what you understood to be ‘slapstick’.

tony blair

The embodiment of Beezlebub; a demon who somehow bested the gates of Hell to slither, unrepentant, into our hearts and minds and history; all of human badness, fault and avarice made grinning flesh and giggle; a curse we all must bear for sharing the same biological designation as he. It’s a no.

william caxton

Will bore on about the beer being better in Bruges.

king richard iii

Yeah go on, but you’ll wake up with your reputation unfairly soiled and feeling like you’ve been entombed in concrete for 500 odd years.

j.k. rowling

She texts beforehand saying she wants to talk about one thing, and one thing only. You’d like to think it will be one of her previous obsessions, like how wizards take shits, or if Hagrid is pansexual. Sadly, you know what that topic will be. No.

james watt

Would probably be an investor in Brewdog, so no.

bobby moore

Yes, but don’t leave any valuables alone with him.

jane austen

She would spend the whole evening texting her sister before demanding that you pay for her curricle home. Not a vibe.

william booth

Second only to Old Ironsides in ideological opposition to an honest time in the pub. A conclusive no.

aleister crowley

The Beast himself? Unquestionably, yes, although we would not be keen to keep meeting, lest we soon find ourselves in a field in Kent chopping up a goat.

robert the bruce

Would alternate between whisky and Castlemaine, on account of his dual heritage. A pass from us.

robbie williams

Until he starts talking about ufos, you should be okay.

sir richard branson

A pint of waste-water tapped from the drains of a regional football ground would be far, far more enjoyable.


We’ll buck a trend by saying, yes, so long as he’s nowhere near a camera, placard, Pope, senator, reflective surface or Gerry Adams.

johnny rotten

A lifetime controversialist who prides himself on being as viscerally unpleasant as humanly possible? Yeah ok, but just one.

edward jenner

Everyone in the pub would laugh at you as he fiddles with his mask and reapplies his hand gel every 30 seconds.

david lloyd george

Good honest fun at first, but then starts speaking in Welsh after three pints, then after six pints brings a tray of tequilas to the table, and from there on in refers to the barman as the ‘minister for munitions’. Which is not that funny, so no.

robert falcon scott

Given that Captain Oates chose a blistering death by the elements on the Antarctic Ice Shelf over making small talk with him, the answer is definitely no.

enoch powell

The patron saint of pub nutters, so probably good value for a little bit.

charles babbage

Mathematician again, so no, plus there’s no way you could make a computer in the 1800s, so he’s talking out his arse.

geoffrey chaucer

Hard yes: you’ll have some ‘Banterbury Tales’ after seven pints with Big Geoff.

bernard montgomery

Renowned arsehole, despised by similar renowned arseholes who were united in their recognition of him as a renowned arsehole. We’ll pass.

donald campbell

Anyone that religiously committed to going really, really, really fast would probably be quite intense company, so it’s a pass from us.

king henry ii of england

No– he’d just bawl his eyes out about how his psychotic kids don’t love him and how he ‘accidentally’ killed his best (read: only) mate.

james clerk maxwell

Says here, on Wikipedia where we’re having to check, that he was a ‘scientist responsible for the classical theory of electromagnetic radiation’, which is all well and good, but not pint-worthy.

j.r.r. tolkien

 ‘Stout barkeep – wouldest thou fill mine horn with thine amber gold?’ No.

sir walter raleigh

Well you wouldn’t be short of ciggies, crisps or tales from the lost city of El Dorado.

king edward i of england

Yes, unless you are Welsh, Scottish or Jewish. In which case, he’d glass you.

sir barnes wallis

Yes, but the evening will descend into Jägerbombs (haha).

richard burton

Declaimed poetry, Hollywood anecdotes, lashings of whisky and jokes – you have the best evening of your life until Elizabeth Taylor bursts into tears.

tony benn

A fun time, yes, until he starts tearfully expressing the pain of denouncing his family title.

david livingstone

Absolutely not. Wouldn’t shut up with stories about his time in Africa and his very dubious pal, Henry Morton Stanley.

sir tim berners-lee

The last interesting thing he did was that weird appearance during the Olympic opening ceremony where he just sat at his little computer in the middle of a dance troupe. At least the Queen jumped out of that plane. No, thank you.

marie stopes

Owing to the vicissitudes of the Edwardian era, the answer is: no.

king henry v of england

You’d think it would be all ‘Once more unto the pints, dear friends’ but no: it would be an evening of tedious piety and egregious self-aggrandisement. Falstaff would be a right laugh though, but is, sadly, a fictional character.

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