Is it possible for an author to define the Queen’s reign through the subjective selection of significant contributions made by an eclectic mix of individuals? Possibly you may say, but by constraining the list to 60 portraits of notable figures, it’s unlikely there would ever be a general concensus.
James Naughtie has attempted to lend objectivity to this onerous task by
employing a panel of experts to sift through the likely contenders. The “potted biographies” are then given historical context by describing the individuals’ achievements against the backdrop of the changing political, social, economic and sporting landscape.
So the glimmer of hope given to a post-war nation by the announcement of Sir Edmund Hillary’s conquering of Everest, on the day of the Queen’s coronation, sits incongruously next to the contemporary achievements of media guru Simon Cowell.
The high waisted Svengali is regarded as the guiding light of our current celebrity obsessed age in which blanket media coverage can be a fast track to a fleeting exposure to fame and fortune. Whereas the former represents the traditional notion of heroic endeavour only being realised as a result of supreme talent and sacrifice.
Throughout these series of portraits the recognisable names and achievements of Alfred Hitchcock, Terence Conran, Anita Roddick and Laurence Olivier are interspersed with the less familiar. For example how many of us would associate Richard Doll with first establishing the connection between smoking and cancer or Francis Crick for identifying the building blocks of life that we all now know as DNA.
These carefully observed portraits reflect a changing pace of life facilitated by the all pervading influence of technology. The Queen though has represented an oasis of calm in a stormy sea of good and evil since her coronation in 1953.
The New Elizabethans – Sixty Portraits of Our Age by James Naughtie
- Rich Reviews rating: