Croydon’s list of great residents omits David Lean. Why?

The saddening/maddening thing about Croydon Council is that, when given some of the simplest of tasks in their attempt to promote the borough, they still manage to balls it up.

Croydon-born film director David Lean: two Oscars, but not good enough for the council’s list of all-time local greats

Take, for example, this week’s half-cocked announcement on the council website of “the Croydon portrait bench”, a public art project in which three figures will be created in life-sized portraits around a bench located on a new walking and cycling route.

The council has nominated 10 famous figures for the public to choose who ought to feature by the bench, and yet they cannot even manage to do the great and the good of Croydon the simple courtesy of spelling their names correctly.

Please note, Croydon Council:

it is Cicely Mary Barker.

[May 21 UPDATE: Much as the people in the Ministry of (Un)Truth at Croydon Council try to pretend that Inside Croydon does not exist, it is evident that people on the seventh floor at Taberner House are among our most avid readers. This post was first published just after 7pm on Friday May 18. Some poor lackey at the council was clearly dispatched first thing on Monday morning to correct Baker to Barker, since the council’s website has been quietly updated. No need to thank us for our help to you, Croydon Council]

Croydon’s 10-strong shortlist also smacks of pernicious political manipulation by the council, as it seeks to whitewash out of the borough’s memory one of its greatest sons of the 20th century.

Cynics might suggest that they have done this to avoid any embarrassment for Councillor Sara “Book Token” Bashford, because it is barely a year since she closed the cinema that carried the name of double Oscar-winning movie director Sir David Lean.

Don’t get us wrong, Dave Prowse – Darth Vader’s body double in the Star Wars films, who lives in the borough and is included in the council’s list – is a great bloke. But in any pantheon of Croydon greats, would you really champion his claim to be featured in a piece of public art ahead of the director of Lawrence of Arabia, Brief Encounter and The Bridge on the River Kwai?

As if to underline how the exclusion of Lean appears to be politically inspired, the council has put forward Peggy Ashcroft (who lends her name to the theatre at the well-funded Fairfield Halls) as a candidate for the portrait, and manage to reference her role in a film directed by Lean.

It could be a mystery that even Sherlock Holmes might not solve, working out why his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is not on the council’s list of great people who have lived in Croydon

When you consider that anyone included on the council nominated shortlist does, by definition, have a far stronger chance of being voted for than someone who is not on the council’s list, you have to wonder about some of the other big names that do not feature in the Croydon nominations.

Underlying Croydon Council’s tendency to Philistinism, their uncultured list overlooks the claims of Emile Zola (mais oui), DH Lawrence and even Sherlock Holmes, or at least the world’s most famous fictional detective’s creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, all of whom at some points in their inspired lives found a home somewhere in Croydon.

They even manage to miss out the thunderingly obvious: supermodel Kate Moss, whose face has graced millions of magazine covers, is not good enough to grace a walkway in her home borough, according to our gaffe-prone council.

Croydon’s commendations for the people that they have chosen damn them with faint praise. In addition to the artist Barker, Ashcroft and Prowse, the council suggests:

Ronnie Corbett – Comedian: Has lived in Croydon for many years.” Oh, well, that’s a shoo-in then. “Starred in the TV comedy series The Two Ronnies and The Frost Report.” What, no mention of Sorry? Note to Croydon Council: The Frost Report was not a comedy series. It was a weekly news satire show.

We suspect the council is keen on including Ronnie, who inspired the creation of the Save The David Lean Cinema Campaign, because any life-sized portrait of him will save on paint.

“John Whitgift – Archbishop: Founded the Whitgift School, Croydon in 1595 which is still, today, a prestigious institute of learning.” That should keep the Foundation people happy.

Croydon’s Donna Fraser, right, congratulates winner Cathy Freeman after one of the greatest women’s 400m races of all time, at the 2000 Sydney Olympics

“Tasha Danvers – Athlete: Born in Croydon, bronze medalist in the 400m hurdles at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.” Not a bad call, but…

What about Donna Fraser, who was fourth placed in the 400m at the 2000 Sydney Games, and unlike Natasha remained loyal to Croydon Harriers throughout her career, and now coaches in the area? Or what about Gordon Pirie, who trained in army boots on Farthing Downs before setting a series of track world records in the 1950s?

Samuel Coleridge Taylor – Composer: Born and died in Croydon, he incorporated African-American folk music into his compositions.” This is a good example of what we mean by under-selling the achievements of some on the list.

Jacqueline du Pre, who died tragically young, but not before recording some unmatchable renditions of cello music, another Croydon great overlooked by our council

SCT would be a splendid choice, as would be Brit School graduate Katie Melua, or Kirsty MacColl, or Ralph McTell, or Jacqueline du Pre, or Jeff Beck, or Desmond Dekker…

Indeed, how about Raymond Burns? At least Captain Sensible sang a song called “Croydon”.

“Bernard Weatherill – Politician: Elected seven times Conservative MP for Croydon NE, elected Speaker and made a Life Peer on his retirement.” And was, according to all who met him, a thorough-going splendid fellow who will have been less than impressed with the current mob running the Town Hall.

But were Bernie’s portrait to appear by the bench, would anyone under the age of 40 know who he was? We suspect that Weatherill’s inclusion on this list is an effort to underpin the council’s decision to name its new glass palace of an HQ, part of its secretive £450 million Hub scheme, after the former MP.

“Charles Burgess Fry – Sportsman: Born in Croydon, academically brilliant he represented England at cricket and football, he was also a great athlete.” This is another where Croydon’s summary does the candidate no credit.

Consider David Beckham, combined with Kevin Pietersen, and yet also having the ability to set the world record for the long jump. Because Fry was all of that, and more. He was so world famous, Albania asked him to be their king (he declined). And yes, Stephen Fry is a descendent of the great man.

Ian Wright: another forgotten by our council

But more recognisable, more recent Croydon sports stars, surely, could include Mark Butcher, the former Surrey and England batsman (who is now one of Inside Croydon‘s growing band of Twitter followers); or Ian Wright, the Palace, Arsenal and England striker; or Roy Hodgson or Chris Robshaw, the current England football manager and rugby captain respectively.

Luol Deng, the Chicago Bulls NBA star, is excluded from consideration on the grounds of requiring too much paint (see Ronnie Corbett, above).

“Malcolm Muggeridge – Journalist: Born in Sanderstead, credited with popularising Mother Teresa, in later years he became a morals campaigner.” Well, the single word “journalist” ought to disqualify Muggeridge. But “popularising Mother Teresa”? Surely the influence was the other way, helping to turn the former Fleet Street firebrand into a sanctimonious old git in his later years, infamously claiming that The Life of Brian was heretical.

Fortunately, the council’s website does offer the opportunity for residents to nominate people of their own choosing.

So we suggest that the David Lean Cinema Campaign, and all other right-minded people, ensure that they click on this link and nominate Sir David Lean before the closing date of June 16.

Click here to vote – remember to scroll to the bottom of the page to register your choices.

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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3 Responses to Croydon’s list of great residents omits David Lean. Why?

  1. I agree fully about David Lean. Another former Croydon resident who merits being a candidate is Alfred Russel Wallace, co-proponent with Darwin of the theory of evolution.

  2. Martyn Rooney, Roy Hodgson, David Lean, Malcolm Wicks, Captain Sensible, could all be included.

    The original shortlist should have been decided by the public.

    Having a former Tory MP in there is a bit typical of Croydon Council at the moment!

  3. I have duly voted for David Lean and Malcolm Wicks MP too.

    Samuel Coleridge Taylor was not born in Croydon but in Holborn.

    Go to, click on The Magazine and then Archives. On page 11 of the 27 March edition, one can find a scan of his birth certificate.

    Philistine Council!

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