The ‘Winston’: Our new £5 note

So! The Bank of England has announced that Sir Winston Churchill is planned to appear on the new design for a £5 note which will enter circulation in 2016.

A wide range of historical characters appears on the reverse of Bank of England banknotes. The current face of the £5 note is social reformer Elizabeth Fry, the only woman besides the Queen on any British banknote.

The design will include a portrait of the former prime minister, adapted from a photograph taken by Yousuf Karsh on 30 December 1941. The image is one of his more famous, and his glum expression was due to his cigar being forcibly removed moments before it was taken. He is the only politician from the modern era to feature on a banknote.

The artwork will also include Churchill’s declaration “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat” which came in a speech in the Commons on 13 May 1940 as well as a view of Westminster and the Elizabeth Tower (or Big Ben) from the South Bank. The Great Clock will show three o’clock – (the approximate time of the Commons speech) and it will also feature a background image of the Nobel Prize for literature, which Churchill was awarded in 1953.

Sir Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England (until later this year when he is replaced by the Governor of the Bank of Canada, Mr Mark Carney) has stated;

“Our banknotes acknowledge the life and work of great Britons. Sir Winston Churchill was a truly great British leader, orator and writer. Above that, he remains a hero of the entire free world. His energy, courage, eloquence, wit and public service are an inspiration to us all.”

Personally, I have absolutely no problem with Sir Winston Churchill being placed on the back of a £5 note. I think that he performed admirably as a war-time Prime Minister and was an incredibly strong asset to upholding British morale.

However, I can also see the reasoning from people who don’t support the change. I have seen forums where people have despaired against his love of the British Empire but dislike of its subjects, and his abrasive personality doesn’t seem to have earned him any favours. However I equally don’t think it’s fair to compare someone who lived the prime of his life nearly 100 years ago to the modern day; his ideals and grasp of the world was deeply different from our own and I doubt that any other historical figurehead would be different. I am also tentative about a political figure being used and I hope that this doesn’t open the floodgates up to other Prime Ministers being placed on Bank notes undeservedly.

I think that the people who feature on our currency should also be easily recognisable as British icons. I mean, I looked at the backs of £5, £10, £20 and £50 notes just before writing this post and could only name Charles Darwin from the back of the £10. I’d never heard of Elizabeth Fry (£5), Adam Smith (£20) or of Matthew Boulton (£50) and although I know of James Watt (also £50), I couldn’t pick him out from his picture.

Putting someone like Churchill on the back of the notes fits the exact purpose of having the funny little pictures; it promotes British History and culture. People will see it and think, look at the grumpy old British bulldog. If only we all still had his fighting spirit.


Post Script:
I also think its quite funny to imagine the new note as being nicknamed a ‘Winston’. I mean, how quintessentially British can you get?

Post-Post Script 03/05/13:
I have just came accross a book entitled : ‘Churchill Style: The Art of Being Winston Churchill’.
I have a burning desire to acquire said book and store it on a shelf where I can admire its name for decades to come.


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