New British books list best of everyone, even doormen

FOREIGN CLOSEUP

April 27, 1993|By Richard O'Mara | Richard O'Mara,London Bureau

LONDON -- Long before John Major promised to create a classless society in class-bound Britain, Martin Miller was hard at work toward that very end. On Thursday, the fruit of his four years of labor will be unveiled with the publication of two books titled, The Best of British Men and The Best of British Women.

These comprise a Who's Who with a difference. They are full of people Mr. Miller describes as "the real achievers of British society, instead of the landed gentry who are actually the stuff of the Who's Who."

And, indeed, the first of these books will tell you, among other things, who are the best doormen and head porters in Britain, men such as Shaun Gladstone Holbrook, concierge at the Swallow Hotel in Birmingham, or Victor Radojevic, doorman at the Ritz, in London.

They will also tell you the best pawn brokers to go to when in need of fast cash; they list interesting adventurers, accomplished hat-makers, the truly in-touch mediums (media?), the sharpest darts and snooker players, the more engaging disc jockeys, not to mention the leading professional look-alikes, if such a trade can be imagined.

Among the latter is Peter Hugo. He makes a living giving speeches and doing TV commercials in the guise of the Prince of Wales. His life's goal, so the book states, "is to be The International Impersonator to King Charles III," as Prince Charles will be known when -- and if -- he ascends to the throne his mother now occupies. For the moment, Mr. Hugo must, like the prince, simply wait.

The women's book lists the best housekeepers, hairdressers, and fashion specialists.

But for the most part it mirrors the men's book, listing the %J accomplished in nearly all the same categories, such as pawn brokers, pilots, horsewomen, after dinner speakers and -- you got it-- professional look-alikes, women like Gladys Crosbie, Jeannette Charles and Christina Hance, dead ringers for the Queen Mother, the Queen and Princess Diana.

But one shouldn't get the idea these books are only a catalog of the hoi polloi, a kind of anti-Who's Who, without famous faces, without glitz or glamour.

Mr. Miller has been publishing books a long time (he created Miller's Antiques Guide, which is advertised as the biggest selling antiques year book in the world) and he knows what sells.

The books attempt to be egalitarian but they are not exercises in reverse snobbery. Accordingly they contain the names, pictures and biographies of a lot of famous people. Anthony Hopkins is listed among the actors; James Galway and Julian Bream are among the classical musicians. Glenda Jackson, member of Parliament from Hampstead and Highgate, and Virginia Bottomley, the secretary of state for health are prominent in the section on politics.

Mr. Miller is convinced the appearance of his books coincides with a general trend toward the celebration of the ordinary folk in the United Kingdom, not a common exercise here. He may be right.

Last month Prime Minister Major announced he would revise the system under which honors were accorded to British citizens by the queen.

More people on the lower rungs of society -- such as firefighters, hospital porters, secretaries -- would be eligible for the honors heretofore reserved to those in the upper, middle and professional classes.

That, coupled with Mr. Major's earlier announced desire to see a classless society bloom, make Mr. Miller think he has caught the spirit of the times.

There is reason to expect he is correct. These are yearbooks; new faces will appear in new editions; new categories of excellence will be published. Each of the debut volumes contains 135 categories. These will change.

"This year we have look-alikes," said Mr. Miller. "Maybe we haven't got enough detectives. We almost might develop a section on famous wing walkers, or inventors."

Mr. Miller sees a practical use for the books, which should help sales despite the $52 cover price for the two of them. "It's also a consumer guide. If you want a great florist, or the best body builder or trainer, it's of good use in that respect."

"Generally," he added, "it's half a consumer guide, half just a good read."

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