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Who's Who (UK)

Who's Who
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Release number
168 (in 2015)
Publication date

Who's Who is a leading source of biographical data on more than 33,000 influential people from around the world. Published annually since 1849, and as of 2015 in its 168th edition, it lists people who have an impact on British life, according to its editors. Entries include judges, civil servants, politicians and notable figures from academia, sport and the arts. Each entry in Who's Who is authored by the subject who is invited by the editors to fill in a questionnaire. Entries typically include full names, dates of birth, career details, club memberships, education, professional qualifications, publications, recreations and contact details.[3][4]


  • Biographies in Who's Who 1
  • Who Was Who 2
  • History 3
  • Other uses of the Who's Who title 4
  • References 5

Biographies in Who's Who

Subjects include peers, MPs, judges, very senior civil servants, and distinguished writers, actors, lawyers, scientists, researchers, athletes and artists. Some (such as those holding a Professorial Chair at Oxbridge) are included automatically by virtue of their office; those in less hierarchical occupations are included at the discretion of the editors.

Inclusion in Who's Who, unlike many other similar publications, has never involved any payment by or to the subject, or even any obligation to buy a copy. Inclusion has always been by perceived prominence in public life or professional achievement. Inclusion has therefore come to carry a considerable level of prestige. The Wall Street Journal has said that an entry in Who's Who "really puts the stamp of eminence on a modern British life",[5] and the Daily Mail has described it as "Britain's most famous reference book".

Once someone is included in Who's Who he or she remains in it for life, so for example MPs are not removed when they leave Parliament. The 7th Earl of Lucan is still listed in the book, even though he has been missing since 1974 and was declared legally dead in 1999.[6]

The publication is dominated by people who are active in British public life, including the members of the Scottish Parliament, Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies, as well as Members of the House of Commons, the chief executives of all UK cities and counties, and foreign ambassadors accredited to London.[7] There is a high proportion of Oxford and Cambridge (Britain's most prestigious universities) graduates among the new entrants.[7]

The entries are compiled from questionnaires returned to the publisher by the featured subjects. Some checks are made by the editors but subjects may say or omit anything they wish. For example, the playwright John Osborne did not acknowledge an estranged daughter in his entry; Carole Jordan does not mention any marriage in her article, although her ex-husband, Richard Peckover, did in his. Jeremy Paxman[8] has also calculated that only 8% of new entrants in 2008 made any reference to marital breakdown, which is far below the national average.[7]

On the other hand, by asking the people themselves to submit a short biography, this sometimes leads to them including titbits that would not otherwise be known, and allows the subject to show something of his or her character, rather than being a curriculum vitae, especially in the descriptions of "recreations". From conventional references to fishing, reading or opera (which still feature prominently), listed recreations have included: "Maintaining rusty old cars" (Alastair Balls),[9] “Generally fomenting the overthrow of capitalism” (the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer John McDonnell),[10] "Anglophobia" (Christopher Murray Grieve)[11] and "Contemplating revenge" (Stephen Chambers).[12] Sometimes, there is an excess of detail: the prolific romantic novelist Dame Barbara Cartland listed each of her publications, many hundreds of books, together with a list of her other achievements; the result was one of the longest entries in the book's history.

Who Was Who

When someone dies, their biography is transferred to the volumes of Who Was Who, where they are usually printed as they appeared in the last Who's Who, appended with their date of death.

The first volume of Who Was Who covered deaths between 1897 and 1915; they were then published at 10-year intervals, and since 1990 at five year intervals.[13]


Who's Who has been published since 1849 by A & C Black.[14]

Originally, it merely provided lists of the names of notable people, for example all Members of Parliament and all bishops. Beginning with the 1897 edition, it listed people alphabetically and provided fuller biographical details.

A full online edition of the work was launched in 2005. However, it continues to be published annually in hard copy.

A history of Who's Who was published to coincide with the 150th edition in 1998.

Other uses of the Who's Who title

The name has been widely copied, and now there are many publications with "Who's Who" in the title such as Marquis Who's Who, though they are not from the same publisher. Some of these are considered to be merely Who's Who scams.[15]

The name is also often used metaphorically, as in this example from an Associated Press wire article about Los Angeles cemeteries:

Los Angeles, Spanish for "The City of Angels," has one of the world's greatest collections of cemeteries and memorial parks in the world. A who's who of what was.[16]


  • Richard Fitzwilliams. "Who's Who: A Book that Speaks Volumes". Sunday Express. 6 December 2010.
  • Crick and Rosenbaum. "How to get into Who’s Who". The Spectator. 10 July 2004.
  • "What's What of Who's Who". Western Mail. 15 December 2001. TheFreeLibrary.
  • "How to get in Who's Who". BBC. 18 January 2001.
  • Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, Vol 92, No 4676 (13 October 1944), pp 618–619 JSTOR Google Books.
  • "Notes on Books", Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, Volume 88, No 4558 (5 April 1940), p 502 JSTOR Google Books.
  • "Notes on Books", Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, Volume 86, No 4449 (25 February 1938), p 355 JSTOR Google Books.
  • "Notes on Books", Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, Volume 85, No 4388 (25 December 1936), p 168 JSTOR Google Books.
  • The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, Volume 26, No 143 (February 1915), pp 216–217 JSTOR.
  • The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, Volume 16, No 82 (January 1910), p 237 JSTOR.
  • The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, Volume 14, No 70 (January 1909), p 249 JSTOR.
  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Who's Who on Twitter
  5. ^ Paul Levy. "(Sex) Lives and Deaths of British Worthies". Wall Street Journal. 9 August 1996.
  6. ^ .
  7. ^ a b c
  8. ^ (subscription required)
  9. ^ (subscription required)
  10. ^
  11. ^ (subscription required)
  12. ^ (subscription required)
  13. ^ Who was Who series:
  14. 1897–1915, 1988 reprint: ISBN 0-7136-2670-4
  15. 1916–1928, 1992 reprint: ISBN 0-7136-3143-0
  16. 1929–1940, 1967 reprint: ISBN 0-7136-0171-X
  17. 1941–1950, 1980 reprint: ISBN 0-7136-2131-1
  18. 1951–1960, 1984 reprint: ISBN 0-7136-2598-8
  19. 1961–1970, 1979 reprint: ISBN 0-7136-2008-0
  20. 1971–1980, 1989 reprint: ISBN 0-7136-3227-5
  21. 1981–1990: 1991 ISBN 0-7136-3336-0
  22. 1991–1995: 1996 ISBN 0-7136-4496-6
  23. 1996–2000: 2001 ISBN 0-7136-5439-2
  24. 2001–2005: 2006 ISBN 0-7136-7601-9
  25. ^ .
  26. ^ .
  27. ^ .
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