Martin-Rosenbaum

How to get into Who’s Who

Michael Crick and Martin Rosenbaum reveal the lengths to which some people will go to record their names in Britain’s foremost work of biographical reference

Michael Crick and Martin Rosenbaum reveal the lengths to which some people will go to record their names in Britain’s foremost work of biographical reference

One of Britain’s most secretive and mysterious intelligence-gathering operations is based inside a small, nondescript office block in St Anne’s Court, a short passageway in Soho. The predominantly female staff who work at the heart of the establishment try to remain entirely anonymous. There is no nameplate to indicate what is done on the second floor of this building, and those inside are deeply reluctant to talk about what they do. They collect personal data on tens of thousands of prominent individuals, but the questionnaires they distribute give only a return address, with no mention of any individual behind the operation.

These are the editorial staff of Who’s Who, the famous red book which supposedly lists the country’s movers and shakers, the great and the good. Yet Who’s Who is more than a mere reference work; it’s an institution. These shadowy figures taking decisions about who’s made it in life and who hasn’t are the secret gatekeepers to the roll-call of the British Establishment.

Like most journalists, we use Who’s Who frequently — to track people down, check on what they’ve done, or even to confirm if someone’s still alive. But there are nagging questions about its choice of biographees, the process by which it is compiled and its accuracy.

When we were making a programme about Who’s Who for BBC Radio Four, we naturally wanted to interview the editor, or at least a member of the editorial staff. None of them was allowed to talk. Instead the publishers A&C Black (now part of Bloomsbury) put up Jonathan Glasspool, their publishing director for reference books. He’s been at A&C Black for only 18 months, and works in another building round the corner from the editors.

Already a subscriber? Log in

Keep reading with a free trial

Subscribe and get your first month of online and app access for free. After that it’s just £1 a week.

There’s no commitment, you can cancel any time.

Or

Unlock more articles

REGISTER

Comments

Don't miss out

Join the conversation with other Spectator readers. Subscribe to leave a comment.

Already a subscriber? Log in