The bible of the great and good, Burke's Landed Gentry, has, for the first time in its 179-year history, published a Yorkshire edition. Sheena Hastings reports. JOHN Prescott said he'd rather not be listed in the new "Ridings of York" edition of Burke's Landed Gentry, whose new incarnation gives a nod to the influence wielded by non-titled self-made folk from MPs to actors, musicians, writers, TV presenters and leaders in the voluntary sector .
In a break with its long tradition of listing the genealogy of toffs only, Coronation Street's Vera Duckworth (aka Liz Dawn from Leeds) sits alongside theatrical aristocracy Dame Judi Dench, daughter of a York GP.
The inclusion of these much-loved actresses is the equivalent, in previous times, of listing the actress and royal paramour Lily Langtry. Now wouldn't that have caused a scandal a century ago?
But times have changed – which is precisely what, in a sense, makes the cumbersomely-titled Burke's Landed Gentry The Ridings of York Including Contemporary Yorkshire People of Distinction such a strange book for the 21st century.
Of the 5,000 listings, 2,000 are members of the peerage who between them own vast tracts of the Broad Acres. The remaining 3,000 are a motley crew of the famous, rich, or simply distinguished in their field.
To qualify for a listing, people in the book must have been born in Yorkshire or live or work here. But there are some strange inclusions and omissions.
Broadcaster and writer Melvyn Bragg, for instance, is presumably listed because he visits Yorkshire a few times a year in the capacity of Chancellor of Leeds University. Yet a man more staunchly proud of his Westmoreland roots and accent barely exists.
And the Archbishop of Canterbury is listed, despite his only connection with Yorkshire being two years spent as a theology lecturer in Mirfield a quarter of a century ago.
Meanwhile, Yorkshire's own familiar and locally-grown BBC Look North presenter Christa Ackroyd is not mentioned in the tome, despite the inclusion of her sofa partner Harry Gration, and their more junior colleague Ian White.
Rugby star Ellory Hanley is missing, as is Barnsley-based fashion supremo Rita Britton and Harrogate's John Hardy, founder of the Link cashpoint network that revolutionised how we access our money.
Those being considered for listing are written to and asked if they would like to be included, and invited to supply personal information.
John Prescott replied characteristically that he'd rather not be in the book, but the publishers of Burke's decided to overrule the Deputy Prime Minister – something that's easy to do with a personality whose life is very much in the public domain. Christa Ackroyd, Rita Britton and John Hardy were not written to, says Dr Barrie Pettman, Baron of Bombie, who is publisher of the new Yorkshire edition. However, he says, the book will be updated every two years in order to include people overlooked initially and add other new names.
Pettman, who made his millions from publishing academic journals and is also an author and for many years an academic specialising in industrial relations, lives on a large estate at Patrington near Hull, and winters in New Zealand.
He acquired his baronetcy from Sir David Hope Dunbar, of the Scottish financial services company Allied Dunbar. Sir David apparently had a title or two to spare, and in Scottish law, a title can be passed outside the family. The Bombie coat of arms features two closed books.
Pettman has put a tidy sum of his own money into republishing BLG, which had not been updated in any form for 33 years until Pettman and his business partner decided to breathe new life into it a few years ago.
After printing an updated edition of the main book, they brought out a Scottish version, and are now embarked on giving each English region its own dedicated volume.
Despite his own personal fascination with genealogy – entries for some of the aristocrats mentioned in The Ridings of York edition go on for several pages – it's difficult to see why he is so keen on a book which he admits probably won't make money, even at 149 a throw. For him it is a labour of love that took several researchers 18 months to compile, even with 2,000 of the entries ready to poach from the main BLG.
"The traditional national version of Burke's has a bias towards the South," he says.
"There are many worthy people around the rest of the country who were not included, mostly
for space reasons. Giving each region its own book seems more fair.
"We also thought it was time for Burke's Landed Gentry to recognise that social patterns are very different now from when the book was first published in 1826. Many of the most influential people today are lawyers and those in showbusiness and the media, as well as leaders of large public organisations.
"It's a recognition of people who've contributed to society. Jimmy Savile might seem an odd choice, but he has done a great deal for charity."
But who will buy it?
"I can see it being very useful for those interested in genealogy, the legal profession, people in business and those who want to network generally.
"I can't conceivably see that there's money in it, but then the market for books is very difficult. I mainly do it out of interest."