BBC Two's Icons: The Greatest Person of the 20th Century reached its final tonight (February 5) with a live show celebrating each of the seven contenders while the public voted for their winner.
In contention were Dr Martin Luther King, Alan Turing, Nelson Mandela, Ernest Shackleton, David Bowie, Muhammad Ali and Pablo Picasso, each having made it through the initial round in their respective categories.
While previous shows had put forward a number of female nominees, including Marie Curie, Marilyn Monroe, Emmeline Pankhurst, Billie Jean King and Virginia Woolf, none managed to make the final shortlist.
But during the live show, Clare Balding, who was there to advocate for boxer Muhammad Ali, offered her thoughts on why women weren't being represented in the final.
Admitting she was "disappointed but not surprised", Clare described the 20th century as "the history of men told by men", adding that women were only just starting to be recognised now.
"I wasn't surprised," Clare said when asked by host Claudia Winkleman about the lack of women. "I'm a bit disappointed, but not surprised because I think you can't be an icon unless you are allowed to have the limelight.
"I think the 20th century largely was the history of men, told by men and women have started to find their voice and started to find their feet so that if we did this programme all of us back again in 50 years' time, we'd be looking at people like Oprah Winfrey or J.K. Rowling.
"We'd be looking at Madonna or Beyoncé or Lady Gaga. We'd be looking at Serena Williams or Malala, Michelle Obama. I think there are so many women who have an influence in their sphere and outside it and they're beginning to have an impact now, but almost the 20th century was too short. We need to be knocking into the 21st."
Clare's speech was praised by many viewers on Twitter, who agreed with her assessment on the lack of women in the final.
The eloquence of @clarebalding addressing the elephant in the room on #icons- Rae Duke (@Raetheduke) February 5, 2019
“The 20th century was too short, we almost need to be knocking into the 21st.”
She’s hopeful that if doing the programme in 50 yrs, the likes of JK Rowling, Oprah, M Obama would make the cut. #women
Thanks to @clarebalding for the best speech of the night on #Icons pointing out that women didn't have a platform/profile for enough of the 20th century to feature but it could be a very different story if we ventured into the 21st. #women- Laura Archer-Power (@LauraArcherPowe) February 5, 2019
Disappointing no women on short list for #Icons @bbctwo but @clarebalding explained well why it is so. Much to be done but amazing list of humans. Super to see 3 black men & gay man on list who gave so much to the world. Diversity changes the world 🙌👏 #Hope pic.twitter.com/HUSY8UCML0- Sinead Bunting (@SineadBunting) February 5, 2019
The wonderful @clarebalding is spot on with with her take on #Icons. It's unsurprising, if disappointing, that no women made the final. This is one of those circumstances where I'd love to see a second final that celebrated the women who won their categories.- Saffron Hayes (@saffronhayes) February 5, 2019
Yes, Clare Balding ‘women are missing from the list because they never got the spot light in the 20tn century.’ [...] ‘Bring on the 21st century where we will celebrate Michelle Obama, Oprah, Serena Williams, Lady Gaga and JK Rowling’ 💪🏻 #ICONS #FemalePower @clarebalding- Georgia Simpson (@Just_Georgia) February 5, 2019
I bloody love @clarebalding; her common sense no-messing approach & that absolutely brilliant argument as to why there are no female finalists in #icons. Anyone who disagrees with me... well I am not sure we can be friends. https://t.co/Ss8X2hsgwC- Rather be reading (@be_reading) February 5, 2019
“You can’t be an icon unless you have the limelight” well said @clarebalding about how the lack of space for women in the twentieth century resulted in the lack of women in the final line-up. #BBC #ICONS- Lisa MCMLXXXIX Wynne (@L_Wynne) February 5, 2019
In the end, the public voted scientist and World War II codebreaker Alan Turing as their 20th century icon.
The vote followed an impassioned speech by Turing's advocate Chris Packham.
Packham said of Turing that his "genius brought Britain back from the brink during WWII".
"While he was punished for being different, his work celebrated diversity. Under the circumstances, that makes him truly iconic."
Icons: The Greatest Person of the 20th Century is available to watch on BBC iPlayer.
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