12th February, 1999.
The Chief Cashier,
The Bank of England,
I hear that Mr. Kentifield is about to be replaced by a lady whose name I didn't catch. Whichever one you are, good luck to you in your new position.
I write to you on the 190th anniversary of his birth to express my disappointment that Charles Darwin—perhaps Britain's greatest ever scientist—still has not been depicted on a British bank note. In March 1994, The Friends of Charles Darwin wrote to Mr. Kentifield making this very point, and were informed that figures depicted on notes "must have a well-established record of excellence in their field of endeavor, and their achievements have to merit commemoration in the design of one of the Bank's notes". Fair enough, I thought, Darwin is bound to be a dead cert., as soon as a suitable space becomes available.
Then, only last week, I find myself in the unusual position of handling a new £50 note, and discover to my utter amazement that depicted on the back is none other than that well-established gentleman of excellence, Sir John Houblon (sic). While Sir John may have been a big nob in the banking profession, I completely fail to see how his presence can be justified on the back of the highest denomination note of the realm. A quick straw poll of my friends and colleagues today consistently yielded a single astonished answer: "John who?" I am afraid to say that I detect a distinct whiff of cronyism.
To add insult to injury, I then learn that one of our other great scientists, Michael Faraday, is to be replaced on the back of the £20 note by that pompous fool of little circumstance, Edward Elgar. Must I add jingoism to the charge of cronyism, I wonder? What sort of message does this send out to our international cousins as we enter the third millennium?
Isn't it about time that Charles Darwin, perhaps the most influential Briton in history, received his due? Snubbed on the knighthood front by Queen Victoria; slandered by religious fanatics the world over; overlooked by the Bank of England. Is there to be no end to the injustice?
Time is running out; the Euro approaches. There may be few more opportunities left to you to right this terrible wrong.
Friend of Charles Darwin
P.S. On a lighter note (no pun intended), I wonder whether you could confirm the story that the three members of the audience caught in the spotlight at Faraday's lecture on the £20 note are the three gentlemen who designed the note. If the story isn't true, it certainly should be. Now there's an idea: perhaps you could stick Darwin's head on one of the audience in your Elgar note—it would be better than nothing.