25 famous men from Norfolk and Suffolk
PUBLISHED: 10:59 24 November 2017 | UPDATED: 14:32 24 November 2017
Meet some of the fabulously diverse men from Norfolk and Suffolk. They include a man with a Canadian city named after him, a four-time Olympic gold rower, a pig farmer and the founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Sir James Dyson
Many of you with spotless homes will have Cromer-born James Dyson to thank. The founder of vacuum and electronics giant Dyson, he is a former Gresham’s School pupil.
According to the Sunday Times Rich List 2017, his net worth is £7.8bn – not bad for a Cromer boy!
Sir Peter Hall
Suffolk-born theatre legend Sir Peter Hall was the founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company before taking over the National Theatre from Sir Laurence Olivier.
Sir Peter was the son of a Bury St Edmunds station master, and he returned to his Suffolk roots in 1974 when he directed a big screen adaptation of Ronald Blythe’s Akenfield, his best-selling novel about rural life in East Anglia.
He died in September this year after a long illness.
He was 10 years old when he first looked through a telescope at the Norwich Astronomical Society, and it was that moment which sparked astronomer Mark Thompson’s passion for the universe.
He has now passed this passion on to many through his broadcasting roles on programmes such as Stargazing Live and The One Show.
The People’s Astronomer, as he calls himself, has served on the Council of the Royal Astronomical Society and is the president of Norwich Astronomical Society.
Griff Rhys Jones
While he may love the open road and exploring rivers, home is where the heart is for Griff Rhys Jones, and that means Holbrook with a garden sloping down the banks of the River Stour, on the Shotley Peninsular in Suffolk, where he lives with wife Jo.
The comedian, TV presenter and actor spent his early childhood in Wales but, despite his Welsh name, says he remembers more of his time in Suffolk than his native Wales. The comedy actor came to fame with the Not The Nine O’Clock News team.
Who would have thought that the man recognised as paving the way for the Declaration of Independence came from Thetford?
Born in the town in 1737, he was an apprentice corset-maker to his father before sailing for America in 1774. There he became a prolific pamphleteer, including “Common Sense”, which advocated complete independence for the American colonies and is said to have influenced the American Revolution.
In 1787 he returned to England and wrote “Rights of Man”, which defended the French Revolution.The golden statue of Paine in Thetford shows him holding a copy of it, quill in hand.
From Lord Voldemort to M in James Bond, Ralph Fiennes’ 32-year acting career has been truly diverse. The multi award-winning actor may be a Hollywood regular, but he was born in Ipswich.
He is the eldest of six children. Four of his siblings are also in the arts: Martha Fiennes, a director; Magnus Fiennes, a musician; Sophie Fiennes, a producer; and Joseph Fiennes, an actor.
Fiennes made his directorial debut in 2011 with his film adaptation of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, in which he also played the title character.
Interesting fact – he’s the eighth cousin of Prince Charles.
It was during private music lessons at Old Buckenham Hall School that Lowestoft-born Benjamin Britten began his world-famous musical career.
In 1947 he and his partner Peter Pears founded the Aldeburgh Festival. In 1976 Britten accepted a life peerage as Baron Britten of Aldeburgh, but he died of heart failure soon after at his house in Aldeburgh, and is buried in the churchyard of St Peter and St Paul’s Church.
The Red House in Aldeburgh, where Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears lived and worked together for almost 30 years, is now the home of the Britten-Pears Foundation, which promotes their musical legacy.
He has a Canadian city, a fort and an island named after him. He kept very good company – Captain Cook no less, and he led the longest mapping expedition in history.
King’s Lynn-born George Vancouver was a naval officer and explorer and sailed on two voyages with Captain Cook, the first when he was just 14. During a four-and-a-half-year voyage expedition to map the North American west coast from northern Mexico to southern Alaska, Vancouver proved that Vancouver Island, off British Columbia in Canada, was truly an island, leading to the island and city being named in his honour.
Influential DJ and radio presenter John Peel was Radio 1’s longest-serving DJ when he died aged 65, in October 2004.
He lived in Suffolk for 33 years and is buried in St Andrew’s Church, in Great Finborough, where his gravestone bears the lyrics “teenage dreams so hard to beat”, from the DJ’s all-time favourite record: The Undertones’ Teenage Kicks. The former Corn Exchange building in the town centre of Stowmarket has been converted into the John Peel Centre for Creative Arts.
Aha – Steve Coogan’s comic creation may be a fictional character, but we had to include the voice of North Norfolk Digital in our list. Plus, there’s the exciting news that he’s returning to our screens next year as the BBC’s Voice of Brexit.
As a Brexiteer, Alan will be returning to the BBC with a new series in spring 2018. The BBC has also lined up an hour-long special celebrating 20 years of Partridge since his radio debut, which will air on BBC2 around Christmas.
“Alan would have voted Brexit for sure. Hard Brexit, given the choice. He’s a Brexiteer because the Daily Mail told him to be,” said Coogan.
BBC TV series Jimmy’s Farm put Essex-born farmer Jimmy Doherty on the map.
Set at his farm in Wherstead, near Ipswich, the series followed Jimmy’s trials and tribulations as he set up his rare breed pig farm.
Since then, Jimmy has been involved in a whole range of shows documenting his farming career, including Crisis on Jimmy’s Farm, Jimmy’s Farming Heroes, Jimmy’s Food Factory, Jimmy and the Giant Supermarket, and the popular Food Unwrapped series.
Jimmy’s Farm is now a visitor attraction with shops, butterfly house, gardens, animal pens, market and events all year.
He’s considered one of the 20th century’s best narrators of English culture, most notably through his novels Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four.
The Blairs (Orwell’s real name was Eric Blair) moved to the coast at about the time their son was leaving Eton in 1921. Orwell attended a cram school in Southwold where he passed the entrance exam to join the Imperial Police in India.
He returned to his parents’ house a few years later and wrote A Clergyman’s Daughter, which contains not very positive parallels with Southwold, the tea shop his mother and sister set up there and even his sister herself.
Sir Matthew Pinsent
In one of the classic sporting moments of all time, Holt-born Sir Matthew Pinsent led the Great Britain coxless four to victory at the Athens Olympic Games in 2004 - just eight-hundredths of a second ahead of the Canadian world champions.
Add to this 10 world championship gold medals and three consecutive Olympic gold medals in the years leading up to 2004, and you can see why Pinsent has a well-deserved place in sporting history.
He’s currently the face of Premier League Football on BT Sport, but as an experienced and knowledgeable television and radio presenter Jake had been at the forefront of BBC Sport’s coverage for many events, including anchoring its Formula One coverage for four years.
Born in Peterborough, his family moved to Norwich when Jake was a child and he attended Framingham Earl High School and the sixth form at the Hewett School. He moved back to Norwich after becoming a father and is patron of Norwich-based children’s charity Break.
Dubbed Norfolk’s “Mini Monet”, Kieron Williamson was just five when he developed a passion for painting. He held his first exhibition at the age of just six, which sold out for £14,000. A second exhibition soon after saw another 16 works sold for £17,000 in just 14 minutes.
Having turned 15 this year, the Ludham teenager is already worth around £2m, with the top price paid for one of his works, mainly of rural scenes and landscapes, being £45,000.
Best known for his paintings of the English countryside, Constable was, with Joseph Turner, the major English landscape painter of the 19th century. Born in 1776 in East Bergholt, Suffolk, he was the son of a prosperous miller.
Constable believed that his paintings should come as directly as possible from nature. He made hundreds of outdoor oil sketches, capturing the changing skies and effects of light. He was happiest painting locations he knew well, particularly the Suffolk villages of East Bergholt, Dedham, Stratford St Mary and Langham, as well as views of the River Stour.
He received little recognition in Britain in his lifetime, but his paintings now sell for millions.
Another great Suffolk artist is Thomas Gainsborough. Best known for his portraits, he was born in 1727 in Sudbury, Suffolk, the son of a cloth merchant. At 13 he was sent to London to study drawing and etching but reutrned to Suffolk around 1749 where he lived and worked for a decade.
Gainsborough claimed to prefer painting landscapes to portraits, but the latter were much more lucrative and it is for portraits such as ‘Mr and Mrs Andrews’ and ‘The Blue Boy’ that he is most famous.
The Egyptologist from Norfolk made the most famous archaeological discovery of all time in 1922 – the fabulous tomb of Tutankhamun. Born in London, he moved to live with family in Swaffham as a child and began his archaeological work in Egypt in 1891, aged 17. He worked on many excavations before his big discovery. His achievement is celebrated in an exhibition at Swaffham Museum.
This list is by no means exhaustive, or in order of merit. And if you’ve had enough of inspiring men!, see Tuesday’s EDP and January 15th’s EADT.