Royal Mail is celebrating the life and work of 10 significant but in some cases lesser-known citizens, in a special stamp issue on February 23.

The Britons of Distinction set celebrates distinguished individuals from the realms of engineering, computing, architecture, music, politics, literature and design, with a secret agent added to the mix for good measure.

Some are quite familiar names but others less so, certainly in comparison with the Eminent Britons set of 2009. All are linked to a major anniversary in 2012.

Printed in se-tenant strips of five, the designs are a mix of portraits and images showing the individual’s achievements.
The stamps were designed by Purpose, and printed in lithography by Cartor.

VERDICT

COMMEMORATIVE WORTH   
Some subjects were overdue recognition; others are unusually brave selections

QUALITY OF DESIGN   
Intermingling black-and-white portraits with colour photographs spices things up

WOW FACTOR    
This issue is more likely to intrigue than to wow

1st class Sir Basil Spence
Spence studied under Sir Edwin Lutyens before serving in World War II. Later he won a competition to design the new Coventry Cathedral, replacing the one bombed by the Luftwaffe, which opened in 1962.

1st class Frederick Delius
Born in 1862 in Yorkshire, to German parents, Delius became one of Britain’s foremost composers. Working mostly in France with his wife, Jelka, he wrote choral and orchestral works such as On Hearing The First Cuckoo In Spring, and operas such as A Village Romeo & Juliet.

1st class Mary ‘May’ Morris
Born in 1862, May was the daughter of William Morris, the founder of the Arts & Crafts movement, and became a textile artist and designer, and the director of embroidery at Morris & Co. The stamp shows Orange Tree, which she designed
and embroidered.

1st class Odette Hallowes
Born Odette Brailly in 1912, this Frenchwoman with an English husband was recruited by the Special Operations Executive to work with the French Resistance in World War II. Betrayed by a double agent, she was captured, tortured and condemned to death by the Nazis, but survived Ravensbrück concentration camp and was awarded the George Cross, the UK’s highest
civilian honour.

1st class Thomas Newcomen
This ironmonger and engineer from Devon invented the atmospheric steam engine, which helped to kick-start the Industrial Revolution. Newcomen’s engine was used for pumping water out of the Conygree coalmine near Dudley in Staffordshire, starting in 1712.

1st class Kathleen Ferrier
Born in Lancashire in 1912, Ferrier was a contralto whose international singing and operatic career was prematurely ended
by her death from cancer in 1953. She worked as a telephonist for the General Post Office before her career took off, but later collaborated with the composer Benjamin Britten and made numerous BBC radio broadcasts.

1st class Augustus Pugin
Born in London in 1812, Pugin was the son of a French draughtsman who became one of the foremost architects in the neo-Gothic style. He designed a huge number of buildings and churches, but is best known for his interiors and decorations in the Houses of Parliament.

1st class Montague Rhodes James
Born in 1862, M R James was an author of chilling ghost stories such as The Casting of the Runes and A Warning to the Curious, originally written simply as entertainment for his friends.

1st class Alan Turing
A mathematician and pioneering computer scientist born in 1912, Turing’s code-breaking work helped to win World War II, and he later created one of the first stored-program computers. His career was effectively ended when he was prosecuted for homosexuality, and he died of cyanide poisoning in 1954, in what was probably suicide. The stamp shows his Bombe code-breaking machine at Bletchley Park.

1st class Joan Mary Fry
Born into the wealthy family of chocolate-makers in 1862, Fry became a pacifist, a prison chaplain and a campaigner for social reform. After World War I she organised famine relief efforts in Germany.

Other products
In the presentation pack, writer Maev Kennedy considers the lives and times of the stamp subjects. As ever, a first day cover and stamp cards are available.

PRICES

Set of 10 stamps    £4.60
Presentation pack    £5.10
Stamp cards    £4.50
First day envelope    £0.30
First day cover    £6.00
TOTAL     £20.50