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50 over 50: what the winners say about you
April 1, 2011 | By:

The top three over-50s, as voted for by high50 readers, are: Hugh Grant, Colin Firth and Tim Berners-Lee. How, asks James Collard, does that reflect on you?

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Colin Firth, Hugh Grant and Tim Berners-Lee. What to make of high50 readers’ choice of their favourite 50-somethings? All male – which is interesting, in a vote where the genders were evenly matched. All English, all posh, all with a very English knack for self-deprecation, despite being movie stars in the first two cases, and the chap who happened to invent the worldwide web in the last.

We might be slightly surprised to discover that in our middle-age we can be as impressed by celebrity as a teenager. But perhaps Colin Firth and Hugh Grant also represent for us two different ideals of British masculinity, ideals which we’ve seen played out and contrasted on the big screen.

In Bridget Jones’s Diary, Colin Firth played Mark Darcy, the handsome but stand-offish human rights lawyer, with a nod, of course, to that other Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. (A nod lent added impact as most of us had already seen Firth play Jane Austen’s anti-hero turned hero in the small screen adaptation of the novel.)

Grant, meanwhile, played Bridget’s boss: the handsome, sexy, funny (that English self-deprecation again) and charming (if bitchy) Daniel Cleaver. Like Bridget, we fall for Cleaver. Only in the end do we realise that rather like Mr Wickham, he’s a bit of cad, and a slightly preposterous one at that.

Firth is a fundamentally modest man. (I sat next to him at a dinner once, and he introduced himself by saying, “Hello, my name’s Colin,” which is a nice touch when everyone clearly knows who he is.) But you sense that like Darcy, he is no one’s fool, and he knows his own worth – the worth of Firth, so to speak.

Grant is more glossy. And if, during the hacking scandal, he found his voice, for all his ready charm and evergreen good looks, he has had no King’s Speech moment, no A Single Man Oscar, no bold new move (although it’s worth remembering that Grant was the first to play gay, kind of, in the 1987 adaptation of EM Forster’s Maurice).

But what should we make of Tim Berners-Lee, the man who brought us the worldwide web, trumping these two matinee idols? Is this the triumph of substance over the superficial? The internet has transformed all our lives. In a little while, I’ll file this copy by email. I checked the dates of Grant’s gay movie moment by looking them up on IMDB, the Internet Movie Data Base. My mother, almost 80, spends many an evening watching YouTube. My nephews and nieces have never known a world without the internet. But we have, and we know how it’s changed the world.

So perhaps it shouldn’t be such a surprise that the man who helped bring that change about pips to the post a couple of handsome, charming actors. Then again, it’s worth noting that Berners-Lee is also a bit of a looker himself. Ho hum.

Read the full list of 50