The 10 best, the 100 most significant - millennium fever has already gripped publishing and the arts. Wranglings about who should or should not be included in these elevated league tables can become tedious, but the end of the century is as good a time as any for reappraisal. The National Portrait Gallery has asked a more searching question. What images best sum up British life in the 20th century?
Ten well-known representatives of the worlds of the media, the arts, fashion, science and business have each been set the pleasant task of choosing 10 portraits for Faces of the Century: a Sainsbury's photographic exhibition which will open at the gallery on October 22, 1999, and then tour to Hull, Bath and Edinburgh during 2000.
Journalists Max Hastings and Trevor Phillips joined Lord Sainsbury of Preston Candover, barrister Helena Kennedy, Stephen Hawking, author of A Brief History of Time, and Lord Puttnam at the National Portrait Gallery to discuss some of the choices being considered. Lord Puttnam had a revealing anecdote to tell. Having decided to take race relations as his theme, he began by looking at photographs of Mosley's Blackshirts. In one of them he was amazed to spot the figure of his father, a photographer, aiming his camera at much the same image. Despite such negative early material, he is optimistic about the transition to a multicultural society,but warns that we must not be complacent. His choices will chart that transition.
Helena Kennedy has chosen war as a theme, especially the way in which it changed women's attitudes and expectations. Women's changing roles in religion and the wider world and "the faces that history excludes", those of the poor, are also lines she is pursuing. She likes the work of certain photographers: Eve Arnold's pictures of young nuns dressed as brides of Christ will furnish one of her 10. She also mentions unusual political portraits: Tony Blair "with the gang, his sleeves rolled up" in the United States and a newly elected Margaret Thatcher, next to a bust of Winston Churchill.
Stephen Hawking, speaking via his computer screen, said that he had chosen scientists and women: Francis Crick, Emmeline Pankhurst and Virginia Woolf - as well as Mrs T. The committee may have to make hard decisions about the number of times the Iron Lady can appear.
There will be a full educational programme, aimed mainly at secondary students, when the Faces of the Century opens. Meanwhile, British Sporting Heroes, the current exhibition, is providing plenty of stimulus for young photo-graphers. For further information: 0171 306 0055.
The National Portrait Gallery has regional partnerships with great houses: Montacute in Somerset, Beningbrough Hall in Yorkshire and Bodelwyddan Castle in Wales. If you happen to be in London, and are visiting the Tate, perhaps for the Turner Prize Exhibition (and what better way to engage A-level students in debate about the changing role of art), there's a chance to see a small but exquisite selection of country house art from all over the country. In Celebration: the Art of the Country House includes this portrait (right) of the 12th Baron Willoughby de Eresby, war-weary in the 1590s, a sculpted mask of Charles I, the rosary Mary Queen of Scots took to the scaffold as well as works by Holbein, Stubbs and later painters such as Graham Sutherland. In association with the Historic Houses association. Information: 0171 887 8922.
The work of the shortlisted Turner Prize artists comes as a shock in the main gallery where Tacita Dean's sea films flicker. The other artists are Cathy de Monchaux, sculptor in glass and steel, Chris Ofili, painter in vibrant colour, and Sam Taylor-Wood, inventive photographer. The winner will be announced on December 1 during a live broadcast on Channel 4. There is a full programme of supporting events, many outside London, including The Turner Prize Debate at the cornerhouse Arts Centre in Manchester, which will be attended by three of the shortlisted artists on November 30 at 2pm (0161 200 1500). Other information: 0171 887 8000.
The TES Music for the Millennium Campaign is now in its second phase. There is still depressing news about cuts, but we must try to highlight the positive. One such is the National Youth Orchestra. But even these accomplished musicians need support and are looking for "friends". Friends of the NYO can attend a concert by the London Symphony Orchestra under Sir Colin Davies on December 9 at the Barbican at a 20 per cent discount. The LSO will play Elgar's Falstaff and Symphony No 1. For membership form: 0171 960 0477.