Plans are moving forward to commemorate the bicentenary of the death of one of Norfolk's most famous sons. Town leaders in Thetford have put together a committee to organise a series of events for 2009 to pay tribute to Thomas Paine.I shall follow the preparations for these celebrations with interest and will make an effort to be in Thetford on the anniversary. I shall also be applying (in my secret identity) for membership of the Thomas Paine Society and making a donation towards its work.
The freethinker and best selling 18th century author of The Rights of Man is set to be remembered across the globe in two years' time on the 200th anniversary of his death. Officials in his home town are making plans to ensure the special anniversary on June 2, 2009 and associated commemorative events go off with a bang.
Members of Thetford Town Council, the Thomas Paine Society, Thetford Library, Thetford Grammar School, where Paine was educated, and historians in Diss, where he was an apprentice corset maker, are set to hold a brainstorming session next month for the bicentenary.
Oliver Bone, curator of the Ancient House museum who is chairing the working party, said an 18th century reenactment day, a pageant involving local schools and celebrity guest speakers had already been suggested. Officials are also hoping Sir Richard Atteborough will make a much-anticipated film on the life of Paine by the 200th anniversary.
"We are just getting going, but we have already had some good ideas and we have had a lot of interest and support. It is good practice to plan ahead like this because we want to fit it around the national celebrations," he said.
Paine was born in Thetford in 1737. He lived in White Hart Street and went to the grammar school before leaving the town at the age of 19. He went on to influence the American and French revolutions through his writings in Common Sense and The Rights of Man.
Stuart Wright, treasurer of the Thomas Paine Society, said: "He is Thetfords's most famous person and not everyone agreed with his views, but objectively speaking he had a great influence on the way the world is today. He was ahead of his time in The Rights of Man, which shaped the welfare state, his writings were understood by the masses then and they are still relevant today," he said.
Tom Paine was an humble man who made a difference by clear, simple writing addressed without condescension to his fellow men. With nothing more than his words, he helped shape two great democracies and he continues to influence people all over the world.
I have been accused again recently of hubris in using his name to blog. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am an humble admirer who well knows he cannot hope to emulate Paine's greatness, but tries to model himself on Paine's method.
Tom is a beacon of hope shining from the pages of history. If a Norfolk corset-maker could change the world with a pamphlet, we have no excuse for the despair into which many of us occasionally fall. Political blogging is pamphleteering; no more and no less. The pen really is mightier than the sword and if bloggers can revive the spirit of Tom Paine, the keyboard may yet prove even mightier.