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Time to scrap the honours system

Badges? Larry Neild on why they're no longer worth it

Written by . Published on December 31st 2012.

Time to scrap the honours system

2012 – the year of the Diamond Jubilee, the Olympics and Paralympics - was bound to end in tears.

So let's make a resolution for the New Year: scrap the dishonourable Honours system.

Gongs and patronage is society’s way of telling us that, whatever we might think, we are not all born equal, and some of us have the badge to prove it

I’ve always been a fan on the annual dishing out of gongs. Though in the past they were doled out to the nation’s unsung heroes, the magical lollipop man, or the lady who fostered and gave hope to legions of troubled children; to the men who kept the engines of Britain working by clocking on at the factory for decades.

Today honours are given, in the main, to “celebs” - stars of stage, screen and sport. And it’s that question of sport causing so much acrimony this year.

Bradley WigginsBradley WigginsAs soon as Bradley Wiggins won his bike races there were front page tabloid headlines: “Arise Sir Bradley”. Deciding which of the Olympians and Paralympians got what, if anything, was always going to cause trouble.

There was a prolonged discussion on one of the main news channels: on a pro-rata basis there should have been far more gongs given to Paralympians than Olympians. How come Sir B has arisen, but not people’s favourite Mo Farrar?

I think there should have been, for this year only, a BOM – British Olympic Medal – given to everybody who took part from Seb Coe – he’s already a Lord – to the stadium janitors, and those merry gamesmakers. A single honour handed to all to wear with pride, no pecking order for the posh.

Around 80 athletes and people associated with the games were gonged. Who can say whether the efforts of a gold medal winner were any greater than the amazing feats of some competitors battling against almost impossible odds?  Just taking part, for many of them, was as good as winning.

These days, egged on by the media, as soon as somebody makes headlines there is that demand for a Queen's Honour.

Some recipients will stand up and say: “Thanks. This isn’t for me, it’s for the team who pulled it off.” Yeh, mate, but you’ll still be expected to be referred to from now on as "Sir2 or put those important little letters, CBE, OBE or whatever, on your card.

Bruce Forsyth: Didn't he do well?Bruce Forsyth: Didn't he do well?

I asked one titled person whether he used the letters after his name at all. “It comes in useful when I’m booking a table at a ‘full’ restaurant in London,” came the reply.

On that basis I’m almost tempted to change my name by deed poll to Lord Lawrence of Aigburth.

When entertainers are enobled or knighted they tend to go down a little in my esteem, rather than up. Isn’t the loadsa dosh they are earning for entertaining us reward enough?

“But it’s given for their charity work,” is the usual excuse. The best benefactors are those who give and don’t expect, want or need any further rewards.

This craze for rewarding celebrity with gongs and other goodies doesn't stop at Buckingham Palace. 

Universities are clamouring to award honorary degrees to famous people, ideally “stars”, and one cannot help but wonder if some of the motivation is to generate publicity for the institution in question

Gongs and patronage is society’s way of telling us that, whatever we might think, we are not all born equal, and some of us have the badge to prove it.

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The honours system should be rested until a better way is found to reward the real unsung heroes of society.  

The only exception would be the bestowal of a knighthood to the Squire of Knotty Ash.

Who among us does not want to hear those Queenly words: “Arise Sir Kenneth.”?

The real badge of honour?

Danny BoyleDanny BoyleDanny Boyle, who triumphed as director of the London 2012 opening ceremony, is said to have been offered a knighthood this time around.

Instead he carried a torch for a long list of refuseniks and indicated he could not accept. He said the theme of his ceremony had been about citizens being equal — and a knighthood would have made him “unequal”.

Other who have turned down a gong include LS Lowry (several times), Lucien Freud, Aldous Huxley, Robert Morley, Francis Bacon and Roald Dahl.

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9 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

AnonymousJanuary 1st 2013.

I like the idea that people can be recognized for their endeavors. without the honors system all there would be to recognize and reward people is Fame and Money. That would be sad.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousJanuary 2nd 2013.

Then why don't you have them in America?

AnonymousJanuary 2nd 2013.

The spell check came from america - not me!

AnonymousJanuary 1st 2013.

In the main the honours system is the establishment's way of rewarding each other and giving them the impression they are better than the rest of us. Look at the credits on Strictly Come Dancing, SIR Bruce Forsyth. Not nice to see it, not nice. OK they gave Brucie boy a knighthood and vanity took over. They should do what they did in the old days ... knights of the realm were crown warriors, sent into battle. Imagine Sir Bruce being sent to sort out the Boston Tea Party, when his cup mof tea is more like the Boston Two Step. It's not exactly his fault, it's the fault of those who grant these stupid titles to people.

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousJanuary 2nd 2013.

Most knights never fought you could get out of it by paying a scootige tax the proceeds of which the king would use to pay for a mercinary army.

mickeydrippin'January 1st 2013.

If it is correct that Danny Boyle declined a knighthood, then I would wish to offer him my congratulations for doing just that. He will not be the first celeb to refuse a knighthood. The list includes: Alan Bennett, David Bowie, Albert Finney, Stephen Hawking, Trevor Howard, L S Lowry, Paul Scofield and Alastair Simm. Apart the above, many more have declined OBEs, MBEs etc. I agree that the whole system is now outdated and is badly in need of an overhaul - even scrapping altogether.

Gong ShowJanuary 2nd 2013.

What hasn't changed is how the higher-value gongs are dished out to the Tory yes-men in the establishment without having to go through the undignified and random beauty contest that lollipop ladies, charity workers and postmen have to go through to get some relatively lowly award.

1 Response: Reply To This...
mickeydrippin'January 2nd 2013.

I agree. Over the years many Tory backbenchers have received knighthoods for "Political Service". What have they done to achieve such high honours or are the mere Long Service Medals? It smacks of not what they have done but who they know!

Lord StreetJanuary 8th 2013.

I recently saw a documentary about a woman who having joined the S.O.E., been parachuted into occupied France and fought alongside the Resistance was captured by the Nazis and tortured by the Gestapo.
All she got for that was the MBE. Most of the useless, overpaid,overprivileged, dead wood at the top of our establishment wouldn't even get out of bed for such a lowly award.

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