Sir Ben is barmy to insist on his title, says (Lord) Puttnam

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The Independent Culture

The acting world has no shortage of egos, but even thespians are taken aback at Sir Ben Kingsley's most recent insistence on being referred to by his full title.

The film producer Lord Puttnam - or perhaps we should call him David - has labelled the Oscar-winning actor "barmy" for demanding people address him as Sir.

"I think Ben's barmy and I wish I could just get hold of him and say 'wake up'," he said. "Within the film industry I'm just David Puttnam and I will always be David Puttnam."

Asked what Sir Ben was thinking, the Chariots of Fire producer, who was honoured with a Bafta Fellowship on Sunday, said: "I wish I knew. I don't know. It's a very, very, very silly thing to do and I suspect when he sits back and thinks about it he will realise it."

Sir Ben, 62, born Krishna Bhanji in East Yorkshire to a Kenyan father and English mother, was knighted in 2001. The poster for his new film Lucky Number Slevin, out this week, bills him as "Sir Ben Kingsley" - causing a stir in acting circles, where theatrical knights and dames rarely use their titles.

Sirs Anthony Hopkins, Michael Caine and Sean Connery, and Dames Judie Dench, Maggie Smith and Helen Mirren, have never been billed with their honorifics. Sir Michael Gambon reportedly threatened to hit anyone who called him "Sir Michael" during the filming of Angels in America.

Shortly after being knighted, Sir Ben said: "There is no Mr Ben Kingsley any more. Being a Sir brings with it responsibility."

And in a press conference for Thunderbirds he rebuked a German reporter who called him Mr Kingsley. "It's Sir Ben," he retorted. "I've not been a Mr for two years ... Perhaps [the title] is an invitation by the realm and the Prime Minister to say, 'He now plays for England, so perhaps you should listen to him a little more diligently'."

On another occasion, he said he had changed his name on his passport and all documentation. He said being knighted was "like being selected for the Olympics or having a football number on the back of your shirt that identifies you as playing for England ... I enjoy that feeling."

The actor, whose film credits include Schindler's List, House of Sand and Fog and Gandhi - for which he won an Oscar in 1982 - has been billed with his title once before, in The Triumph of Love (2001).

Sir Roger Moore said last week he prefers to be called "Rog" on film sets. "I like a fun, friendly and informal atmosphere," he said. Insisting on being addressed by a title would be "a load of pretentious bollocks," he said. "As for film posters and opening titles, I don't see the point. Would it really add anything to have one's title included?

Would more people go to see a film just because it's Sir Roger Moore and not just Roger Moore? I don't think so. I think it's the actor people want to see, not the knight."

Sir Anthony Hopkins was quoted several weeks ago in an interview as having said: "What possesses an intelligent guy like that to do that? It's a great honour, but once you start insisting on that, oh dear. Give me a break, it's only an actor. That's insanity."

Sir Michael Caine has said that he does not use his title for films. "The only thing I do that's a little bit snobby is I refuse to open any mail that doesn't say 'Sir Michael' on it," he said.

Sir Ben's agent was unavailable for comment. The actor does not insist on others using the title at all times, according to Peter Mullan, who addressed the star as "pal" and "mate" during filming for the forthcoming film The Last Legion. "He never once picked me up on it," said Mr Mullan.