Major's Honours not so classless: Despite 'reform' admirals and mandarins still get their gongs

Click to follow
The Independent Online
ALTHOUGH the 'working class' British Empire Medal has gone, today's Birthday Honours preserve a hierarchical system in which admirals, generals and Whitehall mandarins collect knighthoods while lifeboatmen and charity workers qualify for the humblest awards.

The base of the honours pyramid has simply been expanded, with secretaries, school crossing keepers and volunteers who used to get the BEM now becoming Members of the Order of the British Empire (MBEs) under the changes announced by John Major in March.

In the New Year list there were 296 MBEs and 274 BEMs; the 917 names on the Prime Minister's list today include 557 MBEs.

Military personnel and aid workers are honoured in a separate list for their service in former Yugoslavia. Lt-Col Bob Stewart, commander of the 1st Battalion the Cheshire Regiment, gets the Distinguished Service Order.

Perhaps the most intriguing name on the list is Harold Larwood, the fast bowler in the 1932-33 'bodyline' Ashes series, who becomes an MBE. One of Mr Major's sporting heroes, Larwood, 88, emigrated to Australia after being shunned by the cricketing establishment.

Two other 'heroes' in the list are Sir Ranulph Fiennes and Dr Michael Stroud who become OBEs for their epic crossing of Antarctica. Among entertainers honoured are David Jason, Bob Monkhouse, and Michael Aspel, who become OBEs. The actress Thora Hird and the author Muriel Spark become dames.

More than 6,000 nomination forms for awards have been received since the March announcement, but those will not feed through until the 1994 New Year list.

Apart from ending BEMs, Mr Major's reforms are not strikingly evident, though Downing Street said the list reflected a move to awards on merit for civil servants and a bias to charitable work.

The four new life peers are all firmly in the 'great and good' category and already accustomed to honours - Sir Richard Attenborough CBE, actor and Labour supporter, Sir Ralf Dahrendorf KBE, Warden of St Antony's College, Oxford, and former chairman of Newspaper Publishing, Robin Leigh-Pemberton, former Governor of the Bank of England and the Lord Lieutenant of Kent, and Sir Yehudi Menuhin OM, KBE, violinist.

Mr Major said in March that the 'assumption' that a particular public post automatically carried an honour would end. Just as in the New Year list, one senior civil servant is knighted: Peter Graham, the First Parliamentary Counsel, responsible for drafting legislation, gets promoted from a Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) to Knight Commader (KCB).

Mr Graham's post carries the same rank as a departmental permanent secretary and the same pounds 90,148 salary.

A further 13 mandarins of deputy and under-secretary grades (salaries pounds 52,704 to pounds 75,328) become CBs. These, according to Downing Street, have been awarded on merit rather than seniority.

The system whereby three-star military officers automatically qualify for knighthoods is said to have been dropped. The top honour in the Order of the Bath, Knight Grand Cross (GCB) goes to Admiral Sir Beverley Kerr KCB, Commander in Chief of Naval Home Command (salary pounds 90,148).

Meanwhile in Mr Major's 'classless' system, seafarers such as Meurig Davies, coxswain of the Llandudno lifeboat, and Peter Thomson, his counterpart in Whitby, get MBEs.

Full lists, pages 10, 11

Business highlights, page 19

Sports highlights, page 56

Comments