Sir Alan? Oh no, it'd be like wearing a suit every day

Playwright who rejected a knighthood says he's probably the last real monarchist left in Britain

The playwright and author Alan Bennett has revealed for the first time the reason for his steadfast refusal to accept an honour from the Queen. He famously turned down the offer of a CBE in 1988 and then rejected a knighthood in 1996. But far from being the result of any republican sentiment, it emerged this weekend that he doesn't think he could carry off being a knight.

Speaking at the Hay Festival, he said: "I felt that, in my case, it just wouldn't suit me, that's all. It would be like wearing a suit every day of your life."

And while he had no interest in a place on the Queen's honours list, he had no desire to dispose of the monarchy either. "I often think of myself as the last person who is a monarchist, really, simply because I can't imagine if we had anything in its place it would be anything but worse," he said.

He admitted to taking a keen interest in who gets honoured each year. "I always like to look at the lists when they come out, and I like to see the people who've succumbed."

His comments were made to a live audience paying £22 a head to hear him speak at the festival, when it also emerged that he had not wanted people even to know that he had been offered a knighthood. "To actually refuse something and then boast about having refused it would be awful behaviour," the 75-year-old said. "But what happened was that I turned it down, as quite a few people have, but the names of the people who had refused were leaked or were ferreted out by, I think, The Sunday Times and were printed – so I felt able to talk about it and to try and dispel some of the mystique about it."

He then paid tribute to the Prince of Wales as someone who "really works his arse off", and added: "He's much more conscientious and attentive to people than he is ever given credit for and so, as I say, I have a great deal of time for him."

Bennett also confessed that he actually enjoyed writing about the Queen, the subject of his affectionately mocking novel The Uncommon Reader, where he imagines what would happen if the Queen became a lover of books. "She is a very good person to write about, in the sense that you know exactly how she speaks. She has been Queen since 1952 – since I was about 14 – and so, you know, you just become accustomed to her. And so her language, as reported anyway, comes very easily to me, so in that sense I enjoy writing about her," he said.

The butcher's son from Leeds was originally destined to become a scholar. He went to Exeter College, Oxford University, where he got a first-class honours degree in history. But the runaway success of a satirical revue called Beyond the Fringe, which he co-wrote and performed in alongside Dudley Moore, Peter Cook and Jonathan Miller at the Edinburgh Festival in 1960, saw him follow a different path and become one of Britain's most popular playwrights.

Some of his best-known works have been his series of Talking Heads monologues for the BBC in the 1980s, and his plays The Madness of King George III and The History Boys, both of which have been made into films.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special
tv
News
Claudia Winkleman and co-host Tess Daly at the Strictly Come Dancing final
people
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice finalists Mark Wright and Bianca Miller
tvBut who should win The Apprentice?
News
news
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
Sport
SPORT
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Analyst - Bristol

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An IT Support Analyst is required to join the ...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY - An outstanding high level opportunity...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick