More honours in the breach than the observance

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The Independent Online

Getting an OBE in the new year's honours list? Refusing an OBE in the new year's honours list? Whatever your position, there are bound to be problems involved and that's why today we are bringing you an advice column on all the quandaries arising from the honours business.

Q. I wonder if you can help me. I am a fairly well-known author, although not perhaps as well-known as I used to be, but still a household name in the right households. For years I have let it be known that I was offered an OBE for my services to novels but I turned it down because I didn't think it was right that artists should accept baubles from the state. However, now that the papers have started printing lists of people who refused honours, it has become apparent that in fact I never was offered an OBE. Is there anything I can do about this? And get people to believe that I really was offered an honour?

A. Yes. You can buy a second-hand OBE and claim that you did, in fact, accept one all along and then start using it.

Q. Can one in fact buy a second-hand OBE?

A. Oh Lord, yes. Any good bric-a-brac shop should have one. Of course, you don't really have to have one. You can just start using the initials after your name. If you sign your letters as "John Doe OBE", pretty soon people will start accepting that you have an OBE.

Q. Is there any law against passing yourself off as a titled person when in fact you are not titled?

A. No, there isn't. If there was, they would have put Count Basie in jail long ago.

Q. But he was American. He was allowed to do that.

A. All right - what about Screaming Lord Sutch? Nobody ever objected to his false title.

Q. Fair enough. So I could go around calling myself Lord Egerton and no-one would mind?

A. Well, the real Lord Egerton might mind.

Q. Is there a real Lord Egerton?

A. Almost certainly. There always is. When you make up names for characters in fiction, you find that whatever unlikely moniker you come up with, there is already someone by that name. Whoever becomes famous, there are bound to be other obscure people with the same name. Blushing unseen round Britain there are other totally unknown people called Tony Blair, David Beckham and Myra Hindley.

Q. Yes, but they were christened like that. You can't be christened Lord Egerton.

A. I don't see why not. I used to know a chap who had been given the unusual first name of "Lord" by his parents, so that he would have a noble aura about him when he grew up.

Q. Good heavens. What happened to him?

A. I am afraid that he took to drugs, started embezzling money and went to prison. But that is what a lot of lords do, so he felt it was the fault of his false title and always blamed his parents for his downfall. Now, can we get back to the problems of having a title or honour?

Q. I have recently been made a peer for services to the business community. If they ever find out what I was really up to and how I really made my millions, can they take my title away?

A. It is most unlikely. Lord Archer is still a lord. Lord Lucan is still a lord, come to that, even though he is a murderer.

Q. Hello. I am Lord Lucan and I am about to come back and sue all those people who have libelled me for the past 30 years, calling me a not only a murderer but also a numbskull who could never have held down a job if it hadn't been for my title. Will you accept a writ?

A. No. You were a murderer and you never did have a proper job because you were too thick to have one, even with a title. Go back to TasmaniA. Time for one more question.

Q. My wife has recently become a DBE, a Dame of the British Empire. To my intense chagrin I do not get an associated honour. Is it fair that the wife of a lord becomes a lady but the husband of a titled woman gets nothing?

A. You are the only man I have ever come across who wanted to have an honour through someone else's efforts. There, however, scores of women who are desperate for their husbands to get a title and give them the chance to be called Lady. That is why the honours system is designed the way it is.