Boyle wouldn't go gentle into that good knighthood

But perhaps the director could have taken a stand and kept schtum about it

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You would have to be pretty churlish to deny our sportsmen and women – and the nation – the chance, once again, to bask in Olympic glory. Last night's uniquely competitive Sports Personality of the Year Award recognised all those whose achievements had, for a brief moment in the summer, made us deliriously happy.

There they were, accepting the adulation of the public, another staging post on the road that will surely lead to Britain's gold medallists all being given gongs in the New Year's Honours list – and who could begrudge those who have taken on the world and won at running, jumping, cycling and swimming?

Athletics is all about the pursuit of individual glory and there is no dissonance with a system which recognises that, indeed, we are not all equal. What's more, as we have seen all too graphically in recent times, people far less worthy than Bradley Wiggins and Mo Farah have been asked by the Queen to arise.

That said, it's still not enough to persuade the man who set the whole thing in motion to get down on one knee at the Palace. Danny Boyle, proud son of Lancashire, film-maker and, of course, the creative force behind the Olympic opening ceremony, has turned down a knighthood in the New Year list.

I didn't think it was possible to find space in my heart for greater admiration of Mr Boyle, but in his rejection of the invitation to sit with the British establishment, he has shown artistic integrity and not a little moral courage.

His opening ceremony, derided by some as lefty nonsense, portrayed Britain as a land of opportunity, creativity and equality, and he felt that it would be hypocritical to accept an award that would set him apart from his fellow citizen. The word came through that he wanted to remain "a man of the people". It's a laudable ambition, Mr Boyle, but I'm not sure it's possible for an Oscar-winning film director who is feted all the way from Todmorden to Tinseltown.

He follows a tradition of figures from the arts world refusing honours: among them, Lucian Freud, Alan Bennett, Francis Bacon, LS Lowry and JG Ballard, who said in 2003 that the honours system was "a Ruritanian charade that helps to prop up the top-heavy monarchy".

On Twitter yesterday, there was much approval for Danny Boyle and I'm afraid many used the all-purpose adjective of the age to describe him: cool. Admirable though I believed his action to be, I couldn't work out whether what Boyle had done was, indeed, cool. Many have taken their declination to the grave with them, the refuseniks who refused to go public. Perhaps Boyle should have taken his stand and then kept schtum about it. But in this bare-all, confessional world, that was clearly too much to ask.

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