Simon Kelner: Does a ribbon on the lapel compromise its wearer?

Kelner's view


In these pages yesterday, Justin Byam Shaw, a distinguished member of the boss class here at i, looked through one end of the telescope at that bastion of British class and privilege, the honours system.

He articulated the point that the bestowing of titles on public figures who already have everything in the way of money, power and social advantage is outdated, antithetical to a modern democracy, and actually demeans us as a society.

On this point, he certainly won't get an argument from me. But in turn I'd like to consider not what it does to us but what it does to them. The invitation to take an honour may be recognition for eminence in a certain field but it is also a gilt-edged proposal to become a full member of that most influential of clubs, the British Establishment.

For many, of course, this is just further confirmation of their place within the elite. But what about those who are supposed to operate outside the Establishment, the people whose effectiveness and appeal rather depends on a resistance to convention and order?

Is it true that, in the same way as a pram in the hall is the enemy of creativity, a ribbon on the lapel compromises the integrity of certain groups of people? Like writers. Or artists. Or musicians. Or indeed journalists. I have always thought it odd that, in a business where transparency is urged in others, practising journalists who have been knighted refrain from using their full appellation in their by-lines.

Why so shy?

Perhaps they feel it might compromise the independence of their commentary. In which case, why accept the honour in the first place? From what I recall in the Jubilee concert last week, the full titles of the knights of popular music were rarely used. Sir Tom was just plain old Tom. And you wouldn't know Elton had knelt before the Queen. The exception was Sir Paul McCartney, who is so pleased with his elevation that it might explain the curious look of perma-surprise on his face.

On the evidence of an interview with Sir Paul yesterday, he clearly regarded his knighthood as a natural progression for him given how inextricably his fortunes are linked to those of The Queen. As Elizabeth I is remembered for Raleigh, he said, for Elizabeth II, "it's gonna be The Beatles".

I'm not sure whether this made The Queen splutter over her cornflakes yesterday morning, but I doubt she thought "Yeah, Yeah, Yeah". But at least she'll have been reassured that Sir Paul, a man seemingly not bedevilled by self-doubt, is unlikely to be plotting sedition. To the suggestion that, come the revolution, he might be a contender for People's President, the man who gave the world "The Frog Chorus" replied: "No thanks, I'm far too busy."

I did say I wasn't going to be curmudgeonly, but sometimes it's too hard to resist. Have a great weekend.

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