Simon Kelner: The badge of honour that is refusing a royal gong

 

Share
Related Topics

All around us, we see the evidence that we are a much more open society than
we were, say, 20 years ago. It is in the everyday things, like, for instance,
the information we are given on public transport.

Yesterday, my Tube train stopped in a tunnel, and immediately the guard was on the public address system: "I'm sorry," he said, "but we're waiting for the train in front to clear. We shouldn't be waiting longer than a minute." That simply wouldn't have happened two decades ago. Keeping people in the dark? That's so last century. (This has its drawbacks, too. Nowadays, you get so much information broadcast in the course of a mainline train journey that it feels less like a public service, more like a radio station.) But these are just the systole manifestations of a change in society, which ran alongside the introduction of the Freedom of Information Act in 2005. In the past, we deferred to those who governed us, trusting them to act always in the public interest. Today, we know better, because we know more. We now know how much almost everyone in public life earns, how much the director-general of the BBC spends on lunch, who's invited for dinner by the Archbishop of Canterbury, and - significantly, as it turns out - the amount of hospitality senior policemen have enjoyed in the company of journalists.

All this openness undoubtedly makes us much healthier as a society, and although the Freedom of Information Act is imperfect - authorities are still capable of refusing a request, and obfuscating in a response, and the system is prey to frivolous requests (a demand to know the number of eligible bachelors in the Hampshire Police force is a famous one) - it sets the tone for our civic exchanges. It can take time, but it's usually worth it in the end.

Which brings us to yesterday's release by the Cabinet Office - after a 15-month battle - of the details of everyone who has turned down an honour over the past 40 years. This information was considered so secret that it wasn't even made public when other government documents were opened up under the 30-year rule, but there they are now, the 277 people who said no thanks to Her Majesty. The only caveat on the list was that the refuseniks weren't still alive, but it made fascinating reading nevertheless.

Accepting an honour is, of course, a matter of personal conscience, but I have always felt a little queasy about artists accepting a gong. I think that an artist should operate outside the establishment, and while it is clearly possible to maintain artistic integrity with three capital letters after your name, I can't help feeling that a maverick edge runs the risk of being blunted by a trip to the Palace.

I have written before about my attachment to L S Lowry - which is more than geographical - but, on learning that he'd turned down an honour on five separate occasions, I was able to elevate him even higher in my pantheon of heroes. Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, Roald Dahl and JB Priestley evidently felt the same as Lowry. And so, we see, did the quiz show host, Hughie Green. Now all we need to know is his reasons!

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Analyst - 12 Month FTC - Entry Level

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Analyst is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Chefs - All Levels

£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To succeed, you will need to ha...

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Engineer

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an award winni...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive & Customer Service - Call Centre Jobs!

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
George Osborne appearing on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, 5 July 2015  

George Osborne says benefits should be capped at £20,000 to meet average earnings – but working families take home £31,500

Ellie Mae O'Hagan
The BBC has agreed to fund the £650m annual cost of providing free television licences for the over-75s  

Osborne’s assault on the BBC is doing Murdoch’s dirty work

James Cusick James Cusick
Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

Tribal gathering

Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
Srebrenica 20 years after the genocide: Why the survivors need closure

Bosnia's genocide, 20 years on

No-one is admitting where the bodies are buried - literally and metaphorically
How Comic-Con can make or break a movie: From Batman vs Superman to Star Wars: Episode VII

Power of the geek Gods

Each year at Comic-Con in San Diego, Hollywood bosses nervously present blockbusters to the hallowed crowd. It can make or break a movie
What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?

Perfect match

What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?
10 best trays

Get carried away with 10 best trays

Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
Wimbledon 2015: Team Murray firing on all cylinders for SW19 title assault

Team Murray firing on all cylinders for title assault

Coaches Amélie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman aiming to make Scot Wimbledon champion again
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!
Ashes 2015: Angus Fraser's top 10 moments from previous series'

Angus Fraser's top 10 Ashes moments

He played in five series against Australia and covered more as a newspaper correspondent. From Waugh to Warne and Hick to Headley, here are his highlights
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high