Old titles and rank bad form

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The Independent Online
Today we have the services of an expert from Sotheby's, who specialises in old titles, ranks, soubriquets, nicknames and so on. He's here to advise you on whether your old title is worth anything and how to use it to the best advantage. So let me hand over now to Dr Jim "Spotty" Robinson.

I was always known as Stinky at school, and occasionally when I meet old school chums I still have the doubtful pleasure of hearing this cheery nickname again. Is there anything I can do about it ?

Dr Robinson writes: Yes. You can biff them on the nose.

I really meant, is there any use for this old nickname from school days?

Dr Robinson writes: Old school nicknames have absolutely no after-life or after-value at all, except, curiously enough, in the case of famous people. You sometimes see letters from authorised biographers in magazines saying things such as, "I have been asked to write the life of Lord Louis Mountbatten and I would be grateful to hear from anyone who knew him, especially from anyone who can think of anything nice to say about him", and that is a good time to write in and say, "I wonder if this was the same Lord Louis 'Sneaky Pete' Mountbatten I was at school with, who used to sink all the boats in his bath by accident, an experience that came in very useful later in life when he joined the Royal Navy and started sinking his own ships in earnest?"

Was Mountbatten's nickname in fact "Sneaky Pete"?

Dr Robinson writes: No. It was "Red Carpet".


Dr Robinson writes: Because he liked being walked all over by royalty.

Why do so many ex-soldiers and sailors stick to their rank in retirement and insist on being called Colonel this and Admiral that, even though they are no longer active soldiers and sailors?

Dr Robinson writes: Insecurity. All army ranks find it notoriously hard to adjust to civilian life. Privates and NCOs tend to adjust to civvy street by taking to crime or going into security work. Higher-ranking officers prefer to adjust by pretending they have never left the services at all, and one way of doing this is by sticking to your rank long after you are entitled to one.

Why do people such as Ian Paisley and Brian Mawhinney insist on calling themselves "Doctor" when they seem to have no medical qualifications that you or I could call upon?

Dr Robinson writes: Well, as far as I can make out from my battered old copy of Who's Who 1991, Mr Paisley has an honorary doctorship from somewhere in America called Bob Jones University, and Mr Mawhinney did a DPhil at university in London.

I wasn't interested in what spurious or otherwise right these two men have to call themselves Doctor. I was interested in knowing WHY they want to call themselves Doctor.

Dr Robinson writes: Well, they are both from Northern Ireland, of course, and anyone who hails from Northern Ireland is more than usually conscious of damage to cars, especially parked cars. And there does tend to be more respect shown to doctors' cars.

So you're saying they call themselves Doctor simply so they can put "Doctor on call" stickers on their car, and park in spaces marked "Doctor Only"?

Dr Robinson writes: I am, yes.

Did Rear-Admiral Lord Louis "Red Carpet" Mountbatten ever call himself "Doctor", apart from all his other titles?

Dr Robinson writes: Yes. As you know, Mountbatten was very accident-prone. When put in charge of a ship, it was his normal habit to sink it, with great loss of life. When put in charge of India, it was his normal habit to partition it very carelessly, causing immense loss of life. After these disasters even Mountbatten would suffer slight remorse and would slink around for a day or two disguised in dark glasses, calling himself "Doctor Mountbatten" or even "Herr Doktor Battenberg".

Did he in fact practise as a doctor?

Dr Robinson writes: Yes, but with immense loss of life.

We are often told that Mountbatten acted as a sort of guru to the Royal Family, especially Prince Charles. Are there any practical signs of this?

Dr Robinson writes: Yes. Mountbatten, as I mentioned, loved sinking his own ships. More recently, Prince Charles has crash-landed so many planes that he has now barred himself from flying any more. I think we can see Mountbatten's hand in this.

Are you a real doctor, Dr Robinson?

Mr Robinson writes: Certainly not. I am not even an expert from Sotheby's. I am an old school contemporary of Mountbatten's who is devoting his declining years to trying to get his own back on him.