New Year Honours

Definitively the most heartening list of the year end was described in The Guardian as the “impressive list of the great and the good, packed with scholars and sportsmen, authors and artists” who have for various reasons snubbed our outdated and discredited honours system, long used by both parties when in office to reward nonentities for long service to the party or donations to the cause, along with a smattering of those who deserve public recognition and assorted celebs tagged on in facile attempts to improve the party image.

The list, prepared by civil servants possibly to avoid further embarrassing refusals – although it does contain some serial refusniks – was leaked to the Sunday Times before Christmas and has been published in part in most of the newspapers. The highest accolade must surely go to L S Lowry, who refused on 5 occasions, including when he was offered a knighthood. The list doesn’t give any reasons for the refusals, and most of those on it have not commented on their motives, which in some cases were simply a desire to keep out of the limelight. And certainly a few felt a little insulted at being offered only a minor award when they felt they deserved top honours. Some of them did also accept other honours at a later date.

Among the others in alphabetical order are Frank Auerbach, Francis Bacon, JG Ballard, Honor Blackman, Alan Bennett, David Bowie, Roald Dahl, Albert Finney, Lucian Freud, Michael Frayn, Dawn French, Robert Graves, Graham Greene, David Hockney, Trevor Howard, Aldous Huxley, John le Carr√©, George Melly, J B Priestley, Vanessa Redgrave, Jennifer Saunders, Alastair Sim, Evelyn Waugh and Benjamin Zephaniah. I’m not sure what lies behind the Times paywall, but possibly the fullest list is on Wikipaedia, which even includes Oliver Cromwell.

Only a very few of them have broken the tradition of silence in refusing awards. Ballard, certainly one of my literary heroes, went public in stating that he turned down the offer of a CBE because of his opposition to the whole “preposterous charade” of the system, and Benjamin Zephaniah also went public, refusing the offered OBE as a protest against the years of slavery and brutality in the British Empire and against the invasion of Iraq.

Perhaps the most upsetting thing is that not a single photographer appears on this list – unless you count Hockney, who I think continually fails to understand what photography is about and what it can do. Although I enjoyed seeing some of his ‘joiners’ I lacked the ignorance that allowed him to convince himself and others that there was anything novel in what he was doing (photographers had indeed started doing it with daguerreotypes.) But if you can draw like him there is perhaps little need to understand photography.

There are of course other awards, and certainly the most entertaining list is The Photo Follies 2011 Awards¬† from Jeremy Nicholls on his Russian Photos blog. It does include quite a few things I’ve mentioned here over the year, and is certainly a fine compilation of idiocies.

 

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