Twice a year, the English monarch bestows “honours” upon notable Britons who have made major contributions to the world, including scientists, entertainers, and politicians. But not everybody who is named “Sir” or “Dame” or an “Officer of the British Empire” wants to be one. Here are a few who told the Crown, “Thanks, but no thanks.” This article was first published in our 29th annual edition, Uncle John’s Uncanny Bathroom Reader.
In 2000, George Harrison turned down an OBE (Officer of the British Empire). He was miffed that his Beatles bandmate Paul McCartney had been knighted in 1997 and he hadn’t been.
Ken Livingstone served as mayor of London from 2000 to 2008 and was instrumental in bringing the 2012 Summer Olympics to the city. He turned down a CBE (Commander of the British Empire) for his work on the Olympics, because he felt that honours should be given only to private citizens, and not to politicians.
L. S. Lowry
L. S. Lowry was a painter who specialized in portraits of working people, typically factory workers. He considered himself a man of the people and was so opposed to the monarchy that he declined an OBE in 1961, a CBE in 1961, a knighthood in 1968, and being named a Companion of Honour in 1972 and 1976.
Doris Lessing won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2007. She accepted that, but 30 years earlier she rejected the chance to be a Dame of the British Empire because the “British Empire” no longer existed.
J. G. Ballard
J. G. Ballard, author of Crash and Empire of the Sun, said no to a CBE, calling the honours system “a charade that helps to prop up the top-heavy monarchy.”
Film director Alfred Hitchcock declined a CBE in 1962. Maybe he was just holding out for something bigger, because he accepted a knighthood shortly before his death in 1980.
C. S. Lewis
C. S. Lewis, Oxford professor and author of The Chronicles of Narnia, turned down a CBE in 1952 because he thought it was “too political.”