Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Knights out

“Be careful what you wish for!” is the finger-wagging threat oft-made by maiden aunts, crusty medieval crones and, the generally annoying.

Some years ago plain, vanilla Paul McCartney was ritually referred to in Smash Hits magazine as "Sir Fab Macca Wacky Thumbs Aloft". To this day I don't think anyone knows why he needed a nickname, but he certainly did (and does still) have a tendency to extend his thumbs skyward whenever adoring crowds are near. Anyway, in 1997 - long after the Hits first applied the moniker - Macca became a knight proper for "for services to music". Be careful what you wish for indeed.

Roll on another 15 years, and no sooner has Thumbs Aloft belted out his final "na-na-na-nah" to close the London 2012 opening ceremony, than the show's creative director is being installed by Twitter patrons as "Sir" Danny Boyle.

This was no flippant idea, but an earnest attempt to promote Boyle's investiture in recognition of his incredible tour de force on July 27. Such groundswell inevitably led to newspapers reporting that Boyle would be a shoe-in for a gong come the New Year's Honours list. Boyle himself - a dyed-in-the-wool member of the fraternity unlikely to support such things - has so far simply laughed it all off with a curt "I don’t think so".

Even if Boyle turns down a KBE, there will be no shortage of Olympic heroes and heroines queuing up at the Palace to be entitled. Indeed in the proud national glow that followed the London games, Twitter was "awash" (the modern equivalent of switchboards being "jammed") with suggestions that virtually anyone who pulled on a Team GB tracksuit this summer should get the nod for a meeting with James Bond's new parachuting partner, Her Majesty, The Queen. Fleet Street layout artists have no doubt already prepared their front page splashes for the final week of December to declare "Arise Sir Mo!" or "Arise Dame Jess!".

There have been past precedents for such populist clamour to actually succeed: Bruce Forsyth (for non-British readers of WWDBD?, the nation's pre-eminent octogenarian game show host, golfer and catchphrase merchant) endured years of humiliation with just a CBE to his name before HMTQ  wiped the ceremonial cutlass on his newly-knighted shoulders and said "Nice to see you, Sir Brucie, to see you, nice!".

A similar, but less well supported campaign has been lurking in the shadows to have David Beckham knighted in recognition of his services to hairdressers and tattoo parlours.

Old Goldenballs is, I concede, a national icon. Like Mr Bean replacing Benny Hill, Beckham has replaced Bobby Charlton as a shorthand reference for Britain. You can find yourself in the remotest, far-flung corner of the earth untouched by the English language or modernity itself, and you will still - at the slightest hint of Britishness - be met with a smile and the collection of syllables that is "David Beckham! Yes. Very good!".

Beckham is, of course, more than just an underwear model with excellent ball skills - sorry, that should have read "excellent footballer who dabbles in underwear modeling" - and his charidee work, not to mention salesmanship to help land the 2012 Olympics for London, does mark him out as a worthy candidate for national honour. But I do struggle to see why we should be collectively preparing to welcome Sir David and Lady Posh into the pantheon of great Britons knighted or damed (not sure if that's correct, but it's only one letter short of a curse, so it will do).

There are those in the British establishment who've never quite got over the number of actors being knighted, let alone rock stars like messrs McCartney, Jagger and John (which would make an interesting firm of suburban solicitors), whose knighthoods placed dual stamps in the passport marked Sodom and Gomorrah.

So with this we read that the Public Administration Select Committee, the British parliamentary institution responsible for, er, public adminstration, has called for a change in the honours system. T'committee has called for an independent commission to ensure that any government obsessed with image and spin doesn't do anything ridiculous like awarding all five members of One Direction gongs for whatever it is they do.

More importantly, the committee has called for greater transparency and less influence by politicians and their civil servants in the selection process of honours candidates: "We believe that no-one should be honoured for simply 'doing the day job', no matter what that job is,"  t'committee states.

Well if that doesn't set the proverbial big cat amongst the Clacton pigeons, I don't know what will. Because beyond pop stars and Olympians getting rewarded for generally being excellent and putting a smile on people's faces, there are still too many gongs being handed out to senior civil servants and business leaders on the basis that they are due one.

The select committee's chairman, Bernard Jenkin MP, points out that many Britons struggle to understand why the bulk of honours are handed out, which doesn't help public confidence in the system. "In particular," says Jenkin, "honours should not be awarded to civil servants or businessmen unless it can be demonstrated that there has been service above and beyond the call of duty."

And, capturing the spirit of these beleaguered, austere times he adds: "It is distasteful and damaging for people who already command vast personal remuneration packages for doing their job, to also be honoured for simply being at the helm of large companies. This must stop."

However, a spokesman for the government has denied that establishment figures and celebs dominate the honours system, running the old yarn about three-quarters of awards go to "ordinary" people who do charity work.

That, of course, wouldn't rule out a Beckham knighthood, even if he is also at the helm of a large commercial enterprise - David Beckham....

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