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Who Snubbed the Queen’s Honours? Cabinet Office Forced to Reveal List of Rejections

Posted on the 26 January 2012 by Periscope @periscopepost

Who snubbed the Queen’s Honours? Cabinet Office forced to reveal list of rejections

The Queen.

Roald Dahl, Francis Bacon and Lucien Freud all turned down the Queen, according to records released by the Cabinet Office on Wednesday – the notables are among the 277 people who have declined an honour between 1950 and 1999 and who have since died.

The Cabinet Office was forced by the Information Commissioner to release the list, which includes 89 rejected MBEs, 89 OBEs, 61 CBEs and 27 knighthoods. According The Telegraph, this alternative honours list provides the first official confirmation that “scores of people” have rejected the annual New Year or Birthday lists.

Big names.  Famous figures that feature on the list include children’s author Roald Dahl, Francis Bacon and the artist Lucien Freud. It seems that those unimpressed by the Queen’s offer are a rather creative bunch, with writers Aldous Huxley, C S Lewis and Evelyn Waugh, actors Trevor Howard and Robert Morley, and poets Robert Graves and Philip Larkin all turning down honours. Author J B Priestley is the only example of someone rejecting a life peerage.

Just won’t take ‘No’ for an answer.  The list has confirmed previous suspicions that painter L S Lowry was a “serial refuser”, having rejected an honour on a record five occasions: an OBE in 1955, a CBE in 1961, a knighthood in 1968 and an invitation to become a Companion of Honour in 1972 and 1976. But you can’t blame them for trying, as in some instances past snubs have later been retracted. Henry Moore refused a knighthood in 1951 but was awarded the Companion of Honour in 1955 and the Order of Merit in 1963, and Alfred Hitchcock turned down a CBE in 1962 but accepted a knighthood before his death. Perhaps he was holding out for a higher honour?

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: “It is entirely an individual’s choice as to whether they accept an honour. People refuse honours for a variety of reasons but the numbers are very small and represent around two per cent of nominations.”

A Freedom of Information triumph?  The list of ‘refuseniks’ (term credited to The Daily Mail) was previously judged so secret that it was not included in official papers published under the 30-year rule –the law providing that the yearly cabinet papers will be publicly released 30 years after they were created. The Cabinet Office refused a BBC freedom of information request, on the grounds that it was the decision of the individuals involved. The BBC subsequently complained to the Information Commissioner, and after a mere 15 months, here it is! The list does not include living individuals, so as not to step on the toes of the Data Protection Act. The time-frame of 1950 to 1999 was decided in order to avoid undermining the integrity of the honours system, with the Commissioner judging the year 2000 to be a “reasonable if arbitrary cut off point”.

A spokesman for the Information Commissioner’s office said on Wednesday night: “We welcome the Cabinet Office’s decision to release this information. This is in recognition of the commissioner’s decision that this information should be disclosed in the public interest and is in the spirit of greater openness.”

Rebels with a cause.  In previous years, knowledge of who has rejected the Queen’s honours has been gained only through individual announcements, or unauthorised leaks. The Huffington Post remembered Benjamin Zephaniah’s 2003 column in The Guardian explaining his decision to refuse an OBE: “No way Mr Blair, no way Mrs Queen. I am profoundly anti-empire”. In the same year, writer J G Ballard turned down a CBE, describing the system as a “preposterous charade” conducted “in the name of a non-existent empire”. Also in 2003 (a big year for Honours scandals) a list of previous refusals was leaked, revealing Nigella Lawson, David Bowie and the comedy duo French and Saunders. John Lennon famously returned his CBE in 1969 with a note saying “Your Majesty, I am returning this in protest against Britain’s involvement in the Nigeria-Biafra thing, against our support of America in Vietnam and against Cold Turkey slipping down the charts.”

Arise… Mr Goodwin?  The revelation coincides with senior cabinet officers meeting this week to discuss stripping the knighthood of Sir Fred Goodwin, the disgraced former chief executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland. After being honoured in 2004 for ‘services to banking’, Goodwin led RBS into a £45 billion taxpayer bailout then demanded his contractual £8 million pension top-up. The Daily Mail described these measures against “Fred the Shred” as “highly unusual”, but he wouldn’t be the first to forfeit his honour; Roger Casement, a colonial officer in the Congo, was stripped of his knighthood and executed after being convicted of treason in the First World War.

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