Government forced to release list of rejected honours

Roald Dahl Author Roald Dahl rejected an honour

The Cabinet Office has been forced by the Information Commissioner to release an official version of what could be called an alternative honours list - names of people who rejected honours.

The information covers individuals who declined an honour from 1950 to 1999 and have since died. It identifies 287 instances [PDF list], including 89 rejected MBEs, 89 OBEs, 61 CBEs and 27 knighthoods.

For some people such honours and the official recognition they represent can be a high point of their lives, but clearly for others they have been unwanted, whether for reasons of principle or otherwise.

This official data confirms much that has been reported previously, for example that a serial refuser was the painter L S Lowry, who over a period of 21 years dismissed the offer of an OBE, a CBE, a knighthood, and twice becoming a Companion of Honour.

The list also confirms that those who have rejected knighthoods include the actor Robert Morley, the writer Aldous Huxley and the physicist Paul Dirac, while those who dismissed lesser honours include the author Roald Dahl, the painter Francis Bacon and the biologist Francis Crick.

Some who accepted one honour previously or later refused another, such as the film director Sir Alfred Hitchcock who had earlier turned down a CBE before he was knighted.

The list also discloses some apparently new information, however. The author and publisher Leonard Woolf declined to be made a Companion of Honour in 1966, the journalist and editor of the New Statesman Kingsley Martin turned down a knighthood in 1965, and the critic and academic F R Leavis rejected a CBE in 1966.

As far as I know, these facts (among others in the list) are previously unreported, although I am not an expert on their biographies and could be wrong.

Traditional secrecy

The list also identifies many more obscure figures who for whatever reason did not want to accept the honours on offer.

Start Quote

The Cabinet Office at first refused to reveal the list in response to a BBC freedom of information request”

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The Cabinet Office has been keen to preserve the secrecy which has traditionally surrounded the honours system and at first refused to reveal the list in response to a BBC freedom of information request. The BBC then complained to the Information Commissioner who ruled that it was in the public interest to disclose the information for honours rejected before 2000.

The Commissioner argued that disclosing more recent rejections was more likely to undermine the integrity of the honours system and that 2000 was a reasonable if arbitrary cut off point.

The data does not cover living individuals since that may constitute personal information protected by the Data Protection Act. And to avoid doubt it is restricted to people where, according to the Cabinet Office, "it is immediately apparent as a matter of fact that a relevant individual is dead".

This means that the individuals listed are only a limited proportion of all those who have declined honours. It does nevertheless show that over the decades there have been many individuals who have not wanted to accept a form of recognition which the British state wanted to bestow on them. What we don't know, however, are their various motives.

Martin Rosenbaum Article written by Martin Rosenbaum Martin Rosenbaum Freedom of information specialist

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  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    As well as these honourable people we should remember:
    Lord Archer
    Lord Scanlon (but Mr Jack Jones from the same era)
    Lord Prescott
    Lady Thatcher
    Sir Cliff Richard
    Sir Fred Goodwin
    etc etc
    And ask what is the point in for except to make us look embarassing in the rest of the world

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    What the Primeminister eat for lunch used to be a state secret, until John Major changed this stupid rule. Anything done in the name of the people at our expense and using our taxes, should not be secret, unless it ACTUALLY effects national security. The Civil Service have used the official Secrets Act as a useful cover up since 1910.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    The "Honours System" is a continuation of public school: Public school (prizes) > Oxbridge (prizes) > Parliament (honours). No wonder these twits don't know how to run a country or a business. But an essay or a speech - careful these hefferlumps don't trample you in the rush.

    No-one does looking backward, er sorry, 'tradition', like the British. Meanwhile, China creates our future.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    So many of these people have now gone up in my estimation considerably

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    In this instance the UK is certainly on a par with former countries such as USSR/East Germany/DPRK / DPRC etc.Withholding the truth does affect historical facts! But those with a vested interest (Ruling Elite) in keeping MUM, about a great many things! Alas my simple blogg will change nothing! We need a clean brush, at least for us Scots we might succeed, unfortunately I fear it exists here to.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    On what grounds would the cabinet office refuse to reveal this information?

    It's hardly an issue of National Security.

    Someone's pulling some strings here ... It would be interesting to know who the person was who ultimately said "No".

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    As if the honours system had any integrity to start with!
    These days anyone in the public eye is likely to cop a gong, even footballers and pop stars. It does give me a dilemma, however. It is amusing to see it devalued so hopelessly but, on the other hand, I'd rather it didn't exist at all. Hats off to all the people who have had the integrity and decency to turn them down though.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    I too cannot get the link to function

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    This is truly a list of honour - of those who would not sell out their beliefs for a gong/title. Why is this kept secret from us?

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Hey, Beeb, your link to the full list doesn't work!

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    All offers made should be published regardless of whether they are accepted or not. There is no need for secrecy and we should be informed of whom the state favours. As for a list of offers accepted or declined that largely seems like idle tittle tattle to me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    the full list link:
    seems to have been declared 'secret' !! ( or does not work !!)

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Roger Casement was an Irish patriot, executed by the colonial power in the service of his country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    How preposterous that the Cabinet Office should try to deny us this information. Talk about protecting their secret society. Makes you wonder what kinds of serious and damning information they are striving constantly to keep from us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    To those anti-democrats amongst us who need a so called 'queen','king','emperor',or other substitute parent figure in their lives,may I humbly suggest you go and live in Saudi Arabia and let us grown ups get on with democracy.

    Thank you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    So long as the honours system exists (I'd prefer it didn't) my gut feeling is that gongs should be both offered and rejected in confidence (an accepted offer is publicised willy nilly). Death, it seems, strips us of all privacy – I'm not sure that I approve of this.

    I'm even less sure that, of all the secrets the BBC might seek to uncover, it should have prioritised this celebrity-led froth.


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