List of people who have declined a British honour

The following is a partial list of people who have declined a British honour, such as a knighthood or other grade of honour. In recent times most refusals have been for appointment to the Order of the British Empire.[1]

In most cases, the offer of an honour was rejected privately; others were rejected publicly, or accepted and then returned later based upon future events, as with John Lennon and Rabindranath Tagore. Nowadays, potential recipients are contacted by government officials, well before any public announcement is made, to confirm in writing whether they wish to be put forward for an honour, thereby avoiding friction or controversy. However, some let it be known the offer was declined, and there are also occasional leaks from official sources.

Reasons for rejection

People may reject state honours for various reasons, among which are:

  • Opposition to specific governmental actions or policy.
  • Republicanism and anti-monarchism.
  • Inappropriate due to the nature of the individual's work or position, or would attract unwanted attention.
  • Personal opinion of pretension.
  • Anti-imperialism or general unwillingness to be associated with the former British Empire (especially with regards to the Orders of the British Empire, e.g. CBE, OBE, MBE acceptance of which must imply some approval or, at least, neutrality towards.)
  • Inadequate recognition of the individual or a spouse, partner, friend or colleague.
  • The archaic nature of the honour, notably with regards to peerages, knighthoods and baronetcies, or that honours conferring titles are meaningless in a modern society.
  • Feelings that the honours system both reflects and reinforces social class distinctions, and diminishes the chance of a more equal and fairer society.
  • Biased nature of the honours system, or feelings that undeserving people have been decorated.
  • To hide real wealth and business connections from the public realm.
  • Religious reasons (In front of God we're all of same value)
  • Specifically of peerages, to maintain eligibility for election to the House of Commons (essential for any national politician)

Some potential recipients have rejected one honour then accepted another (such as Sir Paul McCartney and Sir Alfred Hitchcock[2]), or have initially refused an honour then accepted it, or have accepted one honour then declined another (such as actor Robert Morley and actress Vanessa Redgrave[3]), or refused in the hope of another higher distinction (Roald Dahl refused being decorated as Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE),[2] allegedly because he wanted a knighthood so that his wife would be entitled to the title "Lady Dahl").[4]

Since John Key restored the New Zealand Order of Merit to the pre-2000 British system, Richie McCaw has repeatedly declined a knighthood after winning the 2011 Rugby World Cup. In December 2011, Prime Minister John Key revealed that he had asked McCaw about the possibility of a knighthood in the 2012 New Year Honours, but that McCaw had turned it down. According to Key, "He made the call that he's still in his playing career and it didn't feel quite right for him, that day where he's no longer on the pitch may be the right time for him." No formal offer was ultimately made. McCaw was appointed a member of New Zealand's highest honour, the Order of New Zealand, which does not bestow a title, in the 2016 New Year Honours. The honour surpassed the knighthood he had previously turned down.[5][6]

Sometimes a potential recipient will refuse a knighthood or peerage, but will accept an honour that does not bestow a title (or precedence), such as the Order of Merit (OM) or the Order of the Companions of Honour (CH): Bertrand Russell, E. M. Forster, Paul Scofield, Doris Lessing, Harold Pinter (although Pinter's widow, Lady Antonia Fraser, was later appointed a DBE),[7] David Hockney, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Augustus John, V. S. Srinivasa Sastri, Francis Crick and Paul Dirac are examples of this last category. The artist Francis Bacon refused all honours, allegedly on the grounds they "were so ageing". The record for refusing the most state honours is held by the artist L. S. Lowry. Some people have also rejected a life peerage.

Identities of those who declined an honour or title

Many modern examples were identified in December 2003 when a confidential document containing the names of more than 300 such people was leaked to The Sunday Times,[8] but many more have become known since then.

Honours declined


  • In 1657, Oliver Cromwell, already Head of State and Head of Government, was offered the crown by Parliament as part of a revised constitutional settlement; he had been "instrumental" in abolishing the monarchy after the English Civil War. Cromwell agonised for six weeks over the offer. In a speech on 13 April 1657, he gave his opinion that the office of monarch, once abolished, should stay so: "I would not seek to set up that which Providence hath destroyed and laid in the dust, and I would not build Jericho again."[9]






Life peerage (barony)

As a part of the House of Lords reform in 1999, members of the Royal Family who were peers of the first creation were offered life peerages as a pure formality, which would have given them the right to sit in the House of Lords, but nobody seriously expected them to accept, and all declined.[34] These included:


Knight Companion of the Order of the Garter

Knighthood (Knight Bachelor)

Appointment to the Order of the Bath

As Knight Companion (KB)

As Companion (CB)

  • Colonel Allday V. Kerrison (in 1955).
  • Bernard O'Brien, scientist (in 1956).

Appointment to the Order of Merit (OM)

Appointment to the Order of the Star of India

As Knight Commander (KCSI)

Appointment to the Order of St Michael and St George

As Knight Commander (KCMG)

As Companion (CMG)

Appointment to the Order of the Indian Empire

As a Companion (CIE)

  • Narayan Malhar Joshi (1879–1955), Member of the Bombay Corporation (1919–1922) and Indian Legislative Assembly; delegate to the ILO and Round Table Conferences (refused in 1921, on the grounds he was too poor for the honour).[83][84]

Appointment to the Royal Victorian Order

As a Commander (CVO)

  • Craig Murray, former United Kingdom Ambassador to Uzbekistan (had previously declined appointments as LVO and OBE),[85] in 1999, for reasons of Scottish nationalism and republicanism.

Appointment as a Companion of Honour (CH)

Appointment to the Order of the British Empire

As a Knight Grand Cross (GBE)

  • Charles Wilson, 1st Baron Moran (in 1962) – offered for services as chairman of a government committee but declined, commenting it was "the sort of thing given to civil servants".[86]
  • Sir Harry Shackleton (in the 1951 Birthday Honours List).[87]

As a Knight Commander (KBE)

As a Dame Commander (DBE)

  • Dorothy Hodgkin, scientist, Nobel Prize for Chemistry 1964 (later accepted OM).
  • Glenda Jackson, actress and politician.
  • Doris Lessing, CH, author (declined DBE in 1992, stating it was in the name of a non-existent Empire; also declined appointment as OBE in 1977; accepted appointment as CH as it is does not carry a title, in 2000).[2][89] Nobel Prize for Literature.
  • Geraldine McEwan, actress[3] (in 2002; had previously declined appointment as OBE in 1986).
  • Vanessa Redgrave, actress, accepted CBE in 1967; declined damehood in 1999.[2]
  • Bridget Riley, artist (accepted CH and CBE).
  • Dorothy Wedderburn, academic, Principal of Royal Holloway and Bedford College London, 1980–90.

As a Commander (CBE)

As an Officer (OBE)

As a Member (MBE)

  • Eileen Agar, artist (1959).
  • John Allen, political adviser to Prime Minister Harold Wilson, declined honour in 1969.
  • Major Derek Allhusen, Olympic equestrian gold medallist, 1969 New Year Honours (accepted CVO in 1984 as Standard Bearer of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen at Arms).[37]
  • Marcel Aurousseau, Australian geologist, 1956 New Year Honours.[37]
  • Rowena Cade, founder of the Minack Theatre, Cornwall (in 1969).
  • Patrick Collins, sports journalist and author.[3]
  • Joseph Corré, co-founder of Agent Provocateur (in 2007, claiming his belief that then-Prime Minister Tony Blair was "morally corrupt".[107])
  • Emer Rose Crangle, aid worker (in 1999).
  • Edward Tegla Davies, Wesleyan Methodist minister and a popular Welsh language writer (in 1963).[37]
  • John Dunn, broadcaster.[3]
  • Lynn Faulds Wood, TV presenter (in 2016); "I would love to have an honour if it didn't have the word 'empire' on the end of it. We don't have an empire, in my opinion."[108]
  • Howard Gayle, first black footballer to play for Liverpool FC. Declined the MBE in 2016 saying it would be "a betrayal" to Africans who suffered at the hands of the British Empire.
  • Marjorie Hebden, declined MBE for services to the Malvern Museum.[3]
  • David Heckels, declined MBE for charitable services to the arts.[3]
  • Bob Holman, community activist in Easterhouse, 2012 birthday honours.[109]
  • Gwendoline Laxon, declined MBE for services to charity.[3]
  • Susan Loppert, art historian.[3]
  • John Lydon, musician (formerly known as "Johnny Rotten").
  • John Pandit aka Pandit G, musician, 2002, does not believe in the honours system, says acknowledgement should be given by funding projects.[3][110]
  • Kim Philby senior intelligence officer MI6, journalist, and Soviet spy, declined in 1946, but after his defection to the Soviet Union accepted the Order of the Red Banner (1st Class)
  • Doris Purnell, declined MBE for services to drama.[3]
  • John Sales, head gardener.[3]
  • Joan Smith, journalist, declined MBE as it was counter to the views she had spoken about in her career, i.e. atheism, feminism and republicanism.
  • T. W. Taylor schoolteacher (in 1957).
  • Jonzi D, writer, choreographer and rap artist, declined MBE for services to the arts in 2012, saying subsequently: "I am diametrically opposed to the idea of empire. Man, I'm a Star Wars fan – empire is bad."[111]
  • Alan Watkins, journalist, political columnist.

Renouncing an honour

As no official provision exists for (unilaterally) renouncing an honour, any such act is always unofficial, and the record of the appointment in the London Gazette stands. Nevertheless, the physical insignia can be returned to the Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood — though even this act is purely symbolic, as replacement insignia may be purchased for a nominal sum. Any recipient can also request that the honour not be used officially, e.g. Donald Tsang, ex-Chief Executive of Hong Kong, was knighted in 1997 but has not used the title since the handover to China.[112]

Those who have returned insignia include:

  • Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, journalist (returned MBE insignia in 2003 in her view of "a growing spirit of republicanism and partly in protest at the Labour government, particularly its conduct of the war in Iraq").
  • Roy Bailey, folk singer (returned MBE insignia in August 2006 in protest at the British Government's foreign policy in Lebanon and Palestine).
  • Carla Lane, television writer (appointed OBE in 1989; returned insignia in 2002 in protest at the appointment of CBE of the managing director of Huntingdon Life Sciences due to the company's reputed animal testing).
  • John Lennon, musician (returned MBE insignia in 1969; returned with letter that read, "I am returning this MBE 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.").
  • Gareth Peirce, solicitor (gazetted CBE in 1999, but later she returned its insignia, blaming herself and apologizing to then Prime Minister Tony Blair for the misunderstanding).
  • Narindar Saroop, soldier and Tory politician. Returned CBE in 2016 in disgust at the 'Dishonours List of David Cameron "showering peerages, knighthoods and other rewards on friends and party backers."
  • Susan Wighton, AIDS worker (returned MBE insignia in 2006 in protest at the British Government's Middle East foreign policies).

Knights who have "renounced" their knighthoods include:

Declining a baronetcy (Bt)

Many offers of baronetcies have been declined from their inception, as this honour was one way, until recent times, for the Crown to raise money from landed gentry families. When a baronetcy becomes vacant on the death of a holder, the heir may choose not to register the proofs of succession, effectively declining the honour. The Official Roll of Baronets is kept at the Home Office by the Registrar of the Baronetage. Anyone who considers that he is entitled to be entered on the Roll may petition the Crown through the Home Secretary. Anyone succeeding to a baronetcy therefore must exhibit proofs of succession to the Home Secretary. A person who is not entered on the Roll will not be addressed or mentioned as a baronet or accorded precedence as a baronet. The baronetcy can be revived at any time on provision of acceptable proofs of succession, by, say, the son of a son who has declined to register the proofs of succession.[113] As of December 2017 some 208 baronetcies are listed as awaiting proofs of succession.[114] Notable "refuseniks" include Jonathon Porritt, lately of Friends of the Earth, and journalist Ferdinand Mount.

See also

  • Canadian titles debate – Ongoing debate since 1919 over whether or not Canadians can accept British honours.
    • Black v Chrétien – 2001 legal case that affirmed the power of the Canadian prime minister to block such appointments.


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Honours and awards received by Harold Pinter

Honours and awards to Harold Pinter lists (in chronological order) honours, awards, prizes, and honorary degrees received by English playwright Harold Pinter (1930–2008), which often acknowledge his international importance and his reach beyond national and regional boundaries.

John Cleese

John Marwood Cleese (; born 27 October 1939) is an English actor, voice actor, comedian, screenwriter, and producer. He achieved success at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and as a scriptwriter and performer on The Frost Report. In the late 1960s, he co-founded Monty Python, the comedy troupe responsible for the sketch show Monty Python's Flying Circus. Along with his Python co-stars Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin and Graham Chapman, Cleese starred in Monty Python films, which include: Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), Life of Brian (1979) and The Meaning of Life (1983).

In the mid-1970s, Cleese and his first wife, Connie Booth, co-wrote the sitcom Fawlty Towers, and he starred in it as Basil Fawlty. The series resulted in Cleese receiving the 1980 BAFTA for Best Entertainment Performance, and in 2000 the show topped the British Film Institute's list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes. In a 2001 Channel 4 poll Basil was ranked second on their list of the 100 Greatest TV Characters. Cleese co-starred with Kevin Kline, Jamie Lee Curtis, and former Python colleague Michael Palin in A Fish Called Wanda (1989) and Fierce Creatures (1997), both of which he also wrote; for A Fish Called Wanda, he was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. He has also starred in Time Bandits (1981) and Rat Race (2001) and has appeared in many other films, including Silverado (1985), Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1994), two James Bond films (as R and Q), two Harry Potter films (as Nearly Headless Nick), and three Shrek films.

Emerging from the Cambridge Footlights in the 1960s, Cleese specialises in satire, black comedy, sketch comedy and surreal humour. With Yes Minister writer Antony Jay, he co-founded Video Arts, a production company making entertaining training films. In 1976, Cleese co-founded The Secret Policeman's Ball benefit shows to raise funds for the human rights organisation Amnesty International. Although a long running supporter of the Liberal Democrats, in 1999 he turned down a life peerage offer from the party.

Order of St Michael and St George

The Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George is a British order of chivalry founded on 28 April 1818 by George, Prince Regent, later King George IV, while he was acting as regent for his father, King George III.

It is named in honour of two military saints, St Michael and St George.

The Order of St Michael and St George was originally awarded to those holding commands or high position in the Mediterranean territories acquired in the Napoleonic Wars, and was subsequently extended to holders of similar office or position in other territories of the British Empire. It is at present awarded to men and women who hold high office or who render extraordinary or important non-military service in a foreign country, and can also be conferred for important or loyal service in relation to foreign and Commonwealth affairs.

Order of the Bath

The Most Honourable Order of the Bath (formerly the Most Honourable Military Order of the Bath) is a British order of chivalry founded by George I on 18 May 1725. The name derives from the elaborate medieval ceremony for appointing a knight, which involved bathing (as a symbol of purification) as one of its elements. The knights so created were known as "Knights of the Bath". George I "erected the Knights of the Bath into a regular Military Order". He did not (as is commonly believed) revive the Order of the Bath, since it had never previously existed as an Order, in the sense of a body of knights who were governed by a set of statutes and whose numbers were replenished when vacancies occurred.The Order consists of the Sovereign (currently Queen Elizabeth II), the Great Master (currently Charles, Prince of Wales, and three Classes of members:

Knight Grand Cross (GCB) or Dame Grand Cross (GCB)

Knight Commander (KCB) or Dame Commander (DCB)

Companion (CB)Members belong to either the Civil or the Military Division. Prior to 1815, the order had only a single class, Knight Companion (KB), which no longer exists. Recipients of the Order are now usually senior military officers or senior civil servants. Commonwealth citizens who are not subjects of the Queen and foreign nationals may be made Honorary Members.The Order of the Bath is the fourth-most senior of the British Orders of Chivalry, after The Most Noble Order of the Garter, The Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle, and The Most Illustrious Order of St Patrick (dormant).

Order of the Companions of Honour

The Order of the Companions of Honour is an order of the Commonwealth realms. It was founded on 4 June 1917 by King George V as a reward for outstanding achievements and is "conferred upon a limited number of persons for whom this special distinction seems to be the most appropriate form of recognition, constituting an honour disassociated either from the acceptance of title or the classification of merit."Founded on the same date as the Order of the British Empire, it is sometimes regarded as the junior order to the Order of Merit. Now described as "awarded for having a major contribution to the arts, science, medicine, or government lasting over a long period of time", the first recipients were all decorated for "services in connection with the war" and were listed in The London Gazette. The Chapel Royal at Hampton Court is now the Chapel of the Order.

Royal Victorian Order

The Royal Victorian Order (French: Ordre royal de Victoria) is a dynastic order of knighthood established in 1896 by Queen Victoria. It recognises distinguished personal service to the monarch of the Commonwealth realms, members of the monarch's family, or to any viceroy or senior representative of the monarch. The present monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, is the sovereign of the order, the order's motto is Victoria, and its official day is 20 June. The order's chapel is the Savoy Chapel in London.

There is no limit on the number of individuals honoured at any grade, and admission remains at the sole discretion of the monarch, with each of the order's five grades and one medal with three levels representing different levels of service. While all those honoured may use the prescribed styles of the order—the top two grades grant titles of knighthood, and all grades accord distinct post-nominal letters—the Royal Victorian Order's precedence amongst other honours differs from realm to realm and admission to some grades may be barred to citizens of those realms by government policy.

Royal family


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