Monday, 27 January 2020

Top Hats and Boiler Suits

Scots actor Brian Cox accepted a CBE in 2003 at the ripe old age of 56, yet in 2020, at the slightly riper age of 73, Cox now says that he feels 'uncomfortable' with the honours system.  

What a strange way to behave if you ask me, especially as so many Scots (prominent and not so prominent) have been scathing about about the honours system for many years.

Scots writer William McIlvanney got it right, in my view, when he he turned down an OBE in the Queen’s honours list – and went on to compare the honour to "putting a top hat on a man in a boiler suit".

Scot actor Brian Cox regrets CBE and would 'never accept knighthood'

The Dundee-born actor said he should have 'thought better' after accepting his CBE in 2003 for his services to drama.

By Stuart Macdonald - Daily Record
Brian Cox (Image: GC Images)

Scots actor Brian Cox has said he regrets becoming a CBE and would never accept a knighthood.

The Dundee-born star said he should have “thought better” after accepting the honour in 2003 for his services to drama.

Cox, 73, has campaigned for Scottish independence and said he didn’t think he would be made a sir because of that.

But he insisted he’d turn it down anyway as he feels uncomfortable with the honours system.

Cox said: “When I became a CBE, I accepted it because I’m fickle. I have a royalist sister and a republican sister and I thought, ‘Well, my royalist sister will be happy,” but she couldn’t give a s**t.

“Now I would never be a knight. I wouldn’t want to do that. A CBE is usually a precursor to getting a knighthood. I got my CBE a while ago and I have been so active in Scottish independence.”

Cox won best actor in a TV drama for his role as media magnate Logan Roy in Succession at the Golden Globe awards this month.

Top Hats and Boiler Suits (August 25th 2009)

Another great story to appear in the press recently concerns William McIlvanney - one of Scotland's most celebrated and talented writers.

McIlvanney revealed that he turned down an OBE in the Queen’s honours list – and went on to compare the honour to "putting a top hat on a man in a boiler suit".

William McIlvanney explained that his decision was private - unlike that of artist and writer John Byrne - the inspiration behind the smash hit series Tutti Frutti - and all the madness involving The Majestics, Eddie Clockerty and Miss Toner.

But John Byrne was making a serious point - when he rejected an MBE for services to art and literature recently - to signify his "absolute disgust" at the Iraq war.

William McIlvanney told the Scotland on Sunday that had written to Downing Street to say he would not be accepting the OBE for "purely personal" reasons.

"It's something that I tried on in my mind, and I found it didn't fit," he explained. "The sleeves were too long, and it just wasn't part of me.”

“It felt like trying to put a top hat on a man in a boiler suit.”

"The idea of rejecting an honour isn't something I've done with any anger, or to demean other people. There are a lot of people who carry out unsung work. I'm only too happy for them to be recognised."

McIlvanney said: "There have been a lot of honours given for dubious reasons in the past, like providing your wife as the king's bed warmer. The system is riddled with ludicrous elements."

But not everyone takes such a noble stand - there are lots of trade unionists only too glad to accept such honours - as a quick Google search shows:

• Bernard McGill (MBE) – from the north east regional TUC
• Felicity Mendelson (MBE) – from Unison (north east)
• Anne Middleton (MBE) - former deputy regional secretary Unison (Scotland)
• Terri Miller (MBE) – from Unite (south east)
• Matt Smith (OBE) – current regional secretary Unison (Scotland)
• Yvonne Strachan (OBE) - former regional organiser TGWU (Scotland) – now Unite

And that’s the eternal battle within the trade union movement – how to challenge the establishment – while resisting the temptation to become part of the establishment.

Some people do it better than others - you pays your money and takes your choice.

Michael McGahey – a Scottish miner and former leader of the NUM – would never have crossed the road for an MBE or OBE.

So hats off to Mick McGahey, William McIlvanney and John Byrne - so long as it's not Top Hats, of course.

Political Honours (26 February 2013)

I had a chuckle to myself when I found out that the head of the NHS in England and Wales - Sir David Nicholson - was once a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain.

Once upon a time I found it quite incredible that there so many people with supposedly 'left-wing', progressive politics - were so desperate to accept a political 'honour' from the great and good - to become honorary members of the British establishment .

I suppose I shouldn't really have been surprised because there is a long tradition of people in the labour movement turning their back on principle - before heading off to Buckingham Palace to accept a bauble from Her Majesty.

Makes you wonder how progressive and 'left-wing' these folks really were in the first place - I suppose.

And in Sir David's case I think we have the answer - but just look at the company he's in - including the former 'Sir' Fred Goodwin, the one time boss of the Royal Bank of Scotland.