Every New Year’s Day I have the same telephone conversation with a family member, who asks me if my name is on the New Year’s Honours List, and I reply that a palace equerry has sounded me out, but I have humbly declined. It’s just a running gag. Perhaps I’ll be offered a gong for this weekly blog, now entering its eighth year. “For services to anecdotage.” Stop me if I’ve told you this before…
I read that retiring 007 Daniel Craig has been made a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George, the same honour, stated The Herald, conferred upon James Bond. I thought, “Is that right? Didn’t he turn it down?” I consulted The Man with the Golden Gun, and its final chapter, ENDIT, to discover that Bond did have a CMG, and it was the offer a knighthood, the KCMG, that he declined. His secretary Mary Goodnight was very angry with him, but he ordered her to send an encrypted reply to M, with the words, “AYE AM A SCOTTISH PEASANT AND EYE WILL ALWAYS FEEL AT HOME BEING A SCOTTISH PEASANT.”
Incidentally it was such a pleasure to reread ENDIT. The Man with the Golden Gun was published in 1965, but Ian Fleming never saw it between covers, the dust jacket with artwork by the ever inventive Richard Chopping, depicting the golden gun, bullets, the mandibular carapace of a sea creature, and insects, all contributing to an atmosphere of decay. Fleming died in 1964 at the age of 56. He had been a lifelong smoker of sixty sticks of cigarette a day, and he was a cardiac cripple. By all accounts his last days were very miserable. How could he, in such circumstances, have written something as sunny as this? Although Jonathan Cape had sufficient material to publish Octopussy and The Living Daylights in 1966, chronologically, ENDIT is really Bond’s last appearance.
Speaking as a Scottish peasant, I see the attraction in turning down an honour. It’s the lure of being a maverick. The man of independent mind. Maybe the offer of a conferment is akin to the Mafia shouting you a slap-up meal in a restaurant. Once you accept, you are in their pocket. There is, after all, no such thing as a free lunch. And maybe everybody has their price. You might turn your nose up at a British Empire Medal, but how about an Order of Merit? Companion of Honour? I see that Tony Blair is to become a Knight of the Garter, but, at time of writing this, a petition against such a bestowal has passed 300,000 signatures. Iraq hangs round Mr Blair’s neck, like an albatross. I did sign a petition against the Iraq war back in 2003, but, re the Garter, I can’t say I’m exercised one way or the other. One thing I feel the Establishment should never do, having bestowed an honour upon somebody, is to take it away again because the recipient has in some way blotted his copybook. This happened to Fred Goodwin, chief executive of RBS, after the 2008 financial crash. The Establishment invite you into the fold when your star is on the rise. Blot your copybook, and they will drop you like hot coals. You will be cancelled, and “disappeared”. It’s like rewriting history. That man is not a knight. He was never a knight. Thus the Establishment closes ranks and protects itself.
I suppose it was easy enough for Bond to turn the K down. He was, after all, a loner, only responsible to himself. I imagine most people getting the call from the palace will be under immense pressure from loved ones. One’s wife might say, “Of course you must accept, if only for the children. Think of their schooling. They need useful acquaintance, in order to get ahead.” Yada yada yada.
Personally I would be frightened that accepting a position somewhere amid the multi-layered Imperial echelons would make pomposity unavoidable. I would become one of these dreadful medical elder statesmen you encounter at international conferences. After the keynote address in the first plenary session, the chairman says, “There’s just time for a few questions from the floor. Approach the microphone and please be brief.”
“Sir Bulvers Bagshot-Clutterbug, Emeritus Professor of comparative neural networking, Gonville and Caius, with a special interest in the adaptive value of the relentless proliferation of preening and self-aggrandisement. I greatly enjoyed your talk, doctor, and felt it gave more than adequate emphasis to the precise points I would have wished highlighted and underlined. I have three observations to make, a recommendation, and, arising from these, if I may, a question perhaps of a provocative nature…”