FOI request reveals hundreds who refused British Honours


A Freedom of Information request has revealed the names of hundreds of people who declined to accept British Establishment honours.
The official list was published by the Cabinet Office and contains the names of almost 300 people who have since died, including celebrities and artists, all who refused OBEs, CBEs and Knighthoods.

People who have refused honours in the annual New Year or Birthday Honours list usually only come to light if the they themselves reveal it or if information is leaked to the press, so this list reveals a far wider range of people than has previously been known.

The Cabinet Office’s list covers the honours period between 1951 and 1999 and, the publication followed a 15 month long battle with the Cabinet Office.

Those turning down honours from the Queen include: authors JB Priestley and Roald Dahl, physicist Paul Dirac and DNA pioneer Francis Crick, painters Francis Bacon and LS Lowry, sculptor Henry Moore, novelist Aldous Huxley, artist Lucien Freud.

LS Lowry turned down a total of five honours – more than anybody else – including an OBE in 1955, a CBE in 1961 and a knighthood in 1968.

Francis Bacon turned down a CBE in 1960, while Lucien Freud refused the honour in the 1977 New Year’s Honours list.

Chronicles of Narnia author CS Lewis turned down a CBE in 1952 and author Graham Greene turned down a CBE in 1956.

Roald Dahl allegedly refused being decorated as Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE), in the 1986 New Year’s Honours because he was holding out for a knighthood so that his wife would become Lady Dahl.

Huxley, the author of Brave New World, refused a knighthood in 1959, while Evelyn Waugh, who wrote Brideshead Revisited, snubbed a CBE in 1959.

Film director Michael Winner refused an honour in 2006, saying, “An OBE is what you get if you clean the toilets well at King’s Cross station.”

According to the published list, Hitchcock turned down a CBE in 1962, but later went on to accept a knighthood from the Queen four months before his death in 1980.

The only case of a life peerage being rejected was that of playwright Priestley, who turned down the honour in 1965 and an invitation to be made a Companion of Honour in 1969.

Some who had accepted honours from the Queen later returned them – John Lennon, famously returned his MBE in 1969 with an accompanying letter saying: “Your Majesty, I am returning my MBE as a 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.  With Love, John Lennon.”

The Cabinet Office figures show that over the past three years 116 people have rejected honours, but they are not identified. 

In last year’s honours, 30 people turned down the Queen’s Birthday and New Year’s honours list accolades; this compares to 46 in 2010 and 40 in 2009.

People not on the list (not deceased) but who are believed to have turned down honours include: actress Honor Blackman, jazz musician George Melly, artist David Hockney and novelist John le Carre, pop star David Bowie, celebrity cook Nigella Lawson, playwright Michael Frayn and the comedy act Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders, actor John Cleese, physicist Stephen Hawking, author George Bernard Shaw, actor Alastair Sim, actress Geraldine McEwan, poet and folklorist Hamish Henderson, punk rock singer John Lydon (Johnny Rotten) … for a fuller list of those rejecting honours, see ‘Declining a British honour’.

The publication of the list comes as senior civil servants are due to decide whether ex-Royal Bank of Scotland boss Sir Fred Goodwin should be stripped of his knighthood for “services to banking”.