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No Sir! Stars who refused honors

Bowie
Bowie refused the CBE, an honor one below a knighthood, the report says.

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- An amazing list of 'A'-list celebrities who have snubbed the British honors system and various UK prime ministers by refusing knighthoods and other top honors has been revealed.

They include rock star David Bowie, celebrity cook Nigella Lawson -- who recently cooked for President George W. Bush -- comedian John Cleese, top actors Kenneth Branagh, Albert Finney and actresses Vanessa Redgrave and Honor Blackman.

The information, covering more than 40 years, is in secret UK government files leaked to The Sunday Times. The reasons for refusing honors such as a Knighthood (Knight of the Order of the British Empire) and CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire, one rank below a knighthood) are not given.

Honors have been much in the news in Britain in recent weeks. When rock legend Mick Jagger became Sir Michael Jagger in a ceremony at Buckingham Palace -- joining other musical giants like Sir Paul McCartney and Sir Elton John -- he was much derided by fellow Rolling Stone Keith Richards for "selling out."

Just weeks before, Rastafarian poet Benjamin Zephaniah sent back his OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire, two ranks below a knighthood) medal as a protest against colonialism shown by the use of the term "Empire" and UK government policy on Iraq.

Others named in the Sunday Times as refusing honors at some time or other include authors Graham Greene, Roald Dahl and famous British-born film director Alfred Hitchcock.

More recently Bowie declined a CBE in the Queen's birthday honors of 2000 while Lawson, rejected an OBE offered in 2001 for her "services to journalism and to cookery."

An inquiry to find the source of the leak was now under way, reports the UK's Press Association.

Although the honors are bestowed by the queen, they are usually recommended by the prime minister of the day and many of the "refuseniks" are making protests against government policy. More than 40 people have refused to accept honors from current PM Tony Blair, says the paper.

Novelist JG Ballard, James Bond leading lady Honor Blackman and jazz musician George Melly have all turned down honors under Blair.

But the leaked documents include the names of scores of famous people who have declined honors offered by different Conservative and Labour prime ministers since the Second World War.

Nigella: A yes to President Bush but no to the queen, says the paper.
Nigella: A yes to President Bush but no to the queen, says the paper.

Compiled by the Cabinet Office's ceremonial branch, the list of almost 300 names includes artist David Hockney, writer John le Carré, poet Robert Graves and writer and journalist Evelyn Waugh.

Other names on the list include writer J B Priestley, novelist Anthony Powell, children's author Roald Dahl, poet Philip Larkin, and actors Trevor Howard ("Brief Encounter") and Alastair Sim.

LS Lowry, the painter of northern England industrial landscapes, appears to have turned down more than anyone -- a total of five awards including a knighthood, CBE and OBE.

Actor Albert Finney not only rejected a knighthood in 2000 but the documents show he also turned down a CBE in 1980.

Film director Alfred Hitchcock refused a CBE in 1962, although he accepted a knighthood shortly before he died.

The Sunday Times said the list was compiled to warn officials that "refuseniks" should not be approached again because they have already rejected honors.

A Cabinet Office spokesman told PA: "There will be an investigation to trace the source of the leak."

The secret list, in documents marked "refusals" are not even released under the 30-year rule after which many government papers are normally made public.

According to the documents, J G Ballard, author of Empire of the Sun, turned down a CBE this year for "services to literature".

He told the paper he was opposed to the "preposterous charade" of the honors system.

"Thousands of medals are given out in the name of a non-existent empire. It makes us look a laughing stock and encourages deference to the crown," he said.

"I think it is exploited by politicians and always has been."

Branagh also turned down the CBE, says the Sunday Times.
Branagh also turned down the CBE, says the Sunday Times.

Finney, who recently won an Emmy ands the British equivalent, a Bafta, for his portrayal of Sir Winston Churchill in the television film "The Gathering Storm" Finney has criticized the idea of knighting people as "a disease which perpetuates snobbery".

The paper says British comedian Lenny Henry accepted an honor from Blair after having rejected one from Conservative predecessor John Major.

Under Major, the list of "refuseniks" included the playwright Alan Bennett, who turned down a knighthood, John Cleese who turned down a CBE. Bernie Ecclestone, the Formula One racing boss who once attempted to donate £1 million to the Labor Party until the donation caused political uproar, turned down a CBE "for services to motor racing."

Actor Kenneth Branagh rejected a CBE in 1994 while Helen Mirren, star of the Prime Suspect television series, turned down a CBE for services to drama in 1996 but then agreed to become a Dame of the British Empire (female alternative to a knighthood) after Labour took power.

Up to one in five on the "refusenik" list subsequently accepted an honor.

Very few of those who have refused or returned British honors have gone public to explain their position.

A spokesman for Blair's office told PA they would not comment on issues arising from leaked documents.

The previous week the Sunday Times carried leaked revelations about the 700-year-old British honors system which alleged "star" names from showbusiness and sport -- such as tennis star Tim Henman -- were added to the list at "add interest."


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