Which academics have turned down honours?
It's a dilemma which most of us aren't going to have to face. But I'm sure many of have enjoyed this particular "what if...." question.
"What if I was awarded an 'honour'...MBE? CBE? Knighthood? .... would I accept it?"
Yes, because I would be dead chuffed, and an hour or two at Buckingham Palace would be fun (and it wold be nice to have something to put on instead of my Mum's old headgirl badge when the posh invite says "honours will be worn" ? Yes, because it is really a tribute to those I work with and my whole institution? (Never quite sure how much I believe that one?) No, because the whole parade is just a hangover from the days when we really did have the empire that most of these medals proclaim? No, because just look at the company I'd be keeping? And so on.
And then of course there is the question of Which Honour. I dont imagine that the OM has ever been turned down (only 25 of them at a time, and nicely discreet, with no imperial undertones)... But what about "Dame"? Useful presumably for getting upgraded on an airplane, but fancy actually living with a silly title like that. Imagine how embarrassing it would be coming over the tannoy at the dentists.
Anyway, when there was the razzmattazz earlier in the week about the celebs, writers and artists who had turned them down between 1951 and 1999 (Lucian Freud, Grahame Greene and co), I found myself wondering which academics had done the same.
The newspapers hadn't been quite as interested in the university refuseniks. But when I managed to get hold of the full list, it actually sprung a few surprises.
In truth academics in general seem to be quite keen on medals, even the leftiest of them. I remember Moses Finley being over the moon with his knighthood. So I think was Edmund Leach (despite writing a funny little anthropological account of the dubbing ceremony, comparing it to a pig sacrifice in Borneo). And "Professor Sir...." does trip off the tongue very nicely, I suppose.
So who was offered and didn't accept? (Remember that the published list only included the dead . . . the living refuseniks remain officially anonymous). All the same, I would never have guessed about this lot:
Norman Baynes, Byzantine Historian at UCL (turned down knighthood in 1951)
T. S Ashton, Economic Historian at LSE (turned down knighthood in 1957)
Francis DNA Crick, (turned down a CBE in 1963, but on the OM principle accepted one of those in 1991)
F R Leavis (turned down a CBE in 1966, but later accepted a CH... almost as exclusive as the OM)
Paul Dirac, the physicist (turned down a knighthood in 1953)
Edgar Lobel, the papyrologist (turned down knighthood in 1955)
Ivan Margary, Roman historian (turned down OBE in 1966)
Professor A Robertson (turned down a CBE in 1965)... not sure who he or she was
Gilbert Ryle, the philosopher (turned down a knighthood in 1965)
That's in no particular order, and I must have missed some.
I do find myself a bit puzzled, though. There is obviously a bit of the 'waiting-for-a -more-exclusive-offer' (ie OM, or CH) going on here. But not much. And, by and large, the gongs being refused are towards the top of the pecking order (not an MBE in sight). And these don't look to me like a bunch of well known radicals (though there's at least one paid up member of the awkward squad on parade here).
Maybe it's simply a matter of plain old academic down-to-earthness, rationality and dislike of pretension.