|‘It’s a pantomime where tinsel takes the place of substance’
The writer JG Ballard turned down a CBE (Commander of the British Empire) for services to literature in this year’s birthday honours
Monday December 22, 2003
“I might have been tempted had I been entitled to call myself Commander Ballard - it has a certain ring. I could see a yachting cap and a rum ration as perks of the job. If I was French and was awarded the legion of honour, I might well accept. But as a republican, I can’t accept an honour awarded by the monarch. There’s all that bowing and scraping and mummery at the palace. It’s the whole climate of deference to the monarch and everything else it represents. They just seem to perpetuate the image of Britain as too much pomp and not enough circumstance. It’s a huge pantomime where tinsel takes the place of substance.
“A lot of these medals are orders of the British Empire, which is a bit ludicrous. The dreams of empire were only swept away relatively recently, in the 60s. Suddenly, we seem to have a prime minister who has delusions of a similar kind.
“It goes with the whole system of hereditary privilege and rank, which should be swept away. It uses snobbery and social self-consciousness to guarantee the loyalty of large numbers of citizens who should feel their loyalty is to fellow citizens and the nation as a whole. We are a deeply class-divided society.
“I think it’s deplorable when leftwing playwrights like David Hare, who have worn their socialist colours on both sleeves for so many years, should accept a knighthood. God almighty, this man actually knelt down in front of the Queen.
“I’m in impressive company [in refusing]. Most of them are thoughtful people and people of spirit and independence. It’s good to see quite a few showbusiness people, like Albert Finney, a great actor. There were Aldous Huxley, Robert Graves - it suggests there’s quite a large number of people who reject the whole notion of honours in their present form. And it might do something towards bringing the whole system down.”