So Christopher Lee has finally been knighted, appropriately the day before Hallowe’en, given his Hammer House of Horror career. Lee is now 87. He walked with a stick when attending Buckingham Palace to receive his honour, although he is clearly very fit for his advanced years. But he is still a very old man by anyone’s calculations.
So is the honours system in Britain now off kilter?
When a damehood was awarded to Kelly Holmes in 2005 how many of us had actually heard of her before then? It perhaps seemed that she had simply won a couple of races and was given a damehood for it. Of course it is conceded that some effort would have been required to win these races, but surely there has to be some kind of uniform system to decide the way the honours are handed out which recognises sustained effort rather than just a short burst?
Others honoured this year in the Birthday Honours List included golfer Nick Faldo. He has been a successful sportsman for many years, winning titles worldwide and becoming a household name. It seems a fitting tribute to his talent, hard work and long term contribution to the sport that he has been honoured in this way. Hopefully, having been given the honour in early middle age, he will have enough years left during which to both enjoy the accolade and also use it in endorsing charities and other good causes.
Bruce Forsyth is another apparently deserving case. He will be 82 in 2010 and has had a lifetime in showbusiness as well as his unstinting work for the Variety Club. Since he was awarded the CBE in 2005 he cannot be considered for another honour for five years. Why then, had Brucie not done enough to achieve the highest rank of knight of the realm in 2005? He is a household name, and entertainer supreme over many, many years. A petition to have him elevated to a knighthood attracted thousands of signatures but all to no avail. It may be that in the New Year honours list of 2010 he will finally become Sir Bruce, octogenarian supreme.
The Honours system has been reviewed and changed over the last few years and it is asserted by the government that the system is more ‘open, diverse and easy to understand.’ The committee system which decides the nominations that will be fulfilled has been changed, and is now peopled by persons outwith government who have experience in different fields. The system is designed to recognise ‘merit, gallantry and service.’ There are many levels of award including the OBE and CBE which can be handed out to people in many walks of life, and it is quite correct that the pinnacle is reserved for those who have actually reached the appropriate level of achievement in their lives or sporting careers. However it seems to me that awarding a knighthood to an 87 year old who has entertained millions for many years is perhaps a little too late by any standards.