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Old 10-13-2014, 06:43 PM
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Why did David Niven never become Sir David?


I watched part of Murder by Death yesterday, watching the very flower of British fake nobility, Sir Alec Guinness, Dame Maggie Smith, Sir Peter Sellers, Dame Elsa Lanchester, and Sir David Niven trying to make the best of a dreadful Neil Simon script and the presence of James Coco, and rather than punish myself further I checked those five to see who outranked whom, when what to my wondering eyes did appear but neither Mrs Laughton nor Mr Niven had been properly honored by their queen and country. Maybe Elsa didn't haul much money back to Old Blighty, but David certainly did. He also did his part in the war, unlike many of his fellows, and did his part to keep Princess Margaret happy, like many of his fellows. So why no CBE?
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Old 10-13-2014, 06:49 PM
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I watched part of Murder by Death yesterday, watching the very flower of British fake nobility, Sir Alec Guinness, Dame Maggie Smith, Sir Peter Sellers, Dame Elsa Lanchester, and Sir David Niven trying to make the best of a dreadful Neil Simon script and the presence of James Coco, and rather than punish myself further I checked those five to see who outranked whom, when what to my wondering eyes did appear but neither Mrs Laughton nor Mr Niven had been properly honored by their queen and country. Maybe Elsa didn't haul much money back to Old Blighty, but David certainly did. He also did his part in the war, unlike many of his fellows, and did his part to keep Princess Margaret happy, like many of his fellows. So why no CBE?
Looking back he probably should have. I suspect it was something to do with him living abroad for most of his career. Whilst in Hollywood this was less of an issue, but by the 1960's or 70's he was an out and out tax exile on the continent. A touchy subject for British governments of the period.

Last edited by Fuzzy_wuzzy; 10-13-2014 at 06:49 PM.
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Old 10-13-2014, 06:54 PM
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I'm no expert, but when a British performer lives most of their post-success life outside of the UK, doesn't that tend to mean they won't be on the Honours List? (Niven doesn't seem to have lived in the UK after his career was well underway).

There was the thing with his first wife dying after a fall down some stairs, too. Perhaps there were unpleasant rumors?


eta: didn't see Fuzzy wuzzy's post due to researching. But, yes: probably the tax exile thing.

Last edited by Sherrerd; 10-13-2014 at 06:55 PM.
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Old 10-13-2014, 08:16 PM
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I never thought he was all that good an actor. Enjoyable sure, but nothing special. And servicing HRH Margaret is always going to make Lizzie sore.
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Old 10-13-2014, 08:23 PM
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Hey! I saw MURDER BY DEATH at an actual old-fashioned moom pitcher theater when it came out, when I was 14 years old. Laughed my arse off. I still think it's funny as hell. Incredible cast of character actors. Truman Capote's best film performance, because it's Truman Capote's only film performance.

"...Doors and windows will automatically open at dawn, and one of us here will be one million dollars richer, and one of us will be going to the gas chamber to be hanged."

But I agree that Coco sucked.
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Old 10-13-2014, 08:44 PM
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I don't understand. Why would anybody want to steal a dead, naked body?
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Old 10-13-2014, 08:45 PM
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....oh, that's tacky. That's really tacky.
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Old 10-14-2014, 02:36 AM
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So why no CBE?
He appears to have none of the lesser honourss either. It's possible he turned any offer down.
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Old 10-14-2014, 03:15 AM
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I suspect it was something to do with him living abroad for most of his career.
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I'm no expert, but when a British performer lives most of their post-success life outside of the UK, doesn't that tend to mean they won't be on the Honours List?
I don't think so, Charlie Chaplin was knighted, and he lived abroad.
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Old 10-14-2014, 05:21 AM
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I don't think so, Charlie Chaplin was knighted, and he lived abroad.
Living abroad often means such honours are more of a hit and miss affair. It's easier to forget about someone who has spent most of their time outside Britain. He or she would be less of an insider. This would not necessarily be intentional of the people bestowing such honours.

Chaplin was a different matter. Chaplin was an international star no-one could forget. Niven on the other hand was a 2nd rate Hollywood celebrity and a 2nd rate actor. Any knighthood would have been for services other than acting.

Last edited by Fuzzy_wuzzy; 10-14-2014 at 05:21 AM.
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Old 10-14-2014, 05:36 AM
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I recall there was a rumour that he had an affair with Princess Margaret, the Queen's sister. That would do it.
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Old 10-14-2014, 06:11 AM
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The story goes, at least, that somebody approached Thatcher with the idea of knighthood for Niven in the 80s, and she said, basically, "Sure, as long as he pays his back taxes." His reaction to that was decidedly negative, so no knighthood. The same thing basically happened with Rex Harrison, but he paid up and got it.

Last edited by Captain Amazing; 10-14-2014 at 06:13 AM.
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Old 10-15-2014, 04:51 PM
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Quick googling supports this story does do the rounds, i'm a little puzzled by it however.

Why would someone who lived abroad owe a large amount of British back taxes? Surely the point of going in to tax exile in America is that you don't owe British taxes?

Similarly would Margaret Thatcher really be paying that much personal attention to individuals on the honours list, and be familiar with their tax status?
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Old 10-15-2014, 05:35 PM
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Quick googling supports this story does do the rounds, i'm a little puzzled by it however.

Why would someone who lived abroad owe a large amount of British back taxes? Surely the point of going in to tax exile in America is that you don't owe British taxes?

Similarly would Margaret Thatcher really be paying that much personal attention to individuals on the honours list, and be familiar with their tax status?
I cant answer the last question fully. I doubt the quote from Thatcher is entirely accurate. Though if Niven was a tax exile and still owed money to the State im sure this would have complicated any proposed knighthood. Prime MInisters do get the final approval for such honours, particularly the important ones. MBE's on the other hand are probably handed out like candy. Proposed Knighthood's will be vetted fairly intensely(no jokes about Jimmy Saville, please).

Niven did work primarily in Hollywood. I think he also made a few films in the UK as well. If he owed taxes it was probably for this period.
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Old 10-15-2014, 06:25 PM
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Prime MInisters do get the final approval for such honours, particularly the important ones.
I'm sure they take a great interest in people they know, fellow politicians and Civil servants etc. I would have thought that actors/musicians/cultural icons would go through on the nod, a PM would assume that the proposal/vetting committees would have done due diligence way below their level of oversight. Also Thatcher was pretty well-know for not especially caring for the Arts and the cultural Zeitgeist.
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Old 10-15-2014, 06:27 PM
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Quick googling supports this story does do the rounds, i'm a little puzzled by it however.

Why would someone who lived abroad owe a large amount of British back taxes? Surely the point of going in to tax exile in America is that you don't owe British taxes?

Similarly would Margaret Thatcher really be paying that much personal attention to individuals on the honours list, and be familiar with their tax status?
As I read it, he wouldn't, but she might be petulantly demanding he act like a real British citizen if he wants a real British honor.
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Old 10-17-2014, 06:19 AM
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I could believe that he simply turned down the honour - quite a few others have, and hats off to them I say: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Declining_a_British_honour
He was rather an irreverent character, and perhaps cynical about the UK establishment, having (according to a quick web search I just did, anyway) interrupted his flourishing acting career to serve in the war, only to be stung with a massive tax bill. So maybe rather than them not approving of him, he didn't approve of them.
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Old 10-17-2014, 05:42 PM
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I could believe that he simply turned down the honour - quite a few others have, and hats off to them I say: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Declining_a_British_honour
He was rather an irreverent character, and perhaps cynical about the UK establishment, having (according to a quick web search I just did, anyway) interrupted his flourishing acting career to serve in the war, only to be stung with a massive tax bill. So maybe rather than them not approving of him, he didn't approve of them.
No I like my explanation better. Where Niven and Thatcher spent 50 years locked in a secret war for control of the Holy Grail and the destiny of the UK. With Ninjas!
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Old 10-17-2014, 11:14 PM
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Similarly would Margaret Thatcher really be paying that much personal attention to individuals on the honours list, and be familiar with their tax status?
I'm sure that the PM of England/Britain/WTF would not have that question put to her in public unless she already had an answer prepared.
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Old 10-18-2014, 06:51 PM
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I could believe that he simply turned down the honour - quite a few others have, and hats off to them I say: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Declining_a_British_honour
He was rather an irreverent character, and perhaps cynical about the UK establishment, having (according to a quick web search I just did, anyway) interrupted his flourishing acting career to serve in the war, only to be stung with a massive tax bill. So maybe rather than them not approving of him, he didn't approve of them.
One of the many reasons I like David Bowie is that unlike McCartney, Jagger, Elton John et al he turned down a knighthood, mostly because he felt that it didn't really fit with being David Bowie. And he was already the Thin White Duke.
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Old 10-19-2014, 09:03 AM
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One of the many reasons I like David Bowie is that unlike McCartney, Jagger, Elton John et al he turned down a knighthood, mostly because he felt that it didn't really fit with being David Bowie.
"I would never have any intention of accepting anything like that," he said; "I seriously don't know what it's for." I can't exactly argue with that.
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Old 10-19-2014, 05:05 PM
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While the Thatcher story is at least somewhat plausible, there is something of a surrounding context. For one can distinguish three categories of acting knighthoods within Niven's lifetime:
  • The theatrical knights. A long-established category of men and women who'd excelled themselves on the West End stage, while often becoming more famous on film. The Guilguids and Oliviers, for example. By this point, a somewhat substantial category, but not one Niven ever quite fitted. He did do stints as a star on the London stage, but they weren't quite that significant.
  • The stalwarts of the British film industry. The likes of John Mills and Dirk Bogarde got knighted by slogging their way through post-war British classics, and quite rightly so. They, and others, certainly did the occasional Hollywood and international films, which bumped up their prestige, but they still seemed quintessentially British.
  • The really big British film names. Hitchcock and Chaplin. And pretty much no-one else. The guys who went to Hollywood and made it huge. The off-scale names in the history of cinema. Perhaps belatedly, they got knighthoods. Niven was never in this league.

While they never needed to go to Hollywood, Powell/Pressburger and Lean are the usual names to add to the latter pair. Only one of that trio got a knighthood. Amongst actors, the really huge case would seem to be Cary Grant, who never got so honoured. Simply on the basis of his career, surely the far more obvious candidate?

Granted, there are borderline issues. Was Richard Burton the first category or the second? Indeed, by the time he got the knighthood (1970), he was surely primarily regarded as a Hollywood star, albeit one trailing a Welsh and West End pedigree.

So the issue really boils down to the middle category. Sir Anthony Quayle seems the most plausible parallel. Why did he get it and not Niven? The wider thing to realise is that showbiz knighthoods are really very rare until the 1960s. Lots of people who would now get one, never did. Even Liz Taylor - who one might regard as the classic Brit in Hollywood - didn't get made a Dame until 2000.

Last edited by bonzer; 10-19-2014 at 05:09 PM.
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Old 10-19-2014, 05:39 PM
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Chaplin's knighthood was controversial at the time, due to his not having any discernible connection with England for many years and his political activities in the 1950s (Punch magazine quipped at the time that Prime Minister Harold Wilson had mistakenly signed the list of people who were never to be knighted, which was why P.G. Wodehouse, Chaplin and others had got in)
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Old 05-07-2019, 06:08 AM
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Burton never knighted but should have been.So should Niven, James Mason, Ronald Colman, George Arliss, Stan Laurel, Jack Hawkins. Chaplin deserved a peerage.
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Old 05-07-2019, 07:41 AM
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Old 05-07-2019, 08:01 AM
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According to IMDb, Alec Guiness received the script for Star Wars while he was filming Murder by Death and would read it between takes.
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Old 05-07-2019, 10:09 AM
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According to IMDb, Alec Guiness received the script for Star Wars while he was filming Murder by Death and would read it between takes.
"Oh, goody-goody-gumdrops, another film that I'll never be remembered for."
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Old 05-07-2019, 11:52 AM
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What's the bigger film; the film or the film that follows it?
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Old 05-07-2019, 09:55 PM
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I realize that this is nitpicking a 4.5 year old OP, but Peter Sellers was not a Sir. He had a CBE, which does not come with a title.
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Old 05-08-2019, 04:42 AM
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Part of the path for getting honours is doing public charity work. Maybe Niven turned down honours: maybe it was because he was a tax exile: maybe he just didn't do enough public charity work.
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