Honouring/knighting the Beatles

According to Wikipedia, the Beatles were appointed Members of the Order of the British Empire (MBE), and received their insignia from the Queen at an investiture at Buckingham Palace in October 1965 (smoking pot in the men’s room there, from what I’ve heard). In 1997, Paul McCartney was knighted, dedicating the honour to the other Beatles and to the people of Liverpool.

Did Harold Wilson, prime minister in 1965, or Tony Blair, his several-times-removed successor in 1997, hope to score any political points among the British public by recommending these honours to the Queen? Is there any evidence that either hoped to use the group or any individual musicians thereof in support of any particular policy or program?

I’m not looking for a debate on the propriety or wisdom of the British honours system.

A politically savvy Brit, or someone who knows British political history, would have to give a definitive answer here.

But I can say that in general, the answer to questions of this type is no, it’s not a bid for political support. The honours system in the 20th century has become a means of giving official recognition to people in public life, who have contributed socially or economically to Britain. The members of the Beatles, of course, were significant in both areas, sparking an interest in British musical groups that has brought an influx of money to the nation for several decades now.

If he did, it seems to be a strange way of going at it.

Maybe some older British dopers can correct me, but here’s what I remember reading about it, bolstered by some quotes from Bob Spitz’s monumental The Beatles.

First, the M.B.E. is the most minor award that can be given, “handed out as routinely as souvenir lapel pins.” Wilson declared he was giving it out for “the great commercial advantage in dollar earnings to this country.”

Almost everybody hated the idea from the moment it was announced. Brian Epstein had to persuade the boys to accept it after they had decided to turn it down. The press was mostly negative at first, followed by an enormous controversy as conservative elders returned their medals, wrote letters to the press, and generally behaved like a pack of schoolboys.

Presumably Wilson was trying to do something to appear hip and co-opt the Beatles aura, but use them to push a policy? Doubtful.

By the late 90s, so many entertainers had been given knighthoods that it was beginning to look very odd not to give them to rock stars. Blair was probably 10 times more hip than Wilson and far more appreciative of rock music, but again I don’t think any PM gets points from it, any more than the US president gets points by giving medals out to US rock stars, which the president does annually.

Other than the Kennedy Center Honors, which tend to go to old farts (albeit distinguished ones), I can’t think of any. Unless I’m being whooshed…?

This year’s honorees:

How is that different from any random selection of entertainment knighthoods?

And how are 60s rock stars not old farts? :slight_smile:

Nobody notices and the president doesn’t get a boost for his policies. Not even for Sir Elton John in 2004.

In my experience, the UK honours system is used mainly by politicians to reward wealthy donors to political parties and pay off long-serving minor politicians / civil servants who have toed the party line for decades.
Obviously you don’t want to make this too clear, so you bung various celebrities a bone. The press reports on pop stars, footballers and school cleaners who have got an award, while the ‘cash for honours’ system rolls smoothly on.

‘There were also concerns that Lloyd George was war mongering in Turkey, and serious allegations that he had sold honours.’


‘TONY BLAIR’S chief fund-raiser, Lord Levy, has said he will not be the “fall guy” for the Prime Minister in the cash-for-honours affair.
The Labour peer is to be questioned by detectives about his role in brokering £14 million ($34 million) worth of loans to the Labour Party, four of which were from lenders later nominated for peerages.’


Wilson was criticised at the time for trying to get some of their lustre to rub off on him, and devaluing the MBE by giving one to mere popular musicians. ‘Sir Paul’ MacCartney just sounds ridiculous to me, like he’s sold out to the Establishment they were all ready enough to knock at the time. Especially when it’s well-known that he can’t read a note of music.