After the Olympics, there’s been a bit of discussion about the Honours System. I’d better declare my interest straightaway. Back in the 1991 New Year’s Honours. I was awarded the OBE for “services to the National Grid Company”. I hadn’t hesitated about accepting as to me it would have been churlish towards those who had put my name forward to have refused. And it’s impossible not to respect Queenio. It made for a nice day at the Palace for my mother, my wife and me, followed by a celebratory meal at the Goring Hotel for more of the family.
I had over the previous couple of years taken on additional responsibilities to those in my main role as Finance Director of the CEGB, namely CFO designate of National Grid where I was leading the privatisation discussions with Government, Project Director of the Settlements System for the new electricity market, and Project Director of the split of all the CEGB systems into those for the four successor companies. On top of this, our first-born had arrived in late 1988. He wasn’t a good sleeper and I spent many nights lying on the floor by his cot, or marching the corridor singing hymns to him, after my wife had put in her twenty hour shift.
The additional roles were all demanding, although I had the resources of the entire company available for the privatisation preparation, and excellent project managers for the other two. These were IT based, and were far and away the two most successful IT projects I was ever part of. It was the corporate equivalent of a war concentrating minds. If either hadn’t been ready, then privatisation of all the CEGB successor companies would have been delayed. There was a particular irony for me in that I wasn’t in favour of the new ownership structure, and it removed from my career path the job I aspired to and would probably have ended up in, Deputy Chairman CEGB.
The Settlements system was so crucial that the privatisation of the regional companies couldn’t happen without it either. The Project Manager there was the sort of guy you only gave the job to if you really wanted it done. I used to joke that my role was to walk behind him apologising. But he did it, and he was a lovely man behind the brusque exterior. He got the MBE (my bloody efforts), and I got the OBE (other buggers’ efforts).
He certainly deserved his. Did I deserve mine? Well I went from perfect eyesight to needing a reading prescription as a result of all that privatisation documentation. I don’t think my digestion’s ever been the same since all those sandwiches as the meetings took place, and then having to sit for another eight ours plus round the conference table.
My secretary (you’d call her a PA now) was so proud of my honour that she added it to my personal details for the conference I was attending the next month, which was in Tokyo. The concept didn’t travel well: my name badge said Mr Obe and in the end it was easier to go along with that for the week rather than to change it. (At that conference I also picked up a useful tip. When a Japanese delegate delivers his paper in English, listen to the French translation even if you don’t speak French.)
Prior to this in our nationalised days, I know of honours handed out that were strictly for time-serving, and not for conspicuous extra effort. Naturally I tend to think this is particularly the case with those who’ve got the CBE! Some deserve their honours, some are borderline, some don’t. They haven’t got the haemorrhoids to go with it. Overall, I wouldn’t object to the abolition of all honours.
What they conspicuously can’t handle is sport. The distinctions between MBE, OBE and CBE are arbitrary and to give a young person a knighthood/ damehood while they’re still playing makes the television commentary sound ridiculous. Andy Murray richly deserves an hereditary earldom but it would be better after he retired. And I think that would be true for all Olympians.
But for those who receive them, they do add to the gaiety of life, rather like a gold star did back at school.