MBE Medal

A few days ago the Queen’s birthday honours list was announced. This happens twice a year, at New Year and in June. And this is what the medal that the Queen pins on recipients of the MBE looks like.

The MBE is the most junior of the medals (or “gongs”) that she can hand out. It stands for Member of the British Empire. It’s the one that The Beatles were controversially awarded in 1965 (though John Lennon handed his back in 1969 when he got into peace campaigning).

Next up the rankings is the Order of the British Empire (OBE), then Commander of the British Empire (CBE), Knight Commander of the British Empire (KBE) and finally Knight Grand Cross (GBE). If you get one of the top two awards then you get to be called Sir or Dame (whoopee!).

There have been proposals to revise the system over the years, but not much has changed. For a long time there was an award called the British Empire Medal which ranks below the MBE. It was abolished in the 1990s, but has just been re-introduced – no idea why. Then there have been suggestions that maybe, just maybe, since we no longer have an Empire, it might be an idea to rename them – the Order of British Excellence, for example. But it seems that the Establishment is reluctant to change.

We often find ourselves wondering why people like senior civil servants get awards – just for doing their jobs. And actors and musicians, who get them because they happen to be good at their jobs – and famous.

But underneath all that there can be something quite nice about the awards system because they also go to everyday people who are recognised for their work in their local communities or raising funds for charities. Perhaps it’s worth having famous actors getting OBEs just for the gloss that rubs off on these individuals who get the recognition and thanks they deserve – and a chance to meet the Queen – for doing truly selfless work.

Correction: I have been duly chastised for being imprecise in my description of the British medal system. Tim Booth writes: ” MBE is not ‘Member of the British Empire’ (lots of us are that) – its ‘Member OF THE ORDER of the British Empire’. Likewise, OBE is not ‘Order of the British Empire’, but ‘OFFICER of the Order of the British Empire’. Finally, CBE, KBE and GBE are also ‘OF THE ORDER OF the British Empire’ and not just ‘of the British Empire’.” Thanks to Tim for that.

A bit weirder was the following comment: “all of which goes well with slavery, transportation, usurpation of lands, genocide, famine, IRA MAU MAU and nigh all such trappings of mucho excellence. No wonder they have affected speech – akin to one holding their wind. Teutonic pagans grew to sophisticated levels stealing heritages to fit along the way.” I’m guessing he (or she) is no fan of British Stuff…..

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