Happy about Birthday awards?

The Queen’s birthday honours always contain a few suprises, and the MBE for James Bolam, a marvellous actor whose career has never quite matched his early promise, is one of them.

He featured in David Storey’s In Celebration at the Royal Court and in Jeremy Sams’s Wild Oats at the National, but he’s more associated with The Likely Lads and Alan Plater’s Beiderbecke Tapes on television.

Here’s what I never understand: are these awards given because the recipient has added to the sum of the general good and happiness, or because there’s an imprortant element of public service involved? Are indeed the two things the same?

The only notable showbiz knighthood goes to Christopher Lee, again something of a surprise, given that he’s only really well known for being Dracula and Harriet Walter’s uncle, not the same thing at all. 
Harriet herself was CBE’d nine years ago. It’s great to see her joined in that category now by Lindsay Duncan and Jonathan Pryce, both of whom have “done their bit” at the RSC, and for new drama in important venues like the Royal Court and the Almeida.  

Jonathan ‘s recent performance in Athol Fugard’s Dimetos at the Donmar was one of the greatest things he has done, and Lear cannot be far behind, although there’s a bit of a queue forming, and David Warner, David Calder and Pete Postlethwaite are all pretty hard acts to follow from the past year or so.

Two richly deserved CBEs go to Graham Vick, the opera director, who does such fantastic work not only in the opera houses but also in the schools of Birmingham, and to Cicely Berry, whose voice coaching has characterised three generations of actors at the RSC, admittedly with mixed results. But “Cis” as she’s known is just about the most loved person wthin the RSC. And she’s 83 and still working, and still, well, a bit cheeky.

There’s an eclectic quartet in the OBE section: playwright Kay Mellor, actors Alan Cumming and Sue Johnston, and choreographer Dougie Squire. Johnston and Squire are particualrly deserving for their range of work and influence on many artists, people, and popular culture in general, over a very long period.

My two favourite recipients are at either extreme of the spectrum: an MBE for the wonderful old actress Anna Wing, a remarkable character as well as performer (and mother of that fine actor/director Mark Wing-Davey), and a knighthood for Christopher Ricks, the most inspirational teacher I ever encountered (he was my tutor at Oxford), and the man you simply have to read if you want to get to the heart of either Bob Dylan or Samuel Beckett.
Ricks’s one man show about Beckett is also one of the best stand-up black comedy turns of our day; if it ever comes to a college or institution near you, don’t miss it.

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