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Britons may say good-night to titles

LONDON -- Long gone are the days when a knight was a champion rider in gleaming body armor charging to save a damsel in distress -- and the title should go, too, a British parliamentary committee said yesterday.

The committee said the age of chivalry is dead, and Queen Elizabeth II should stop making sirs and dames of everyone from rock stars to civil servants.

"Increasingly, titles appear to be an embarrassment rather than a cause for celebration," said a report by the Public Administration Select Committee, which includes lawmakers from Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labor Party.

Britain's archaic system of acknowledging service to society by bestowing on people fusty and somewhat humorous titles such as "The Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle" and "Most Honorable Order of the Bath," has in recent years divided the country.

The secrecy surrounding who gets an honor and why has frustrated many Britons, along with the outdated references to the country's once-prevalent class system and the British Empire.

"The whole thing has become anachronistic, really," said John Greenaway, a senior lecturer in politics at the University of East Anglia. "It seems odd in modern society to say that some people have reached such a level of gentry and others have not."

The twice-a-year honors lists always include a few celebrities -- what former Prime Minister Harold Wilson called "a handful of stardust."

Not everyone goes along -- singer David Bowie, comedian John Cleese, and actors Albert Finney and Kenneth Branagh all rejected honors. Others, like Mick Jagger, Elton John, and Paul McCartney, were happy to become knights. Actresses Maggie Smith and Joan Plowright both added dame to their names.

The committee, which held a series of hearings on the honors system, called for more transparency in the system and said titles including sir and dame should be scrapped. It recommended reducing the number of honors from 16 to four, and the abolition of awards that are now largely reserved for diplomats and civil servants.

However, some Britons were outraged by the proposal.

Michael Fabricant, a lawmaker in the opposition Conservative Party, said the titles were a fascinating part of Britain's history and ditching them "will eventually result in Britain having all the individuality and heritage of the Cayman Islands."

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