CLOSE

10 Famous People Who Turned Down a Knighthood

Of all the honors that the Queen of England bestows on her subjects, a knighthood is easily the most coveted. To British citizens, few titles could be greater than having a “Sir” or “Dame” in front of their name. So what kind of person would turn down such a title? Surprisingly enough, many notables have done so. Here are some of them.

© Denis O'Regan/CORBIS

1. David Bowie

A few rock stars have been knighted, including Sir Paul McCartney, Sir Elton John and Sir Mick Jagger – much to the anger of his fellow Rolling Stone, Keith Richards, who felt that Jagger should have declined … like another of Sir Mick’s friends, David Bowie. Bowie turned down a knighthood in 2003. “I would never have any intention of accepting anything like that,” he said. “I seriously don't know what it's for. It's not what I spent my life working for.”

2. Vanessa Redgrave

The Oscar-winning actress is often considered one of the “grand Dames” of the British stage. But unlike Dame Judi Dench and Dame Helen Mirren, Redgrave actually turned down the title in 1999. Known for supporting various left-wing and humanitarian causes, she might have thought (like many others) that a knighthood would make her too much a part of the establishment. Still, she was happy to be awarded the next-highest honor, a CBE (Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire).

3. L.S. Lowry

The artist, famous for paintings of the Lancashire industrial scene, turned down more honors from the Queen than any other individual – a total of five, including an OBE in 1955, a CBE in 1961 and a knighthood in 1968. Always a friend to the working class, he turned down the honors because, according to a friend, he did not want to “change his situation.”

4. Alfred Deakin

The Australian statesman turned down a knighthood in 1887, when Australia was still a colony of Great Britain. He went on to become one of Australia’s founding fathers (it became a nation in 1901) and serve as Prime Minister three times. It seems that his refusal of a knighthood was due to a combination of humility (he would turn down several honors) and his preference for Australia becoming a republic, severing the last of its political links to the British Empire. Australia continued to award knighthoods (conferred by the Crown) after winning independence from Britain, even though many saw them as a remnant of the colonial past. Though it has still not become a republic, Australia finally stopped awarding knighthoods in 1983.

5. Robert Morley

The actor and playwright, famous for playing a variety of rotund eccentrics, accepted an Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1957, but turned down a knighthood in 1975. Other actors to turn down knighthoods included Trevor Howard, Alistair Sim and Paul Scofield.

6. Aldous Huxley

The essayist and author (Brave New World) refused a knighthood in 1959, only four years before his death. Random fact: Huxley, C.S. Lewis and John F. Kennedy all died on November 22, 1963.

7. Doris Lessing

When she was young, the Nobel Prize-winning author was an ardent communist, rebelling against the monarchy and the British political system. In 1993, at the age of 74, she refused to be made a Dame. “Surely," she said, "there is something unlikable about a person, when old, accepting honors from an institution she attacked when young?” Some years earlier, she had turned down an OBE, as the honor came from a “non-existent empire.” In 2000, however, she accepted a Companion of Honor (CH), claiming to prefer it because “you’re not called anything."

8. Henry Moore

The great sculptor, a major figure in the modern art movement, was always keen to remember his roots as the son of a Yorkshire coal miner. Hence, he turned down a knighthood in 1951 because he didn't want to be seen as an establishment figure.

9. Rabindranath Tagore

One of India’s great hyphenates – spiritual man, the first non-European to win a Nobel Prize (for literature, in 1913), poet, songwriter, dramatist, novelist, painter, educator – Tagore was offered a knighthood by King George V in 1915… and accepted it. However, he renounced his knighthood in 1919, following the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, in which hundreds of Indians, suspected of plotting an insurrection, were gunned down by British troops.

10. Michael Faraday

Just to prove that turning down knighthoods isn’t just for modern-day rebels, Faraday (1791-1867), the great chemist and physicist who discovered the electromagnetic field, also turned down a knighthood. Over a century later, another famed scientist, Stephen Hawking, also reportedly said no to the Queen.

Bonus: John Lennon

While turning down returning an MBE, Lennon spelled out his reasons in a letter to the Queen:

"Your Majesty, I am returning this in protest against Britain's involvement in the Nigeria-Biafra thing, against our support of America in Vietnam and against Cold Turkey slipping down the charts. With Love, John Lennon of Bag."

nextArticle.image_alt|e
ANTONIN THUILLIER, AFP/Getty Images
arrow
entertainment
15 Things You Might Not Know About Chewbacca
ANTONIN THUILLIER, AFP/Getty Images
ANTONIN THUILLIER, AFP/Getty Images

Even if you don't know the name Peter Mayhew, you surely know about Chewbacca—the seven-foot tall Wookiee he has played onscreen for over three decades. In honor of Mayhew’s birthday, here are 15 things you might not know about Han Solo's BFF.

1. HE WAS INSPIRED BY GEORGE LUCAS'S DOG.

The character of Chewbacca was inspired by George Lucas’s big, hairy Alaskan malamute, Indiana. According to Lucas, the dog would always sit in the passenger seat of his car like a copilot, and people would confuse the dog for an actual person. And in case you're wondering: yes, that same dog was also the inspiration behind the name of one of Lucas’s other creations, Indiana Jones.

2. HIS NAME IS OF RUSSIAN ORIGIN.

The name “Chewbacca” was derived from the Russian word Sobaka (собака), meaning “dog.” The term “Wookiee” came from voice actor Terry McGovern; when he was doing voiceover tracks for Lucas's directorial debut, THX 1138, McGovern randomly improvised the line, “I think I just ran over a Wookiee” during one of the sessions.

3. HE'S REALLY, REALLY OLD.

In Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Chewbacca is 200 years old.

4. PETER MAYHEW'S HEIGHT HELPED HIM LAND THE ROLE.

Peter Mayhew
Getty Images

Mayhew was chosen to play everyone’s favorite Wookiee primarily because of his tremendous height: He's 7 feet 3 inches tall.

5. HIS SUIT IS MADE FROM A MIX OF ANIMAL HAIRS, AND EVENTUALLY INCLUDED A COOLING SYSTEM.

For the original trilogy (and the infamous holiday special), the Chewbacca costume was made with a combination of real yak and rabbit hair knitted into a base of mohair. A slightly altered original Chewie costume was used in 1999's The Phantom Menace for the Wookiee senator character Yarua, and a new costume used during Episode III included a specially made water-cooling system so that Mayhew could wear the suit for long periods of time and not be overheated.

6. ONE OF STANLEY KUBRICK'S CLOSEST CREATORS DESIGNED THE COSTUME.

Chewbacca's costume
Getty Images

To create the original costume for Chewbacca, Lucas hired legendary makeup supervisor Stuart Freeborn, who was recruited because of his work on the apes in the “Dawn of Man” sequence in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. (Freeborn had also previously worked with Kubrick on Dr. Strangelove to effectively disguise Peter Sellers in each of his three roles in that film.) Freeborn would go on to supervise the creation of Yoda in The Empire Strike Back and Jabba the Hutt and the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi.

Lucas originally wanted Freeborn’s costume for Chewie to be a combination of a monkey, a dog, and a cat. According to Freeborn, the biggest problem during production with the costume was with Mayhew’s eyes. The actor’s body heat in the mask caused his face to detach from the costume's eyes and made them look separate from the mask.

7. FINDING CHEWBACCA'S VOICE WAS BEN BURTT'S FIRST ASSIGNMENT.

The first sound effect that director George Lucas hired now-legendary sound designer Ben Burtt for on Star Wars was Chewbacca’s voice (this was all the way back during the script stage). During the year of preliminary sound recording, Burtt principally used the vocalization of a black bear named Tarik from Happy Hollow Zoo in San Jose, California for Chewbacca. He would eventually synchronize those sounds with further walrus, lion, and badger vocalizations for the complete voice. The name of the language Chewbacca speaks came to be known in the Star Wars universe as “Shyriiwook.”

8. ROGER EBERT WAS NOT A FAN.

Roger Ebert was not a fan of the big guy. In his 1997 review of the Special Edition of The Empire Strikes Back, Ebert basically called Chewbacca the worst character in the series. “This character was thrown into the first film as window dressing, was never thought through, and as a result has been saddled with one facial expression and one mournful yelp," the famed critic wrote. "Much more could have been done. How can you be a space pilot and not be able to communicate in any meaningful way? Does Han Solo really understand Chewie's monotonous noises? Do they have long chats sometimes? Never mind.”

9. HE WAS ORIGINALLY MUCH MORE SCANTILY CLAD.

In the summary for Lucas’s second draft (dated January 28, 1975, when the film was called “Adventures of the Starkiller, Episode I: The Star Wars”), Chewbacca is described as “an eight-foot tall, savage-looking creature resembling a huge gray bushbaby-monkey with fierce ‘baboon’-like fangs. His large yellow eyes dominate a fur-covered face … [and] over his matted, furry body he wears two chrome bandoliers, a flak jacket painted in a bizarre camouflage pattern, brown cloth shorts, and little else.”

10. HIS DESIGN WAS BASED ON RALPH MCQUARRIE'S CONCEPT ART.

Chewbacca’s character design was based on concept art drawn by Ralph McQuarrie. Lucas had originally given McQuarrie a photo of a lemur for inspiration, and McQuarrie proceeded to draw the character as a female—but Chewbacca was soon changed to a male. McQuarrie based his furry design on an illustration by artist John Schoenherr, which was commissioned for Game of Thrones scribe George R.R. Martin’s short story “And Seven Times Never Kill a Man.” Sharp-eyed Chewbacca fans will recognize that Schoenherr’s drawing even includes what resembles the Wookiee’s signature weapon, the Bowcaster.

11. HE WON A LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD.

Fans were angry for decades that Chewie didn’t receive a medal of valor like Luke and Han did at the end of A New Hope, so MTV gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 1997 MTV Movie Awards. The medal was given to Mayhew—decked out in full costume—by Princess Leia herself, actress Carrie Fisher. His acceptance speech, made entirely in Wookiee grunts, lasted 16 seconds. When asked why Chewbacca didn’t receive a medal at the end of the first film, Lucas explained, “Medals really don’t mean much to Wookiees. They don’t really put too much credence in them. They have different kinds of ceremonies.”

12. HE HAS A FAMILY BACK HOME.

According to the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special, Chewbacca had a wife named Mallatobuck, a son named Lumpawaroo (a.k.a. “Lumpy”), and a father named Attichitcuk (aka “Itchy”). In the special, Chewie and Han visit the Wookiee home planet of Kashyyyk to celebrate “Life Day,” a celebration of the Wookiee home planet’s diverse ecosystem. The special featured appearances and musical numbers by Jefferson Starship, Diahann Carroll, Art Carney, Harvey Korman, and Bea Arthur, and marked the first appearance of Boba Fett. Lucas hated the special so much that he limited its availability following its original airdate on November 17, 1978.

13. MAYHEW'S BIG FEET ARE WHAT KICKSTARTED HIS CAREER.

Mayhew’s path to playing Chewbacca began with a string of lucky breaks—and his big feet. A local London reporter was doing a story on people with big feet and happened to profile Mayhew. A movie producer saw the article and cast him—in an uncredited role—as Minoton the minotaur in the film Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. One of the makeup men on Sinbad was also working on the Wookiee costume with Stuart Freeborn for Star Wars and suggested to the producers that they screen test Mayhew. The rest is Wookiee history.

14. MAYHEW KEPT HIS DAY JOB WHILE SHOOTING STAR WARS.

Peter Mayhew
Getty Images

During the shooting of Star Wars, Mayhew kept working his day job as a deputy head porter in a London hospital. Though he was let go because of his sudden varying shooting schedule at Elstree Studios, he was eventually hired back after production wrapped.

15. DARTH VADER COULD HAVE BEEN CHEWBACCA.

Darth Vader
Getty Images

David Prowse, the 6’5” actor who ended up portraying Darth Vader—in costume only—originally turned down the role of Chewbacca.  When given the choice between portraying the two characters, Prowse said, “I turned down the role of Chewbacca at once. I know that people remember villains longer than heroes. At the time I didn’t know I’d be wearing a mask, and throughout production I thought Vader’s voice would be mine.”

Additional Sources: Star Wars DVD special features
The Making of Star Wars: The definitive Story Behind the Original Film, J.W. Rinzler

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
quiz
Scary Baby Names
iStock
iStock

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios