Wednesday, December 31, 2003

LONDON — Rock guitarist Eric Clapton and Kinks founder Ray Davies received royal honors yesterday, becoming commanders of the Order of the British Empire just weeks after Rolling Stone Mick Jagger picked up his knighthood at Buckingham Palace.

Also among the luminaries singled out for awards in the annual New Year’s Honors list were World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, who became a knight, and tennis star Tim Henman, made an officer of the Order of the British Empire, or OBE.

Mr. Clapton and Mr. Davies’ awards put them one rung below the knighthood conferred on Mr. Jagger.

The honors this year have been the subject of more than the usual amount of debate.

Responding to criticism that the selection process was too secretive and tainted by politics and public relations, the government announced that it would review the system to make it more open and independent.

One leaked document said Mr. Henman, a four-time Wimbledon semifinalist whose failure to win the tournament has disappointed Britons, was being recommended for an OBE to “add interest” to the list.

Though the honors are bestowed by the queen, she chooses only a few. Most recipients are selected by committees of civil servants from nominations made by the government and the public.

But Britons are divided over the importance of the awards. Keith Richards criticized band mate Mr. Jagger for accepting the knighthood, saying he shouldn’t have associated himself with such a symbol of the establishment.

And the Sunday Times published a list of 300 well-known persons — including singer David Bowie, comedian John Cleese and actors Albert Finney and Kenneth Branagh — who have declined honors since 1945.

Mr. Clapton, 58, a member of the 1960s R&B band the Yardbirds, has won more than 15 Grammy awards since and gained greatest renown for his solo career, with songs such as “Layla,” “After Midnight” and “Tears in Heaven.”

Mr. Davies, 59, founded the Kinks with brother Dave. Their hard-edged, guitar-driven music drew a huge following in the 1960s and beyond with hits such as “You Really Got Me,” “All Day and All of the Night” and “Lola.”

Physicist Berners-Lee, now at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is credited with making the Internet accessible to millions by inventing the Web system of servers and browsers, which he distributed for free.

Author and historian Harold Evans and former NATO Secretary-General George Robertson received knighthoods.

Actress Joan Plowright, wife of the late Laurence Olivier, and Rabbi Julia Neuberger, a broadcaster and author, were made dames, the female equivalent of knights.

Among the 981 persons receiving honors: 37 players and coaches from England’s national rugby team, which last year won the World Cup. Lesser-known names also were singled out for awards, sometimes for quirky pursuits.

Andy Hine, chairman of the Roller Coaster Club of Great Britain, was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire for services to tourism. So was animal-behavior expert Bruce Fogle, co-founder of Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, and Anne Patrizio, an Edinburgh, Scotland, teacher who has campaigned for the rights of homosexual, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

A milkman, a school handyman and a former crossing guard also were made MBEs.

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