Today’s PM programme on Radio Four carried an extraordinary interview with Andreas Whittam-Smith, the first editor of the Independent. He was speaking in his capacity as a member of the Arts and Media sub-committee of the Honours Committee.
The interview was extraordinary because I have never heard the work of the committees discussed in such authoritative detail before. Whittam-Smith spoke at length about how the committee works and how they decide on the awarding of honours.
His main thrust was that they recommend the awarding of honours on literary grounds (in the case of authors, obviously) balancing the popularity of an author with their literary merit.
Whittam-Smith made clear that they did not consider the political implications of giving Salman Rushdie an honour. He said that when they made the decision, ‘things had gone quiet’ for quite a while on the Rushdie/Fatwa controversy. He said that he would stand down from the committee if they became expected to consider the political impact of their decisions. It is hard enough making decisions based on an author’s literary output, he suggested.Tweet