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Royal honors for Eric Clapton and Ray Davies

But does receiving an OBE really mean anything?
/ Source: The Associated Press

Could Queen Elizabeth II be a rock ’n roll fan?

Legendary guitarist Eric Clapton and Kinks founder Ray Davies received royal honors Wednesday, 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.

This year’s honors 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 it would review the system to make it more open and independent.

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

A prominent scientist, Colin Blakemore, complained publicly about reports that he was denied a knighthood because he is a vocal proponent of research on animals. He did not get an award.

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 his bandmate 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 people — including singer David Bowie, comedian John Cleese and actors Albert Finney and Kenneth Branagh — who had declined honors since 1945.

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

Davies, 59, founded the Kinks with his brother Dave. Their hard-edged, guitar-driven music drew a huge following in the ’60s and beyond with hits like “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 free.

Other honoreesAmong the 981 people receiving honors: 37 players and coaches from England’s national rugby team, which won this year’s 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, or MBE, for services to tourism.

Animal behavior expert Bruce Fogle, co-founder of Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, also got an MBE, as did Anne Patrizio, an Edinburgh, Scotland, teacher who has campaigned for the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people.

MBEs also went to a milkman, a school handyman and a former crossing guard.

Author and historian Harold Evans, whose book “The American Century,” was a best seller, was made a knight. He is a former editor of The Times and The Sunday Times in Britain and served as vice chairman and editorial director of the New York Daily News and U.S. News and World Report magazine.

Former NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson received a knighthood.

Actress Joan Plowright, wife of the late Laurence Olivier, was made a dame, the female equivalent of a knight. So was Rabbi Julia Neuberger, a broadcaster, author and health care charity chief.

Commander of the Order of the British Empire, or CBE, awards went to “Billy Elliot” director Stephen Daldry and to Philip Pullman, author of the children’s fantasy trilogy “His Dark Materials.” Prime Minister Tony Blair’s official spokesman Godric Smith also got a CBE, as did cartoonist Ronald Searle, 83.

Actress Virginia McKenna, whose role in the African lion saga “Born Free,” led to a career in wildlife conservation, received an OBE. An OBE also went to craggy-faced actor Pete Postlethwaite, nominated for an Oscar for 1993’s “In the Name of the Father.”

In descending order, the honors are knighthoods, CBE, OBE and MBE. Those who are awarded CBEs, OBEs and MBEs have no title but can put the letters after their names.