BBC Radio 4's Analysis: Going, Going, Gong! was broadcast on Thursday, 8 April, 2004 at 20:30 BST.
Who decides the honours?
The public honours system is under scrutiny as never before. The recent revelation that nearly three hundred people have refused gongs since 1945 spurred the government into holding an inquiry into the way in which honours are awarded.
At the same time, a public consultation paper suggesting radical reform has been launched, with the results due to be published later this year. But instead of trying to reform this secretive and antiquated system, wouldn't it be better to abolish it altogether?
In a society lacking deference and consensus on the criteria for formal recognition, shouldn't we just leave it to the market to reward achievement?
In this edition of Analysis, Bob Tyrrell asks what purpose the honours system serves today. Is it a reliable indicator of what and whom our society values most? Is it simply a quaint and harmless sideshow to public life or a more insidious influence that reflects and reinforces the reality of our class-based society?
Some 3000 honours are awarded annually; Analysis investigates the 'machinery' which decides who receives an award and compares the British system with the way other countries bestow honours on their citizens. It examines whether a system of public honours forges national unity and asks whether it acts as an antidote to the commercialisation of life and the shallowness of celebrity culture, shining a spotlight on to those areas of society that would otherwise go unnoticed.
Finally, the programme asks whether the current questioning of the honours system is because of the failure by those responsible to uphold the integrity of the system or whether it's due to more fundamental sociological and cultural reasons.
Presenter: Bob Tyrrell
Producer: Sue Ellis
Editor: Nicola Meyrick