Call her Dame Eliza Doolittle now. (It sounds better than Dame Mary Poppins.)
While you're at it, call him Bond, Sir James Bond.
Julie Andrews, the granddaughter of a housemaid and daughter of a vaudeville pianist, who parlayed a freak four-octave voice discovered in her wartime childhood into international superstardom, has become a Dame of the British Empire (DBE) in Queen Elizabeth II's Millennium New Year's Honours List. The Queen also honored Sean Connery, the Edinburgh milkman who became the screen's avatar of modern macho sophistication, with a knighthood (KBE).
Andrews and Connery head the list of 1,998 awards (double the usual number, in honor of the century's end) announced over last weekend. The expanded list was a creation of Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Labour government, merely endorsed and announced by the Queen. A second list appears on the Queen's official birthday in June (her real birthday is in April, when the weather is not so nice).
Blair characterized the list as consisting of "icons and beacons" who had made a mark on the 20th century and would continue to inspire in the 21st.
Connery, 69, who was denied a knighthood in the 1998 New Year's list because of his ongoing support of the Scottish National Party, accepted his belated KBE "with pleasure, because I consider it as much an honor for Scotland as it is for me." (One of Connery's two Royal Navy-era tattoos says "Scotland Forever.") With the recent creation of an independent Scottish parliament the issue of Connery's support of Scottish autonomy was negated.
In a happy coincidence, Shirley Bassey, the Welsh pop singer probably best known for her rendition of the title song "Goldfinger" from one of the newly dubbed Sir Sean's best Bond movies, also was awarded a DBE. Like Dame Julie, Dame Shirley was honored for "services to entertainment." Sir Sean was given his title for "services to film drama."
Elizabeth Taylor, who was born in London although virtually all of her long career has been spent in America, was named a DBE for services to "acting and charity." Her current work includes the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, and the Fund for the Children of the Negev.
Dorothy Tutin, one of Britain's leading actresses for four decades, also was named a DBE. Dame Dorothy has played virtually every Shakespearean leading lady, plus an astonishing variety of roles by such disparate authors as Anton Chekhov, Neil Simon, and Stephen Sondheim. A legendary acting Dame from an earlier era, Sybil Thorndike, once said that every time Tutin appeared on stage in a new play she "was another person. That is acting."
Norman Wisdom, the 85-year-old slapstick comedian best remembered by Broadway audiences for his Tony-nominated male lead in the 1967 musical "Walking Happy," was the only other actor knighted on this list. "I still want people to call me Norman," he told the Times of London from the Caribbean cruise ship where he is now entertaining passengers. "Sir Norman sounds a bit posh."
Richard Branson, the Virgin Group mogul (airline, record company, retail stores, publishing firm, etc.), was named a KBE for his "services to entrepreneurship." Sir Richard, at 49, was among the youngest knights selected.
Doris Lessing, the 80-year-old grande dame of English letters, refused a Blair-proffered DBE as "a bit pantomimey," and because there is no such thing as the British Empire any more. But Lessing did accept the alternate rank of Companion of Honour, which carries no honorific title. "You're not called anything, and it's non-demanding," she explained. "I like that."
Other honorees in the New Year's list were awarded the titles-in descending order of eminence-Commander (CBE), Officer (OBE), or Member (MBE) of the British Empire. Those so designated from the world of entertainment include Monty Python's Michael Palin and the Royal Shakespeare Company's Harriet Walter, renowned for her Lady Macbeth (CBEs); the Northern Irish-born actor Liam Neeson, actress Jane Seymour, and Dire Straits founder-guitarist Mark Knopfler (OBEs); and Barbara Windsor, a star of the "Carry On" movies and now the matriarch on the soap opera "EastEnders" (MBE). These honorees may put the appropriate initials after their names, but are not addressed differently from before.
Palin said that a satirist's accepting an honor is "getting a pat on the head from the hand that you ought to be biting." But he agreed to accept the CBE because it was also for his work as a BBC television travelogue producer-narrator.
Just to keep the Honours List in perspective, and underlining that it is often more about lining British coffers than lasting contributions to the universe, Anne Wood, the creator of "Tellytubbies," the BBC's most successful television export (airing in 60 countries), and its spinoff dolls, was made a Commander of the British Empire.
Even allowing for the economic-driven list, some observers found Blair's government's show business choices somewhat glitzier than in the past, more about movie stars than about legendary stage portrayals. In the last decade such actors as Ian McKellen, Derek Jacobi, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, and Diana Rigg have been knighted or "damed" as much as or more for their stage work as for their international film or television repute. In earlier generations the acting knights and dames were such as Laurence Olivier, Michael Redgrave, Edith Evans, and Thorndike. The first actor to be honored with a knighthood was Henry Irving, who was dubbed Sir Henry by Queen Victoria in 1895. In 1921, Genevi've Ward was the first actress to be appointed DBE. Ellen Terry, Irving's frequent co-star, was not made a Dame until 1925.