Friday, 2 July 2004

What have they got against marchionesses?

This is another You Couldn't Make It Up sort of item; I post it with some diffidence, since it will confirm OMF's American readers in their belief that the English establishment still has a foolish respect for toffs and a great reverence for Reverends. Still, as this is not an unreasonable belief confirming it will do no harm.

With most online booking forms you are asked to fill in "Title", and usually given the choice of declaring yourself to be a Mr, Mrs, Miss, or Ms. Sometimes there is a blank box labelled Other (so that you can book as Czar of All the Russias if you like).

But when you log on to book tickets for our National Theatre they do better than that; they give you no less than forty appellations, titles, ranks or honorifics to choose from. I can't be bothered to quote the whole list, but here are some of those on offer:

Prof. and Mrs
His Honour
Dowager Lady
The Hon Lady
Lord and Lady

It seems to me that they are opening a can of very distinguished worms here, some of which which might well turn nasty: forty options don't cover one tenth of all the things we like to call ourselves, and a lot of very powerful people will find their title is not in the list for selection. There is provision for filling in your own claim to seniority or eminence, but those who have to do this (even Dukes!) are clearly considered hoi polloi and are certain to be offended.

Take the clergy, for example. Fine if you're Canon, Venerable (eh?), Very Reverend, Reverend and Mrs, or just a sad little Rev. [sic] But Deacons, Most Reverends, Bishops, Archdittoes, Prebendary Deans and all that crowd are expected to type themselves in laboriously; this is bound to cause a lot of bad feeling at the next Synod, and whispering in the cloisters, if it gets about.

And why can you declare yourself a Rabbi but not an Imam?

And Capt. [sic], Colonel, Brigadier and Major-General are all there, but Field-Marshals, Admirals and all RAF officers are not considered worthy of inclusion.

And there is curious inconsistency about the little women who are sometimes tagged on and sometimes not. Earl is there, and Countess (though not together so they have to sit separately). Lord and Lady and Dr and Mrs are fine, but not Dr and Mr (or even Dr and Dr); same with Prof. and Mrs.

All this is very silly indeed, and there are several possible explanations:

It's a prank by an employee or a feeble joke by the management.

Someone at the NT without imagination really believed it was a good idea and didn't stop to think.

The purpose is to reduce the risk of offence: "Sotto voce on the anti-papal bits, darlings, we've got a Father in A14 and a Sister in D31".

[I saw the list mentioned in The Guardian Diary so the NT may have killed it before heads have to roll.]


Grumio said...

Even trickier for Heads of State. On first greeting the Queen you are expected to address her as Your Majesty, thereafter Ma'am. What then for the form-fillers?

You're right, a veritable can o' worms.

I think I might try Czar of All the Russias next time though and see if they weed me out.

Anonymous said...

Nope they haven't killed it, it's still there.

No options for Mr. President or Prime Minister, either. Security risk, probably, not welcome.

Tony said...

Security risk is of no importance. Not welcome, period.