Of course if the character from Private Eye really had been granted a birthday honour, we would guess that it was due to the good offices of Lord Gnome, who would certainly be in his element in the matter of honours having himself risen so successfully to the peerage. There was no knighthood in the honours list this time for the British Council’s “Chief Executive” (a gong hitherto awarded only to the organisation’s “Director-General” so a certain precedent is to be made there), but preparations are evidently being made.
Firstly you have to keep the machine going, which means continuing the spray of OBEs, MBEs and such through the org. Secondly you have to point up the fact that the head man has only a CMG, and that can be done by seeing to it that someone a little further down the pecking order gets a CMG too. And then something special: an MBE for the personal assistant to the Chief Executive. We should certainly wish to extend our congratulations to the recipient. However, able as this particular personal assistant surely is, she would presumably not question the fact that the nation has thousands of able PAs working for Chief Executives who are not and never will be in line for a gong, and must be wise enough to realise that whatever her personal merits, without holding that particular position there would be no gong.
Scan recent honours lists and you will find the occasional personal assistant, so this is not a totally isolated case. But others are listed as personal assistants within public service departments, as in “Personal Assistant, Metropolitan Police” or “Senior Personal Assistant, HM Treasury”. There is, however, only one personal assistant listed in the diplomatic, overseas, police, military and fire list, and only one anywhere who gets an award for being a personal assistant to a “chief executive”, so we can call this honour unique. It is perhaps a bit like giving a photographer an earldom because he marries into the royal family; the mystique and the mythology is sustained by sprinkling honours around those in the proximity of those who must be more greatly honoured. And none is closer to the chief than his personal assistant.
So, despite the precedent of being a “Chief Executive” rather than a “Director-General”, and despite the fact that the current BC head now sits atop almost as many taxpayer supported limited companies as the previous head had taxpayer supported painting holidays, the KCMG is no doubt booked for 2013. The British Council can, after all, be trusted to look after itself.