This piece was written on 20 July 2010
According to Mandrake in today’s Daily Telegraph, the question of which doctors should be permitted to call themselves Doctor has raised its head again – as it seems to do every few months. One school of thought believes that only doctors of medicine should be allowed to use the honorific while Doctors of Law, Music, Divinity, etc. should not. I imagine the members of that school of thought are all doctors of medicine.
I can’t for the life of my think why anyone should get worked up about this or similar appellations. Does it really matter? That once popular buzz word ‘Ms’, which, if I remember correctly, was introduced by those females who did not wish to disclose their marital status, seems now to be discouraged by those very same females as being in some way derogatory.
I have never used my RAF rank since the day I retired – although I am entitled to do so having held a General List Permanent Commission since 1962. I actually think it is very pretentious of some retired officers, almost always male, to routinely use their rank in retirement – it tells me that they still wish to have the respect their rank once bestowed even in non-military environments. (Sorry, gentlemen, but that’s what I think!) I prefer to earn people’s respect. The staff in my local bank, on the rare occasions they speak to me, have always called me Tony rather than Mr Cunnane, without any invitation from me. However, I still can’t get the receptionists, nurses and doctors in my local health centre, nor my dentist and his assistants, to call me Tony but I suspect some form of local internal policy is at work to avoid upsetting those patients who prefer a formal form of address.
My relaxed approach about names and titles caused a minor problem in 1969 when I first arrived at the Pakistan Air Force Academy on exchange duty and my new wing commander asked me how I wished to be known: Tony or Cunnane. I thought he was being polite – and actually he was. He explained that Muslims usually have several names and PAF officers had to decide early in their commissioned career which name they wished to be known by. I told him that I wished to be known as Tony. ‘That’s fine, Cunnane,’ replied the wing commander. “Tony it will be and I’ll make sure everyone gets it right.” Thereafter I was known officially as Flight Lieutenant Tony, and informally as Cunnane. It was not what I had intended but it seemed churlish to complain.
I do have a minor problem with remembering the names of folk I am introduced to, and it has nothing to do with advancing years. No sooner have I been introduced to someone for the very first time than I instantly forget their surname. One day at RAF Scampton in 1994, Lord Lichfield, a cousin of The Queen and a well-known professional photographer, visited the Red Arrows to take some photographs for a calendar he was preparing. Having initially addressed him with "Good morning, My Lord" when I welcomed him on arrival as he got out of his self-drive car, he laughed and said, “Patrick will do nicely, Tony.”
A few minutes later I introduced him to one of the Red Arrows’ flying clothing workers who was to fit Patrick with specialist equipment prior to a flight with Red Leader.
“Sir,” I said to Lord Lichfield, opting for a more formal mode of address in front of an airman, “may I introduce Senior Aircraftman Jones. He will measure you for your flying helmet and other equipment. Jones, this is Lord Snowdon.”
“Tony,” said Lord Lichfield with a laugh as he shook hands with Jones, “call me Patrick – or sir if you really must – but please don’t ever mix me up with Snowdon!”