On Monday evening I came home from work to find an official-looking letter on the doormat.

It made me mildly uncomfortable. It wasn't summoning me to hospital for urgent medical tests or threatening imminent legal action. It was the "Dear Mr Blease" at the top.

This could be because I've always worked in places where everyone is on first-name terms, from the cleaners to the chief executives. But I can't get used to being called "Mr Blease". To me it will always mean my dad.

Maybe it's the same with all men. I've never asked him, but "Mr Blease" may well put my dad in mind of his own dad, my grandfather. Or maybe you're used to it by the time you're 76.

I don't like the stiff formality of it, but it seems Emmanuel Macron favours it, very strongly. Last week a teenager greeted the French president with the informal "Manu", and found himself getting an earful.

Monsieur Macron told him in no uncertain terms that only "sir" or "Mr President" were appropriate.

In fairness to Manu, it was a solemn occasion. It was commemorating World War Two and was in front of a memorial to members of the French Resistance executed by the Nazis. I'm sure there'd be anger if the leaders of our two main parties were called "Terri" or "Jezza" at the Cenotaph.

But the news immediately reminded me of a Yorkshire undertaker called Councillor Duxbury.

He's a character in Keith Waterhouse's novel Billy Liar , and is touchy about his own form of address.

When Billy calls him "Mr Duxbury", he scolds: " Councillor Duxbury, that's me title. Tha wudn't call Lord Harewood 'mister', wud tha? Think on it, lad."

The former MP Brian Mawhinney was similarly touchy. He has a doctorate and got cross if he was called "Mister" rather than "Doctor".
Alastair Campbell never complained about being called "Mr Campbell" - and he was a spin doctor.

I suspect this sort of respect for formality and title is a generational issue, and it's most evident in the world of politics.

I noticed it first when John Major took over as prime minister in November 1990. The media usually called him "John Major", rarely Mr Major.

The same applied to all his successors. Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron, Theresa May were all referred to with Christian name attached.

Yet Major's predecessor was almost always "Mrs Thatcher", not Margaret Thatcher. "Maggie Thatcher" was coined by The Sun . None of her friends or supporters called her that.

We also see that generational shift in the political world in Stephen Frears' film The Queen. It begins immediately after Labour's 1997 election victory, when the monarch is being briefed about the new prime minister.

She is warned that his wife Cherie has "known anti-monarchist sympathies". But what troubles the Queen far more is Blair's proposed informality within Downing Street.

Instead of being called "Prime Minister", "Deputy Prime Minister", "Chancellor" or "Foreign Secretary", they were simply going to be Tony, John, Gordon or Robin. The Queen looks appalled.

My guess is that Brown, Cameron and May have followed Tony Blair's example. Cameron did after all invite people to call him Dave.

But dropping the formal job titles would have been unthinkable years ago - and attempts to relax the formality were usually resisted.

Northern Ireland briefly had a power-sharing assembly once before, in 1974. At the outset its health minister, Paddy Devlin, told his civil servants that he didn't want them calling him "Minister", just Paddy.

One civil servant was deeply uncomfortable about this. So a compromise had to be reached in which he called him "Mr Devlin".

Paddy Devlin died in 1999 and I'm glad he lived long enough to see the Blair cabinet adopt his approach.

Some will say that these formal titles are about respect. But you can respect people without bowing and scraping. To my mind anything that irons out unnecessary inequalities is to be supported.

I don't say 100 per cent equality is possible, or even entirely desirable. If one person carries more responsibility or has to work harder than another, then they deserve to be better rewarded.

But grovelling deference can normally be dropped without doing any harm - whatever Brian Mawhinney or Councillor Duxbury think.