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OBE is one of the ranks of honour in the Order of the British Empire; the initials stand not for 'Order of the British Empire' as is commonly assumed, but for Officer of the Order of the British Empire. The award is superior to that of an MBE (Member), but inferior to CBE (Commander) and KBE (Knight). The Order also made provision for the award of the British Empire Medal. This was for decades awarded to lollipop ladies, long-serving milkmen, and other humble toilers, before being abolished, as too patronising, by the government of John Major in the 1990s.

The order was established by George V during the First World War, and OBEs were lavishly handed out to prosperous suppliers to the military, desk-bound warriors, and the like, so that to the Tommy in the trenches the letters OBE famously stood for "other b*gg*rs' efforts".