Queen's Birthday honours: A grand time for the theatre giants

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The Independent Culture
THREE OF theatre's most celebrated names receive knighthoods in a triumphant year for the British stage.

Ian Holm, who withdrew from the theatre for several years with stage fright rounds off a triumphant return with a knighthood. The honour comes at the end of an award-strewn year for the actor who won plaudits for his deeply moving performance as King Lear at the National Theatre. He is married to the actress Penelope Wilton.

The playwright David Hare, for so long the scourge of the establishment, now joins it in earnest with his knighthood. He is a prolific and challenging writer for the London stage and in a trilogy of plays at the National Theatre examined critically the state of the church, the legal profession and the Labour Party. But if there were frissons of anger in the Labour Party at the time over the last of the trilogy, they have clearly been forgotten now.

But one of the most warmly applauded honours will be that given to Peter Brook who is made a Companion of Honour. Brook, now based in Paris, is a guru of British theatre, influencing at least two generations with his radical and innovative productions and his writings on theatre. His seminal 1970 A Midsummer Night's Dream had the actors performing in a white box setting and the fairy king entering on a trapeze.

John Mortimer, who is also knighted, is described as playwright and barrister in the honours list. To that one could add author and scriptwriter. He is likely always to be best known for his books and subsequent TV series about the fictional barrister, Rumpole of the Bailey.

Knighthoods also go to the conductor John Eliot Gardiner and to the Director General of the BBC John Birt. Professor Gillian Beer of Cambridge University is made a Dame of the British Empire for services to English Literature.

Viewers of Absolutely Fabulous and many other comedy series of the last 40 years will applaud a CBE for June Whitfield, a true veteran of television and radio situation comedy. There are CBEs too for Christopher Bruce, artistic director of Rambert Dance, and the film critic and broadcaster, Barry Norman.

John Peel, the Liverpudlian broadcaster whose monotones have survived all the changes over the years at Radio One, receives an OBE. He said last night: "I accepted it rather hoping it would get me a season ticket at Anfield next season."